Kathleen Arceo and Jenna Fong work for the same state agency and both love baking. The two Sacramento women also share another distinction: They both won top honors in the 2013 California State Fair's specialty baking contests.
"We never met until the awards ceremony," said Arceo, a manager at the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS), with a chuckle. "But we only have a few hundred people who work here."
Arceo, 58, won the Fleischmann's Yeast Best Baking Contest for her Mom's Sweet Cardamom bread.
Fong, 28 and a CalSTRS analyst, won the Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship with her Mini Chocolate Almond Truffle Cheesecakes. (Besides her bread prize, Arceo also took home third place in the chocolate championship for her Apres Dinner Mints.)
Both women were born and reared in Sacramento and have been baking for most of their lives.
"I've always enjoyed baking," Fong said. "It's a lot of fun."
Since they were crowned as the State Fair's champion bakers, the two women have appeared on local television and demonstrated their recipes. But their sudden fame is still sinking in.
"I was very surprised I won," said Fong, who had never entered a recipe contest before. "Actually, I came up with that recipe at the last minute. I've been baking after work every day for the last month. I had friends, family and co-workers try the stuff.
"I just kept baking," she said. "Right before the contest, I went over ideas with my sister Julie. We started talking about cheesecake and crusts and that's when I came up with this idea."
And Fong's trufflelike, almond-laced mini-cheesecakes were born. For her efforts, she won $500.
Arceo, a mother with three grown children, has been baking her Mom's Sweet Cardamom braided bread for several years. She created her variation based on an old Portuguese family bread recipe from her husband's mother.
"I love cardamom," Arceo said. "I love the scent of it. I have a cookbook collection; I really enjoy the old ones. I found a recipe for cardamom coffee cake, then tweaked the sweet Portuguese bread.
"The recipe makes three good-size loaves and they come out perfect every time," she added. "It's great for sharing with friends and neighbors."
Unlike Fong, Arceo is a State Fair contest veteran. She's been entering food-related contests since 2008, starting with pickles, jams and jellies.
"This is my first time to win top prize in the speciality category," said Arceo, who won $125 for her bread recipe. She won another $125 for her runner-up chocolate recipe.
Both bakers thoroughly enjoyed their experience, they said.
But Fong is taking a little break from her main ingredient.
"I do like chocolate," she said. "But after eating it every day for a month, I got a little sick of it."
Mom's Sweet Cardamom Bread
Makes 3 loaves
This recipe won the 2013 Fleischmann's Yeast Best Baking Contest at the California State Fair. It was created by Kathleen Arceo of Sacramento.
2 packages Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees)
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
5 eggs at room temperature, divided
6 1/2 to 7 1/2 cups flour
1 cup unsalted butter, melted (to coat bowl)
1 tablespoon milk
Dissolve yeast in large bowl with 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F). Add 1 teaspoon sugar. Stir and let stand until foamy, 5 minutes.
In small saucepan, heat evaporated milk to 100 degrees and add to yeast. Add remainder of sugar, salt, cardamom, 4 eggs and half the flour. Mix until smooth. Add butter. Add flour 1 cup at a time until dough is stiff. Cover with plastic and let rest for 15 minutes. Turn onto floured surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes.
Clean bowl and butter it. Transfer dough to bowl and turn to coat with butter. Cover with clean towel and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour to 90 minutes. Turn dough onto floured surface and divide into three equal pieces.
Butter three baking sheets. Divide dough into three additional pieces so you have nine total pieces of dough. Roll into ropes 24 inches long. Make three braids using three strands each. Place on baking sheet, cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
Whisk remaining egg and milk together. Brush braids with mixture. Bake until golden brown about 20 to 25 minutes.
Mini Chocolate Almond Truffle Cheesecakes
Makes 20 mini cheesecakes
This original recipe won the 2013 Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship at the California State Fair for Jenna Fong of Sacramento.
6 chocolate sandwich cookies
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1 tablespoon butter, melted
For cheesecake filling:
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup Ghirardelli 60 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate chips, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 cup Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon slivered almonds, toasted
Lightly butter 20 mini-muffin tins. In a small food processor, grind chocolate sandwich cookies and 2 tablespoons slivered almonds to small crumbs. Put mixture into a small bowl and mix in butter. Divide among the muffin tins (about a generous teaspoon each) and press firmly onto bottoms. Bake at 300 degrees for 5 minutes and then remove from oven and set aside.
In medium size bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add flour and vanilla; mix well. Blend in melted Ghirardelli 60 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate chips. Then blend in egg.
Spoon mixture into the muffin tins. (Note: Muffin tins will be nearly full). Bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Run knife around the edge of each muffin tin to loosen the cheesecakes. Let cool at least 30 minutes before removing cheesecakes from muffin tins.
Place Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips and heavy cream in a small microwaveable bowl. Microwave on half-power for 30 seconds. Stir until mixture is smooth and well-blended. (Depending on microwave power, additional microwave time may be needed.) Spoon onto tops of mini cheesecakes (about half a teaspoon each) and spread to edges. Decorate tops with toasted slivered almonds.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.