The artistry of decorating a cake appeals to Emily Robbins.

It’s one of the reasons cakes are her favorite of all foods to make. So, she made a peanut butter Oreo cheesecake for one of two dishes she entered in the 2019 National Peanut Festival Recipe Contest. Her creation involved crushed Oreo cookies, crushed peanuts, a creamy peanut butter and cream cheese filling, and a rich chocolate ganache. The cake, along with a peanut pumpkin pie dessert hummus, won the 17-year-old from Andalusia two first-place ribbons — one in the student cake category and another in the student miscellaneous category.

Robbins’ entries were among 75 student entries in this year’s recipe contest — one of the activities held leading up to the festival’s opening Nov. 1. The young chefs joined adult cooks for the contest held Thursday. In all, there were 155 entries for this year’s contest.

Ten-year-old Emma Weeks, who attends Washington County Christian School in Chipley, Florida, made peanut butter brownies and meatballs with peanut sauce. She started cooking when she was 7, and this is her third year entering the contest. Cooking makes her feel happy, Emma said. She dreams of going to Oklahoma to visit the mercantile store and restaurant of Ree Drummond, better known as “The Pioneer Woman.”

“I watch Food Network all the time — all day long,” Emma said. “I love making food and eating it. ... My favorite chef is ‘The Pioneer Woman’ on Food Network. I love her.”

While some of the young chefs attended the awards ceremony with a parent or grandparent, many were brought by local school systems. There were 35 students from Geneva County High School in Hartford, all members of the school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America Club.

Its sponsor, Janie Fondren, said last year was the first year she brought students to the recipe contest. Only eight entered the 2018 contest, one winning grand prize in the student division. Having a classmate win grand prize last year created even more interest this year, Fondren said.

“It was something fun, and I’m not even going to lie — we’re headed to the mall, so that’s part of it, too,” she said. “But they’re very competitive. I was impressed with all the student entries because you could tell they put time and effort into it. It’s more than just wanting to go to the mall.”

Along with the Hartford students, the contest had entries from students in Samson, Slocomb, Ozark and Headland, as well as students who attend the Geneva Regional Career Technical Center. Most of the students who participated have been cooking for a few years.

“My sister, when she was a senior in high school, she used to always, always bake, and I was like, ‘Let me try it,’” said Jaimye Thompson, an 18-year-old senior at Geneva County High School in Hartford.

Thompson made peanut butter cookie bars last year and this year went with peanut butter chocolate-covered truffles.

Classmate Cierra Wilmore was inspired by a friend’s old family recipe for her old-fashioned mashed-potato candy. The candy is rolled like pinwheels.

“I know it sounds weird, but it’s really good,” the 18-year-old senior said. “You take mashed potatoes, you make it into a dough and you add a lot of sugar and it tastes really good.”

Wilmore won a second-place ribbon in last year’s contest and has been cooking since she was little girl. She enjoyed it from the beginning.

“My mom always bought me those little fake cook houses and I used to play in them — Easy-Bake Ovens and all of that,” Wilmore said. “You get to make your own concoction and see if it tastes good. And if you mess up, you can always try again.”

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