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May 24, 2012

A very sweet war: Searching for the ultimate cupcake

BRISTOL — A fig, goat cheese and onion cake pop dipped in chocolate? No wrinkling of noses! It was the winning entry in a fierce competition between a local baker, a sixth-grader and recent participants in the Food Network’s popular Cupcake Wars.

Three local judges were presented with three very different desserts at Bonnie and Clyde’s Soda Shop and Stone Soup Emporium in Bristol.

First up was the Bonnie Bakes entry — a mug of warm cinnamon roll bread pudding, with a touch of maple syrup, a scoop of Bonnie Doon vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream. The second entry was the goat cheese, fig and onion cake pop dipped in chocolate created by Bristol Elementary sixth-grader Saleen Al-azawi. A mild chocolate cupcake made with Mediterranean spices, a honey pastry cream center, cinnamon honey butter cream icing topped with a walnut-pistachio brittle, was the final entry, created by the owners of Vanilla Bean Unique Cookies and Cupcakes out of Fort Wayne.    

This final entry, called the Athena, was the cupcake entered in the Food Network’s television program Cupcake Wars.

The competition was the culinary culmination of Philanthropy On a Shoestring Student Entrepreneurs (POSSE), a group of 14 sixth-graders from Bristol Elementary, earning money to buy equipment for a playground and helping to support the National No Child Hungry Campaign.

POSSE president Al-azawi with the help of adult mentors and teachers, came up with the idea to produce and sell POSSE Pops, cake pops in a variety of flavors.

“Where I live the kids can’t play on the streets because they are too bumpy and the cars go too fast,”Al-azawi said.  “And there’s no park or pool. I wanted to have a playground where everyone could go.”

Excitement traveled around the school as students learned of the endeavor. Fourteen sixth-graders signed up to undertake a lesson in business and philanthropy with all its ups and downs.

With the help of local businesses Bonnie and Clyde’s Soda Shop and Stone Soup Emporium and Lucchese’s Italian Restaurant in Elkhart, POSSE members learned to order food and supplies, create flavor combinations and produce cake pops. Each student has a position in the group including public relations director, marketing and advertising specialists, treasurer, secretary, designer, decorator, chef, processing manager, photographer and prop designer as well as a president and vice-president.

The first lesson POSSE learned was not to sell themselves short.

“We sold the first 4,000 cake pops for 25 cents a piece,” Al-azawi said. “We didn’t make enough money to cover the costs.”

Lesson learned. And now, 10,000 cake pops later, the group has raised $3,500, gained a quite a bit of media attention and is on their way to purchasing playground equipment.

Like many businesses, POSSE is finding a way to help out other organizations in need.

Through a lemonade stand, POSSE raised $71.85 for the National No Kid Hungry Campaign. Bonnie and Clyde’s Soda Shop owner Paul Guzman matched that amount, as did Tracy Lane, owner of Camille’s Floral in Bristol. Vanilla Bean Unique Cookies and Cupcakes owners Sandra Wharton and Debbie Smith added another $100 through a bake sale held at their Fort Wayne store.

Wharton and Smith arrived at Bristol Elementary early Monday morning to share with POSSE and the entire student body their experience on “Cupcake Wars,” their motivation to create a business and their future goals.

Then four POSSE members along with four school staff paired off and prepared to compete in a cupcake decorating and flavor war.

The gymnasium clock was set for 15 minutes. The adult member of the team raced to a table and chose decorating ingredients including syrups, sprinkles, cookies, frosting and even candied bacon.

Back at their stations, the pair created a flavor combination to wow the judges. Sampling and judging the entries where Vanilla Bean Unique Cookies and Cupcakes owner Debbie Smith, T.J. Boly, retail manager for the Fort Wayne cupcake store and Bristol Elementary sixth-grade teacher Jayme Iannarelli.

The teams included teacher Tom Jones and Al-azawi; teacher Jason Hite and student Sadie Knepper; custodian Jamie Woodfin and student Perla Vilchez and teacher Patrick Smith and student Emily Turner.

After sampling each entry and commenting, the judges along with the student body, chose the team of Woodfin and Vilchez as the winners. The winning cupcake was made of vanilla cake with a melted chocolate middle, vanilla frosting, sprinkles and a banana chip dipped in peanut butter with a drizzle of chocolate syrup on top.

Vilchez said she expected to win.

“That’s what I came here for!” she said. “The judges said we used too much butter cream, but the flavor was good.”

The morning ended with each student receiving a cupcake made by Wharton and Smith.

Wharton, who emceed the competition, was impressed by POSSE and the day’s events.

“Everyone has just treated us like rock stars! They (POSSE) have so much originality,” Wharton said. “They have so much enthusiasm. They are artistic and focused — mature beyond their years. This whole program has been phenomenal!”

Next on the agenda was a POSSE pop making demonstration for Wharton and Smith, with a promise by the business owners to send a helpful list of production tips. After the program, the competitions and plenty of dessert, POSSE, mentors and teachers headed to Lucchese’s for lunch.

Along with Al-azawi, POSSE, sixth-grade members are Berenice Navarette-Morena, Hunter Smothers, Evelin Calderon, Matthew Whelchel, Estefani Gomez, Perla Vilchez, Michael Granados, Todd Logan, D.J. Kintigh, Sadie Knepper, Veronica Love, Emily Turner and Josh Roberts.

POSSE pops are available at the Bonnie and Clyde’s Soda Shop and Stone Soup Emporium and Lucchese’s Italian Restaurant. Flavors include Coconut Climber, Black Raspberry Basil Ridge, Mint Chocolate Merry-go-Round, Red Velvet Pomegranate Rockers, S’mores Swings, Strawberry Slide, Chocolate Lime Caramel Crawler, Recess Peanut Butter Chocolate, Triple Chocolate GF/Vegan and Toasted Coconut GF/Vegan.

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