My interest in the Pillsbury Bake-Off® contest began in 2004 when I saw an Oprah episode featuring the million dollar prize winner. She smashed a wrapped granola bar with a hammer to make a pie. Two years later the next winner used waffles to make a chicken stuffing dinner. Hmmm. What could I do? I'd developed simpler, easier version of Todd English's turkey meatloaf that my family loved and thought I could enter that...until I read the rules. You needed to use one ingredient from list A and one ingredient from list B. List A was mostly Pillsbury rolls, doughs and mixes. List B contained flour, nuts, chocolate chips and jellies and more. How do I adapt my recipe to work? I wrote this e-mail to my friend in March of 2007: "I finally figured out my angle for the Pillsbury Bake-Off®. Turkey Meatloaf Burgers. Everyone gobbles up my meatloaf. So if I bake or fry mini-patties and use biscuits for the bun, that might work!" My friend wrote back: "Yummy! I'd add the word Mini. Mini is cute." But the meatloaf is so good on its own. Why make it more difficult? I shelved it.
The contest is every two years so I got another chance in March of 2009. Pillsbury publishes mini-cookbooks and magazines to keep the Bake-Off® "top of mind". I saw one at Cub foods and decided to finally do it. I approached it like a graphic design problem. I read the rules, highlighting ingredients that interested me. I brainstormed, sketching out ideas that combined my repertoire of recipes and unused equipment in my cupboard. I made a special trip to Cub and spent 30 bucks on ingredients to "play with" that weekend. But I was sidelined with the flu. The deadline was looming so I pulled myself out of bed early Monday morning and cranked out 3 recipes and entered them online. No one in my family ever saw them. The brownie recipe needed improvement and the other two recipes were OK, but being sick--I tossed it all out. I just wasn't in the mood to eat pesto at 10am. I never thought about it again.
Fast forward to the Minnesota State Fair. I was touring the sauna barrels in the grandstand when I got a phone call from my husband: "I just got the strangest phone call for you. She wouldn't leave her name wanted to know what time you'd be back. The caller ID said GENERAL MILLS...did you apply for a job there?" Nope, but I had been to their website after reading Star Tribune's article about them being the best company on the planet to work for. Nope, I wasn't qualified for the co-pilot position that I saw on their website. Maybe it was a word of mouth thing. Did a former co-worker recommend me to the BIG G? My employment fantasy fizzled when it finally dawned on me---THE Bake-Off®....OMG THE Bake-Off® IS CALLING ME! And yes, my dreams always have registered trademarks in them.
It was the Pepperoni-Pesto Popovers that had gotten their attention. I wanted to tell the world, but I had a long questionairre to fill out and legal documents to sign. It paralled being pregnant. What if I loose the baby? I kept it secret for 6 weeks until I got the official word.
Being a Bake-Off® finalist is great because it makes for great conversation at cocktail parties. If I'm having a bad day, I can daydream about winning the big prize. I can empathize with movies stars. "It's great just to be nominated," they always say. It really is. I have a trip to Orlando to look forward to and I've already made some new friends. And someday when I die my obit will say "this Pillsbury Bake-Off® finalist divided time between her riverfront condo and the dusty sands of Idaho..." (i made that up).
There are five Bake-Off® finalists from Minnesota. Some of us met for first time in Mill City Museum's test kitchen on Feb. 14th. Left to right: Michele Gauer of Spicer (Double Chocolate-Orange Scones). Laura Stanke of Maple Grove (Pepperoni-Pesto Popovers) and Cathy Wiechert of Mound (Pecan Cookie Waffles with Honey-Cinnamon Butter).
Betsy Chan, of Bloomington (3rd from left) has entered Rachel Meatball Poppers. Not pictured is finalist Carole Holt of Mendota Heights (Chocolate-Caramel Crumb Cupcakes). For a complete list of finalists go to pillsbury.com or click here.