HIGHWOOD – On a beautiful Saturday I found myself surrounded by sunshine, sweet treats, and redheads. It was Redhead Days Chicago in Highwood, and the event delivered all three with ease while also including plenty of live music by Highwood’s School of Rock, mouth-watering snacks from local food vendors, and endless activities for the whole family to enjoy. For me, this celebration July 10 came down to one crucial event: The Carrot Cake Throwdown.
The third annual event seeks every year to unite the global redhead community with two days of colorful fun, brought to Highwood by Alex’s Washington Gardens and the appropriately named Ginger’s of Highwood and Redhead Piano Bar of Chicago. Organizers estimated that more than 2,000 redheads and their less colorful friends, such as myself, attended the event this year. What I found is that there is one redhead in particular who had a reason to celebrate after this extravaganza: the winner of the Carrot Cake Throwdown, the most coveted title of the festival.
It was my honor to accompany a panel of redheads in judging this battle of sweetness. Despite the heat, the crazy winds, and my personal tendency to avoid mixing vegetables with my desserts of choice, I was excited to help name a victor. With 10 competitors and a crowd of redheads from across the world waiting to dig into the beautiful cakes, the intensity was high.
We judged the cakes on a point system, basing the decision off of taste, texture, frosting and presentation. When it came to judging appearance, each cake was easy on the eyes. From adorable carrot décor piped in frosting to tantalizing caramel drizzles, it was difficult not to give every contestant a 10 out of 10.
As slice after slice was placed in front of me, scoring for the other categories began to feel natural. It becomes immensely easier to pick up on the many variations between recipes for one type of cake when you are presented with 10 slices in a row—trust me. I had never asked myself: smooth or chunky cake? Spicy or sweet? Nutty or carrot-concentrated? The differing details were endless.
The frosting evaluation was a battle of its own. The cakes were blanketed in sweet buttercream, smooth cream cheese frosting and sprinklings of carrot and nuts. I was left to decide between favoring simple classics or dynamic remixes.
In the end, my personal favorite in the blind competition was a smooth cake with a deliciously simple frosting, but it was the décor that put this cake over the top. The cake was topped off with a beautiful caramel drizzle and a sprinkle of nuts, surrounded by real flowers to bring the cake to life. As the votes were counted up, we sat patiently, stomachs happy, and wondered which of the amazing entries would reign victorious.
The M.C., who had been spitting off redhead trivia throughout the duration of the contest, had the honor of announcing the winners. In third place, an adorably colorful cake with carrot designs from Highwood’s own Bent Fork. In second place, Nothing Bundt Cake’s simple and delicious carrot entry. And finally, my personal favorite, the beautifully manicured cake from Miss Kitty’s Treats. Baker & owner Heather Sipe herself was present to receive the honor and the crowd of redheads couldn’t have been more excited.
As redheads from near and far gathered around the table enthusiastically to sample the many cakes, each bakery seemed to be a winner. I walked away with a new appreciation for the delicious treat and a lingering question in the back of my mind … what would I look like as a redhead? For this year, I was happy just to witness the union of these fiery spirits.
Congratulations to Miss Kitty, the other bakeries, and all of the redheads who came out to celebrate at this wonderful event.