Anne Ryan,Pillsbury/General Mills
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."