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Anne Ryan,Pillsbury/General Mills
Utahns Elizabeth DeHart and Cameron Bailey pose at the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest on March 26.
Those four hours flew by. I didn't realize I was that close to the deadline. —Cameron Bailey

ORLANDO —Cameron Bailey's 20-yard dash to the finish line at the Pillsbury Bake-Off March 26 was captured on the Hallmark Channel's "Martha Stewart Show." The Salt Lake man was the last of the 100 finalists to turn in his Bake-Off entry to the judges, as the other finalists, news media and even General Mills Pillsbury's president Ann Simonds were all shouting, "Run!"

His Bacon-Chicken Sliders with Raspberry-Onion Spread were logged in to the judge's table at 11:59 a.m., just one minute shy of the noon deadline.

"Everyone likes a little drama at the end," he calmly quipped a few minutes later.

The 100 Bake-Off finalists prepared their recipes at 100 mini-kitchens at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando. They were in the audience as Stewart announced the winners March 27.

Stewart, camera crew in tow, walked the Bake-Off floor and talked to a number of finalists as they were cooking their dishes. Some of these scenes, including Bailey's last-minute finish, were aired during segments of the awards show.

This was Stewart's first time hosting the Bake-Off. "I thought people would be more nervous," the homemaking mogul said.

Even Bailey remained calm in the face of problems. Early on, he discovered the GE glass-top electric range was taking a lot longer to brown his biscuits and reduce the chicken stock needed for his onion spread. Then while slicing the biscuits, he cut his finger. Precious minutes ticked by as he waited for the doctor to come, examine and treat the wound, and clear him to start cooking again.

"Those four hours flew by," he said. "I didn't realize I was that close to the deadline."

In comparison, the Bake-Off was smooth sailing for Elizabeth DeHart of West Jordan, who prepared her Falafel Sandwiches with Fire-Roasted Tomato Aioli three times: once for photographs, once for the judges and once to give out as samples for the media and supermarket executives who were allowed to observe on the Bake-Off floor. Several who nibbled on DeHart's sandwiches commented on the great flavor combination and its healthfulness. But only people from Utah caught her meaning when she joked, "It's your bean patty with fry sauce."

Although the two Utah contestants had a good showing at the event, it was Christina Verrelli of Devon, Pa., who was announced by Martha Stewart as the million-dollar grand prize winner, for her Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream. It consists of a creamy pumpkin filling baked between two squares of crescent dough, and topped with cinnamon-sugar, nuts and caramel-swirled whipped cream.

The judges — 12 food experts ranging from writers to an industry executive — evaluated entries on taste, appearance, creativity and consumer appeal.

In a press conference following the announcement, the teary-eyed winner said she tried the "ravioli" concept using raspberry, strawberry and other flavors first. "The idea of pumpkin came to me, and the nuts added a nice little texture in there."

The fact that Verelli used several sponsor ingredients didn't hurt: Land O'Lakes butter and eggs, McCormick vanilla extract, Pillsbury flour, McCormick pumpkin pie spice, Fisher chopped pecans, Pillsbury crescent dough, Hershey's caramel syrup and McCormick cinnamon sugar.

Verrelli, 43, said that she and her husband had some lean times with the downturn in the economy, and her million-dollar windfall will be used to help them finance their new business, a club called Brownies 23 East. She was also a finalist in the 2010 Bake-Off.

"That contest introduced me to a whole subculture of people who enter cooking contests," said Verrelli, who has since entered many local competitions. "I have only won with savory dishes so it was a nice surprise I didn't have a jinx on sweets."

Judges had to choose the grand prize from the four category winners, who each received $5,000 plus $3,000 in GE appliances. In the Breakfast & Brunches category, Maria Vasseur of Valencia, Calif., won for her Sausage-Pomodoro Brunch Bake.

The Dinner Made Easy category winner was Donna Wolfe of Hamilton, N.J. for Chicken Empanada Cones. The Entertaining Appetizers category was won by Terri Sherman of Palos Heights, Ill., for Asparagus, Artichoke and Red Pepper Pizza. Verelli won in the Sweet Treats category.

One of the judges, food reporter Jeff Houck of the Tampa Tribune, said the four category winners were all very close in scoring. But what put the pumpkin dish over the top was, "we felt not only was it delicious, but it (was) special and unique. It's the perfect combination of prepared ingredients with that little homemade touch."

He said the judges discussed the seasonality of pumpkin, "But you could put just about anything in the filling, so it could be a wonderful dessert for Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July."

Verelli wasn't the only contestant who picked up on the salted caramel trend. Other entries included Salted Caramel Macaroons and Vanilla Malt Toffee Triangles with Sea Salt.

With Smuckers as a sponsor, many entries had savory dishes with sweet fruity notes, such as Sweet and Spicy Shrimp Cups spiked with Asian chili sauce and orange marmalade, Biscuit Corn Cakes with Goat Cheese and Blackberry Thyme Sauce and Cherry Jalapeno Cream Cheese Tartlets.

Finalists also got creative with another sponsor product, Jif peanut butter. There were Indonesian Chicken Turnovers with Spicy Peanut Sauce (which won the $5,000 Crisco Is Cooking Award), Thai Chicken Subs, Peanut Butter Boston Cream Cake and the Jif $5,000 winner, Chewy Peanut Butter Caramel Bars.

Julie McIntire of Independence, Mo., won $5,000 in GE appliances for her Salmon Crescent Sushi Rolls, and Brett Youmans of Reading, Pa., won the $5,000 Eagle Brand award for Orange Cream-Macadamia Torte.

Each finalist won a trip to the contest, a GE microwave oven and $125.

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.

Email: vphillips@desnews.com

SAUSAGE-POMODORO BRUNCH BAKE

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

1 12-ounce package bulk reduced-fat pork breakfast sausage

1/3 cup refrigerated basil pesto

1 can Pillsbury refrigerated crescent dinner rolls

1 14.5-ounce can Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes, drained

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (1 1/2 ounces)

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (4 ounces)

6 Land O Lakes Eggs

2 tablespoons milk

3 tablespoons shredded fresh basil leaves

Heat oven to 375°F. In 10-inch nonstick skillet, cook sausage 6 to 8 minutes over medium heat or until no longer pink, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in pesto. Set aside to cool.

Unroll crescent dough into 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Press dough in bottom

and 1/2 inch up sides. Press perforations to seal.

Spoon sausage into dough-lined lined dish. Sprinkle tomatoes and feta cheese over sausage. Top with mozzarella cheese. In medium bowl, beat eggs and milk with wire whisk until well blended. Pour egg mixture evenly over ingredients in dish.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until dough is golden brown and knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh basil. Makes 8 servings.

— Maria Vasseur, Breakfast & Brunches category winner, 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off

CHICKEN-EMPANADA CONES

Prep Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

1/3 cup water

2 teaspoons golden raisins

3 tablespoons Land O Lakes Butter

4 teaspoons agave sweetener or honey

1/3 cup fresh cilantro

3/4 cup chopped onions

1 tablespoon Pillsbury unbleached flour

1 18.5-ounce can Progresso World Recipes frijoles negros y jalapeño soup, drained, reserving liquid

2 cups diced cooked chicken breast

1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed

1/2 cup chopped roasted red bell peppers (from a jar)

1/2 teaspoon McCormick garlic salt

1/4 teaspoon McCormick ground cumin

1 teaspoon red pepper sauce

2 tablespoons cornmeal

1 box Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box

1 cup salsa

1/2 cup sour cream

In 1-cup microwavable measuring cup, microwave water on high 1 minute. Add raisins; set aside. In small microwavable bowl, microwave 1 tablespoon of the butter on High 10 to 20 seconds or until melted. Stir in agave sweetener; set aside. Chop enough cilantro to measure 1 tablespoon; set aside.

In 10-inch skillet over medium heat, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add onions; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently or until onions are softened. Sprinkle with flour; cook and stir 3 minutes. Stir in reserved liquid from can of frijoles negros. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the frijoles negros, chicken, corn, roasted peppers, 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, garlic salt, cumin and pepper sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Drain raisins; chop raisins and stir into chicken mixture. Cool slightly.

Heat oven to 450°F. Line 2 large cookie sheets with cooking parchment paper or spray with Crisco cooking spray. Sprinkle cookie sheets with cornmeal. Unroll pie crusts. Roll each into 13-inch round; cut each round into quarters. To make each empanada, place piece of pie crust on cookie sheet, pressing into cornmeal. Brush center with agave mixture. Spoon rounded 1?3 cup of the chicken mixture in center. Bring long sides of dough together, forming a cone shape. Press to seal, leaving rounded end open. Repeat with remaining pie crust, agave mixture and chicken mixture.

Bake 13 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Serve empanadas with salsa, sour cream and remaining cilantro. Makes 8 servings.

— Donna Wolfe, Dinner Made Easy category winner, 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off

Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream

4 tablespoons Land O Lakes butter, melted

2 3-ounce packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup canned pumpkin

1 Land O Lakes egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon McCormick vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar

5 tablespoons Pillsbury all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon McCormick pumpkin pie spice

1/3 cup Fisher Chef's Naturals chopped pecans, finely chopped

2 cans Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations refrigerated seamless dough sheet

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons Hershey's caramel syrup

4 tablespoons McCormick cinnamon sugar

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Brush 2 large cookie sheets with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter. In large bowl, beat cream cheese and pumpkin with electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute or until smooth. Add egg yolk, vanilla, sugar, 3 tablespoons of the flour and pumpkin pie spice; beat on low speed until blended. Reserve 4 teaspoons of the pecans; set aside. Stir remaining pecans into pumpkin mixture.

2. Lightly sprinkle work surface with 1 tablespoon of the flour. Unroll 1 can of dough on floured surface with 1 short side facing you. Press dough into 14-by-12-inch rectangle. With paring knife, lightly score the dough in half horizontally. Lightly score bottom half of dough into 12 squares (3-by-2 1/4-inch each).

Spoon heaping tablespoon of the pumpkin filling onto center of each square. Gently lift and position unscored half of dough over filling. Starting at the top folded edge, press handle of wooden spoon firmly between mounds and along edges of pumpkin filling to seal. Using toothpick, poke small hole in top of each ravioli. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut between each ravioli; place 1 inch apart on cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon flour, dough sheet and filling. Brush ravioli with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter.

3. Bake 9 to 14 minutes or until golden brown.

4. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, beat whipping cream and salt with electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Beat in 2 tablespoons of the caramel syrup until stiff peaks form. Transfer to serving bowl; cover and refrigerate.

5. Remove ravioli from oven. Sprinkle ravioli with 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar; turn. Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon sugar.

6. To serve, place 2 ravioli on each of 12 dessert plates. Drizzle each serving with scant teaspoon of the caramel syrup; sprinkle with reserved chopped pecans. With spoon, swirl remaining 1 tablespoon caramel syrup into bowl of whipped cream. Serve warm ravioli with whipped cream.

— Christina Verrelli, Grand Prize Winner, 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off

Asparagus, Artichoke and Red Pepper Pizza

Prep Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

8 ounces fresh asparagus spears, trimmed

1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch strips

1 tablespoon Crisco 100 percent extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon McCormick sea salt

1/4 cup Progresso panko bread crumbs

1 can Pillsbury refrigerated classic pizza crust

6 tablespoons whipped cream cheese spread

1 to 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

1 jar 12-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained, chopped

3/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese (3 ounces)

3/4 cup shredded Gruy?e cheese (3 ounces)

1/2 teaspoon McCormick garlic powder

Heat oven to 400°F. Place asparagus and red pepper in ungreased 13x9-inch pan; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake vegetables 12 to 16 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning once halfway through baking. Cool 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, spray cookie sheet with Crisco? Original No-Stick Cooking Spray. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Unroll pizza crust dough onto crumb-coated sheet; press into 15x10-inch rectangle. Flute edges of dough.

Bake 12 to 16 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cool 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut asparagus and red pepper into 1/2-inch pieces. Spread cream cheese onto warm crust; sprinkle with lemon peel. Arrange half of the artichokes, asparagus and red pepper over cream cheese; sprinkle with half of the Swiss and Gruy?e cheeses. Repeat with remaining vegetables and cheeses.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are golden brown and cheese is melted. Remove from oven; sprinkle with garlic powder. Makes: 24 appetizers.

—Terri Sherman, Entertaining Appetizers category winner, 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off

More online

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