Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Road to the 44th Pillsbury Bake-off

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 or click here.


  1. You are awesome! Congratulations on winning the GE Imagination Award! I am so entering this again--it's like an addiction, isn't it? The best part is all the wonderful people I've gotten to know. If that sounds all mushy and stuff, well it's supposed to.

  2. Nice Post glad you got the inovation award. Trying to come back down to earth and move on to work today.