In a corner room on the third floor of Union City High School, wonderful aromas drift out into the hallway. Inside are several Girl Scouts from Weehawken and Union City, ages 9-13, pouring batter into cupcake pans, decorating finished cupcakes, anxiously watching the baking process, or cleaning up after a successful batch has emerged from the oven.
They are supervised by Lynn Earle, a non-stop ball of energy who keeps a keen eye on everyone’s progress. She encourages, cajoles, laughs with the girls and, on occasion, has to provide comfort. Bianca Proenza from Weehawken, who is age “almost 10,” cheerfully says her first batch of cupcakes “blew up.”
“We don’t know why it happened,” sighs Bianca’s mother Maggie, a troop leader in Weehawken. “I’m thinking maybe it was the guava.”
Bianca’s secret ingredient is a guava paste, a popular fruit in her native Cuba. Maggie smiles and predicts that Bianca will not be discouraged, she’ll just start over again and learn from her mistakes.
Beyond the competition, the idea was to instill certain qualities in the girls that will be helpful to them in the future.
Union City scout Andrea Calderon, 12, has cooked a batch of chocolate cupcakes with a beautiful blue icing. They came out a little flatter than intended, but she thinks she can fix the problem with a few gummy bears and other candies. When asked if she thinks she can get everything done within the allowed two hour time limit, she replies with a confident, “Yes! I’ve got it all worked out.”
Ariah Romo, 9, is from Weehawken and one of the youngest girls in the competition. She has just finished her batch which is drying on a rack. She mixed cream cheese into her batter and is adding both chocolate and rainbow sprinkles to the icing,
But there is no decorating of the cupcakes until everything is cleaned up, and Ariah is elbow deep in washing bowls, spoons and spatulas. She brought all of her supplies with her, as did the other girls. This is part of the contest; to be organized, plan ahead, think through your recipe, and be responsible for cleaning up.
A friendly ‘war’
Although this is billed as a “Cupcake War,” the atmosphere in the room is convivial, supportive, and, despite the competitive nature of the bake-off (there are prizes for the best cupcakes) everyone is just having a good time.
Most of the cupcakes are done. The project, set to last from 1-3 p.m., is winding down and once all the icing and decorating is finished, the cupcakes will be plated and carried to the judging room where prizes will be announced. Each finished batch of cupcakes is assigned only a number, no names allowed, so that the judging can be anonymous.
Weehawken’s Ruchi Amin,13, is just finishing the decorating on her cupcakes. She has applied perfectly executed swirls of “Girl Scout green” icing to each cupcake and topped them off with a somoas Girl Scout cookie. The result is a batch of cupcakes that would rival the Cake Boss.
“I really wanted to stick with the Girl Scout theme,” she says.
Her proud mother Nanda stands nearby taking pictures of her daughter. She has an impish smile on her face. “We froze the Samoas from last year so we would have some left. Everyone in the family loves the Samoas!”
“Is that how you did it?” Earle, with a puzzled look on her face, joins the conversation. Samoas, like other Girl Scout cookies, are only available once a year, during the annual cookie sale. She glances at Ruchi’s finished product and pronounces it, “Wonderful,”
Before the actual judging occurs, Earle wants to thank all of the girls who participated.
“There’s been baking going on all day,” she says, “and some of the girls had to leave.” She issues a shout-out to them: Eleanor Woodruff, Ambar Puello, and Samantha Kravetz, all of Weehawken; Kaylee Ventura, Jamie San Martino, Nicole Carillo, from Union City; and Bianca del Sol and Yelienne Aquiar, who are both from Weehawken but attend scout troop 12779 in Union City.
Now comes the judging. Ruchi Amin’s beautifully executed green swirls takes the cake, or rather, the cupcake, with the overall prize. She is honored with a blue ribbon and paper flower, handmade by Lynn out of, what else? A cupcake liner.
All of the cupcakes were so imaginative it was almost a shame to eat them. But they were to be shipped off to PERC, a local homeless shelter based in Union City.