Most kids who tackle baking a cake are pretty happy if they manage to produce something that is cake-like and not burned.
Cameron and Kathryn Irons aim higher.
The Laytonsville 4-H-ers want their cakes to please picky judges, win a blue ribbon at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair and qualify to be sold in the youth cake auction, where bidding starts at $300 a cake.
The bakers don't get the money -- it goes back to the 4-H clubs, which use it for scholarships, animal barns and summer camps. But Cameron, 14, is not in it for the gold; she wants the glory.
"I like it 'cause you really get to know how good your cakes are," said Cameron, who has been competing in bake-offs since she was 7.
At the Fair, the champion bakers parade their cakes before the applauding audience. Then, on Sunday night, the cakes will be auctioned. Cameron and Kathryn, 10, bake all winter to get good at making the different kinds they'll enter: chocolate cakes, yellow cakes, white cakes, cakes made with fruit, cakes made from veggies (zucchini, carrot) and the currently "hot" red velvet cake.
"Those red velvet cakes are really tricky. . . . They have vinegar and baking soda and, sometimes, they flop," said Kathryn.
Tomorrow, the day before the competition, the Ironses' house will be a crazy cake factory, the counters jammed with measured ingredients, both ovens cranked up, the master bedroom turned into a temporary cake-storage room (because its air conditioner is the most powerful). Each girl will make five or six cakes.
The fair is the high point of the summer for this family, who share their four acres with 14 pigs, two steers, a cat, a dog and a donkey named Jack. During the fair -- it runs today through Aug. 20 -- they live in their camper, parked on the fairgrounds. The girls care for their animals (each girl is showing and selling two pigs and one steer) and enjoy favorite fair attractions, including the demolition derby and the water slide.
"It's sort of like our summer vacation," Kathryn said. It's also a reward for a year of hard work: feeding, watering and washing down their animals, and scraping out the poop. During the school year, Cameron gets up at 5:30 a.m. to do all these chores. Kathryn does her shift at 7 in the morning. But both girls clearly love their animals.
"He'll race you up the hill," said Cameron, kissing the head of her 1,300-pound steer, Merle. "They like to head-butt each other," said Kathryn, patting her 1,200-pounder, Cabbie.
After the auction, the Irons girls know there will be a sweet end to the evening. Their 4-H club plans to bid on a cake, Kathryn said, "and then we all eat it!"
-- Fern Shen