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How to Succeed at Dessert Auctions Without Really Trying*

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The fundraiser Dessert Auction is a simple concept. First you eat your $9 ($5 for kids 12 and under) fundraiser Chicken Dinner, sitting on folding chairs in the church Fellowship Hall. Then an auction caller introduces the desserts that you can bid on to eat. Fundraising youth parade the desserts up and down the Fellowship Hall catwalk as the caller collects higher and higher bids on each dessert. The winning bidder writes a check payable to the Eighth Grade Washington DC Trip Fund and shares his plate of snickerdoodles with family and friends.

Now you don’t have to bid on any dessert. But then you won’t eat dessert.

These dessert auctions inspire lots of chumminess and goodwill. Never fail, there is a man who will buy three desserts at $60 each. (“It’s for the kids!”) Mrs. Welch always makes a gooseberry pie to the thrill of gooseberry pie fans, who get one gooseberry pie a year: this one. Family members forget feuds for twenty minutes as they belly up to share a cheesecake just secured by their least favorite cousin. And forget nouveau red bean gelato. This is an event where the higher the butter/sugar content, the happier the folk.

But there is a dark side to this Whoville Dessert Fest. Starting at the previous year’s Dessert Auction, some bakers compete in the silent battle of “Best, and Better than Your Dessert.” Never recognized as a real competition, this unspoken race pits sweet church lady against sweet church lady. Each baker shrewdly planning and presenting a dessert that perfectly combines taste and show-stopping lusciousness, all for the highest bid of the evening. The competition begins with a scouting report at last year’s dessert auction. (Raspberry swirl was popular, so was anything chocolate/peanut butter. But lemon bars batted a .165.) Regular bakers turn into accounting wizards as they mentally keep score of bids all night. And after earning the highest bid of the evening, the unspoken winner can silently gloat for the next year.

The rules are simple: impress. A disposable pan of cheesecake bars says, “It’s for the Kids!” But a frickin-awesome deluxe turtle truffle cheesecake with turtle garnish says, “I came to play.”

Every year, I make a cheesecake of some sort. And I’ll tell you why: it’s Baking Cheaterville. I will never be a truly gifted baker like my Grandma. But a cheesecake is a simple recipe that uses such decadent ingredients that I don’t have to be a great baker to make a great cheesecake. And for some reason, people love cheesecake. Maybe it’s the Calorie Splurge, or the Not Everyday factor, but cheesecakes are a popular dessert. At dessert auctions especially.

I once made a cheesecake that went for $195 at a dessert auction. Now you and I both know that that price tag had less to do with my cheesecake and more to do the bidder’s Blood Alcohol Level, but that is all forgotten. My cheesecake earned $195 (“for the kids!”) and I can die smugly happy now.

I have taken this competition to a shameless level of Baker Pride. I care less about blessing people with a tasty dessert as I do about beating Miss Perky Pie over there. And the competition is always the same. Erma Hordval, Tammy Bickerson and Candi Shultz (bitch).

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This year I made a fudge truffle cheesecake with layers of cold fudge, caramel and pecans for full-on Turtle Fantasy. The cheesecake is topped with another layer of cold fudge and dark chocolate dipped pecans on cream cheese rosettes. Believe it on not, this is one of my less pretentious cheesecakes. One year I topped my fudge cheesecake with a 3D diorama of the US Capital Building, rendered in dark chocolate. I wouldn’t lie to you. After the dessert is primped and garnished, the final touch of the masterpiece is “presentation.” I place my cutthroat confection on a pretty red ceramic plate, because the plate is part of the package. I once saw a man spend $85 on a dozen Whoopie Pies because his wife wanted the $2 plate from TJMaxx.

And when the praise comes from those sweet enough to offer it, I crumple and show myself as the pathetic insecure people-pleaser that I am. (I once slaved all day cleaning my house for a luncheon that I was hosting. When a guest complimented my clean house, all of my pent-up dysfunction poured out: “Oh, it’s never clean like this! Really I’m a train wreck! And I drink too much!” Classy.)

* It’s the “without really trying” that I find the most humorous part of these catty Best Happy Housewife competitions. We won’t admit that such exhausting strides toward perfection take effort. We try to fool the world into believing that this over-the-top blue ribbon confection was a creation of little forethought, and just a “few panty staples.” Please. I worked like a farmer on this “Oh, it’s nothing” cheesecake.