MARS — Sports and sweets inspired 9-year-old Leo Markowitz to create a cookie for a Mars contest last weekend.
As a Boy Scout, Leo said he enjoys archery, and recalls the target he uses for practice.
With this in mind along with his love for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Leo was inspired to make his Bullseye Cookie, and decorate his cookie table at The Great Birthday Bake with a miniature air hockey arena complete with a Lego character audience.
“I like making the cookies and decorating,” said Leo, who is from Cranberry Township. “It's very fun, especially tasting the cookies.”
Leo hoped his cookie, which is made with one layer of chocolate chip dough surrounded by two layers of chocolate dough, scored well with the judges at the event, held Sunday at The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh-Cranberry at 910 Sheraton Drive.
“I started the first year they've had this competition,” he said.
The Evans City Elementary School fourth-grader was one of 34 youth bakers at The Great Birthday Bake, a cookie baking competition for children. The event was hosted by Beverly's Birthdays, a Pittsburgh nonprofit organization that provides birthday celebrations for children who are homeless or whose families are in need.
Bakers vied for the title in such categories as chocoholic, fruity and fun, nut and classic Christmas cookie. The winner received a portrait cookie by celebrity guest judge Jasmine Cho, owner of Yummyholic.
Leo's cookie making was complicated when it came to letting his dough set in the fridge for the right amount of time, he said.
“Dough works really well when it's cold,” he said. “When it gets hot, it's all slippery and messy and feels like slime.”
He added that gaining baking experience was one of the benefits of taking part in the competition.
“You want to try as (many) strategies as you want,” he said. “When you're cooking, you know what you want to try that you haven't tried yet.”
Children learn and exhibit creativity as they work on their cookie, while raising money in a fun way for the organization's cause, said Leo's mother, Jennifer Markowitz.
The holiday fundraiser is in its third year, said Megs Yunn, executive director, who founded the nonprofit eight years ago.
More than 300 people passed through to taste the cookies, she said. Last year's event raised about $3,000.
Judges looked for the taste, creativity and quality of each cookie. The audience also voted for their favorites, which added to the participants' scores.
The organization's six programs help to recognize 30,000 birthdays annually throughout the greater Pittsburgh region, Yunn said.
“We wanted to have a fundraiser that was very family oriented,” Yunn said. “When you think birthdays, you think sweets and treats, but we wanted something for the kids.”
Youths have an opportunity to learn about charity as they raise money for children who might not have the opportunity to celebrate their own birthday, Yunn said.
“It's a great opportunity any time a kid has something that they get to own themselves. Knowing that it's also for the greater good of helping a charity, I think that exemplifies our overall mission, which is kids helping kids,” she said. “I think they feel extra connected to the cause.”
Leo is familiar with the cause of Beverly's Birthdays after his other family members raised money for the organization, he said.
“Everyone who celebrates it loves you and they want to celebrate the day you were born,” he said. “That's how much they show they love you.”