Local cooks compete in Pillsbury Bake-Off

March 2, 2010 9:44:39 AM PST
For accomplished home cooks, the Pillsbury Bake-Off is the Academy Awards of cooking. Two Chicago area women are as excited as any Oscar nominees.

Julie Beckwith of Crete and Amy Winters of Bartlett are among the 100 finalists for the 44th Pillsbury Bake-Off ® Contest (bakeoff.comand quericavida.com). They're hoping to win the $1 million grand prize in Orlando, Florida from April 11 through April 13. Each will have a mini-kitchen in which to prepare her recipe. Julie's entry is an appetizer she calls Caprese Pesto Margherita Stackers; Amy entered her Deep-Dish Sausage Patty Pizza. Their recipes will be judged on taste, appearance, creativity, and consumer appeal.

There are four contest categories:

  • The Breakfast & Brunches category includes casual brunch or weekend family breakfast ideas. For example, sweet rolls, pull-aparts, breakfast breads, egg dishes or breakfast sandwiches.
  • In the Entertaining Appetizers category, entrants submit appetizers and snacks to serve at casual gatherings with family and friends or for holiday entertaining. For example, tartlets, pinwheels, puffs or bite-size appetizers.
  • The Dinner Made Easy? category encourages home cooks to create easy-to-prepare main dishes that will delight your family. For example, family pizzas, calzones, sandwiches, foldovers or savory pies.
  • Quick and easy treats for anytime celebrations can be entered into the Sweet Treats category. Recipes for this category could include cookies, pies, tarts, brownies or bars.
  • In each category, judges pick a winner who gets $5,000 and a new range. One of those category winners will take home the grand prize that includes $1 million in cash and several new kitchen appliances. Three additional awards will be presented to winners chosen from any of the recipe categories who have not already won another prize.

    "Past finalists have told us that they found inspiration from their favorite restaurant dishes or while traveling," said Kim Anderson, the Bake-Off® Kitchens Manager. "Recipe entries must be original, so one tip is to look for ways to update an old family recipe with convenience ingredients or simpler preparation."

    Julie says inspiration often strikes in the middle of the night. That's when she captured her ideas for her Caprese Pesto Margherita Stackers, entered in the Entertaining Appetizers category. The colorful pizza-on-a-toothpick appetizer was inspired by the zesty herb flavors of her favorite pizza Margherita. Not wanting to make her guests feel they were subjects in a "science experiment," Julie first served her creation to family and friends without fanfare. The appetizers vanished in minutes.

    Julie calls herself a novice cook who loves to bake and experiment with Italian food. If she won the Bake-Off grand prize, Julie says, she'd open her own cupcake shop. A speech-language pathologist, Beckwith loves baking, ceramics and biking in her free time.

    "We were craving deep-dish pizza for movie night, but didn't want to drop $30 for one pizza," says Amy. So she decided to start working on her own pizza recipe; now her Deep-Dish Sausage Patty Pizza is a finalist in the Dinner Made Easy? category. "I was very surprised how good it turned out," she says.

    Amy's family loves her homemade spaghetti and meatballs. "The table is very quiet on spaghetti and meatball night because everyone is too busy eating." Amy says fall is her favorite time of year because she can make pumpkin coffee, pumpkin-pie ice cream and pumpkin bread. "I get a warm, cozy feeling when a dish includes pumpkin and cinnamon," she says. As a stay-at-home mom, Winters volunteers at her children's school and enjoys walking and jogging.

    America's most prestigious cooking contest, the Pillsbury Bake-Off originated in 1949. The $1 million grand prize has been awarded since 1996. The last Pillsbury Bake-Off was held April 2008 in Dallas, Texas. Carolyn Gurtz of Gaithersburg, Md., won the $1 million grand prize with her Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies.

    While many of the sights, sounds and aromas resemble the first event held in 1949, some significant changes have been made in the contest. The recipes are quicker to make in line with busy lives of American consumers and the stakes have risen dramatically. This year, consumers had a chance to help determine 10 of the 100 final recipes by voting on the internet.

    Each of the finalist's recipes had to include at least two products from a contest sponsor. "Many of the eligible products are already very familiar to home cooks, so people can choose their favorite ingredients from throughout the grocery store and start getting creative," said Anderson. "The ingredients come in a variety of flavors, too, so I'm excited to see the new recipe ideas."


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