On November 3rd, I had the privilege of judging the Pillsbury Bake-Off ® Contest for the 2nd year in a row. This was their 47th year of holding this amazing contest! 100 talented home cooks from across the country competed to win the $1 million grand prize, the largest purse in competitive cooking.
In early 2014, Pillsbury invited amateur cooks to submit original recipes in one of four Contest categories: Amazing Doable Dinners, Simply Sweet Treats, Savory Snacks & Sides or Weekend Breakfast Wows. This year submissions were to include no more than seven ingredients and 20 minutes or less of active prep time. Each Contest, the Bake-Off® Kitchens typically screen and test tens of thousands of entries; the 100 best are selected to compete in the Contest Finals, which this year were held in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville, y’all! It was my first time in Nashville- loved it!
The host of theBake-Off® Contest this year was the fabulous Carla Hall- former Top Chef finalist and co-host of ABC’s “The Chew.” She is an incredibly energetic and happy person. Carla was the perfect host for this event!
At the event, the 100 finalists each prepared their dishes for judging. A panel of judges (me + 11 more) evaluated all 100 recipes to determine the best recipe in each of the four Contest categories based on taste, appearance, creativity and consumer appeal. I had the pleasure of judging the Amazing Doable Dinner category, along two other food professionals: Jill Melton, VP Editor-In-Chief of Relish Magazine (and author of the blog Jill Cooks Here) and Marge Perry, Food Writer/Teacher/Author (and author of the blog A Sweet and Savory Life). All of the judges tasted and scored in their own categories, and then we all worked together to help choose the winners of the awards.
Here are the winners of the “Special Awards” – prize $5,000 :
- Pillsbury™ Clever Twist Award (Marie Valdes, Brandon, FL): Spinach Dip Stuffed Garlic Rolls
- GE Imagination at Work Award (MaryJo Watkins, Scottsdale, AZ): Muffuletta Mini Pies
- Jif® Peanut Butter Award (Brenda Watts, Gaffney, SC): Macaroon- Peanut Butter Chocolate Tartlets
- Pillsbury™ Gluten Free Award (Merry Graham, Newhall, CA): Herbs and Seeds Parmesan Crackers
- Reynolds® Baking Magic Award (Elizabeth Bennett, Seattle, WA): Chocolate- Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels
- Eagle Brand® Signature Recipe Award (Barbara Estabrook, Rhinelander, WI): Peanut and Pretzel Peanut Butter Thumbprints
- Watkins™ Vanilla Award (Antoinette Leal, Ridgefield, CT): Very Vanilla Lemon Tarts
- Crisco is Cooking™ Award (Greg Fontenot, The Woodlands, TX): Grilled Potato and Roasted Salsa Verde Pizza
This year, for the first time ever, America will have the chance to vote online for their favorite of the four recipes selected by the judges to help decide which recipe will win the $1 million grand prize. Here are the four finalists (in no particular order)! >>
Amazing Doable Dinners Category Winner (Courtney Sawyer, Bellingham, WA): Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets
Weekend Breakfast Wows Category Winner (Megan Beimer, Carlsbad, CA): Chocolate Doughnut Poppers
Savory Snacks and Sides Category Winner (Jody Walker, Madison, MS): Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers
Simply Sweet Treats Category Winner (Beth Royals, Richmond, VA): Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters
Which recipe are you going to vote for?? You can actually make the recipes and try them out, if you’d like (click on the recipe titles in my descriptions above to see the recipes). The public vote will be open from 10:00 p.m. CST on November 3, 2014 – 9:59 p.m. CST on December 2, 2014. To vote, go to http://www.pillsbury.com/vote. The points awarded by the Contest Judges count for 55 percent of the total possible points versus 45 percent for the public vote Good luck to all the finalists. I can’t wait to see which recipe takes the million dollar prize!
The $1 million winner will be revealed by Bake-Off® Contest Host Carla Hall on ABC’s “The Chew” on December 3, 2014. Prior to the grand prize winner announcement, “The Chew” will air footage from the Nashville event on its December 1, 2014 episode. The four Category Finalists will each demo their recipes on the December 2, 20914 episode of “The Chew.” “The Chew” airs on ABC at 1:00 p.m. EST (Noon CST and PST).
And here are a few highlights of my time in Nashville, TN! We stayed at the Omni downtown. It was the perfect location next to the Country Music Hall of Fame and just a couple of blocks from all of the live music in the bars and clubs. I happened to be there on my birthday, so I had a birthday beer to celebrate with Carrie (Bakeaholic Mama). I finally met a very sweet, longtime internet friend of mine- Shawn (I Wash You Dry). I hung out with beautiful and talented Angie (Bakerella)- she was also a judge for the Contest. I sampled the oh-so-fabulous hot chicken and waffles at Hattie B’s with a bunch of really fun friends: Dorothy (Crazy for Crust), Carrie (Bakeaholic Mama), Gerry (Foodness Gracious), Shawn (I Wash You Dry), Jocelyn (Bru Crew Life) and Jocelyn (Grandbaby Cakes). The awards show was held at the CMA Theater, and all of the judges got together for a group photo w/ the golden Pillsbury Dough Boy (judges pictured left to right: Andrew Haley, Marge Perry, ME, Angie Dudley, John Szymanski, David Joachim, Lynn Blanchard, Heather McPherson, Ingrid Hoffman, Jenna Helwig and Kat Kinsman– not pictured: Jill Melton)
Disclosure: Thanks to Pillsbury for inviting me to judge the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest. This was not a compensated opportunity, but Pillsbury did cover the cost of my travel and hotel.