Editors note: Times columnist Philip Potempa served on Thursday's bake-off judging panel.
HAMMOND | Before Raquel Perez presented her glass pan of fresh-baked brownies to judges Thursday at a bake-off sponsored by Purdue University Calumet, she wanted to make sure something was missing.
"I cut off all the crusts, all the way around the outer part of the pan," said 21-year-old Perez, of Highland, a freshman at PUC.
"Nobody ever wants to eat the crust-part of brownies anyway."
Perez, one of three finalists among students and staff at PUC competing Thursday in the campus' first annual intramural brownie baking championship, took home the top prize: the honor of having her chocolate fudge brownies with butterscotch chips named after her and served as a standing menu item in the PUC cafeteria.
Last month, 15 participants submitted brownie recipes and prepared samples for preliminary judging based on taste, texture and appearance.
Besides Perez, the other two finalists were junior Audrey Weaver, 22, of Hammond, who made a vegetarian-friendly brownie devoid of dairy products, and graduate student Mary Lamott, of Schererville, who made her favorite walnut brownies.
"My hand was shaking trying to pour the vanilla today when we had to make our final batch in the cafeteria kitchen for the judging," Lamott said. "I've never done anything like this before."
Included among the judges were Saul Lerner, a member of the PUC history department for 40 years; Larry Posen, director of dining services for PUC; and fellow students Pete Fagan, 28, of Hammond, and Soumya Gupta, 20, of Munster.
Posen said the PUC cafeteria will begin serving Perez's brownie recipe in January for $1.29 for a large square.
Students gathered to watch the judging and cheer on the contestants.
"If chocolate is a sin, then Raquel is the devil!" read one of the posters displayed while the crowd chanted.
Matt Dudzik, the director of the PUC intramurals program who coordinated the contest, said the event accomplished everything he set out to do when he first dreamed up the idea.
"It (the bake-off) raised awareness that an intramurals program extends beyond sports, and we raised school spirit at the same time," Dudzik said.
"And, of course, we all really know that there's no such thing as a bad brownie."