DALLAS The heat was on in Dallas last week for Utahns Karry Edwards and DeAnn Hilterbrand.
They were among the 100 finalists at the Pillsbury Bake-Off dicing, mixing, baking and frying their original recipes with hopes of winning a million dollars.
But it was Carolyn Gurtz of Gaithersburg, Md., who ended up taking home the grand prize of $1 million for her Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies. Gurtz wrapped peanut butter cookie dough around balls of a sweet peanut butter mixture.
All 100 finalists prepared original recipes for judges in minikitchens set up at the Dallas Fairmont Hotel ballroom. A panel of nine food experts judged the entries on taste, appearance, creativity and consumer appeal.
The awards were announced Tuesday morning by Sandra Lee, host of the Food Network's "Semi-Homemade Cooking." Although neither won a cash prize, both Edwards and Hilterbrand received a trip to Dallas and a GE enhanced-performance microwave oven.
It happened that Edwards' cooking station was next to Gurtz's during the five-hour Bake-Off, and Edwards had high praise for the million-dollar winner, who had entered the contest for the past 10 years but never made it to the finals.
"She is such a sweet person. She told me it was her lifelong dream to get to come here," said Edwards. "I tried her cookies, and I thought they were pretty good."
Edwards had also sampled the Salmon Pastries With Dill Pesto, which earned Edgar Rudger of St. Paul, Minn., a $5,000 award in the Entertaining Appetizers category.
"I thought for sure he was going to win the whole thing," Edwards said.
Edwards said the Bake-Off was a great experience. "They kept us so busy we didn't have time to be nervous. And on the cooking floor, it was like a piano recital. You're nervous beforehand, but once you start playing, it's fine," she said.
Hilterbrand also cooked next to a distinguished contestant, Roxanne Chan of California, a veteran of many national cook-offs. This was Chan's third and last chance at Pillsbury, since the rules limit each contestant and immediate family members to three times as a finalist.
"She's an institution," said Hilterbrand of Chan. "Really, these are the nicest people you could ever meet. Those who have been here for their second and third times are generous with their advice."
Since the recipes must use sponsor products, a high number of recipes featured some form of pizza, cookie or biscuit dough. Hilterbrand's category, Old El Paso Mexican Favorites, had two other mole dishes that used sponsor product Jif peanut butter.
Many recipes were twists on familiar dishes, such as Loaded Baked Potato Pizza, Southwestern Sloppy Joe Pizza and Philly-Goes-Mexican Cheese Steak. There was also lots of ethnic fusion, such as South-of-the-Border Sushi Appetizers and Huevos Rancheros Pizza.
The heavy dose of convenience products wasn't lost on Lee, the Bake-Off's master of ceremonies, whose cooking show capitalizes on ready-made ingredients. Lee strolled around the Bake-Off floor, sampling dishes, posing for photos with contestants and taking reporters' questions.
"This is the land of 'Semi-Homemade,"' Lee told the Deseret News. "This is exactly what 'Semi-Homemade' is about, in that you are utilizing your grocery store and pantry, being smart about it and having fun. It's amazing how simple some of these kinds of recipes are. There are a lot of very smart home cooks here."
Besides the $1 million (paid out in $50,000-a-year installments for the next 20 years), Gurtz also won the $5,000 Jif Peanut Butter Award, as well as a $10,000 set of General Electric kitchen appliances.
In a news conference after the awards show, the ecstatic Gurtz said her cookie appeals to all ages. Even her dog, a mixed golden retriever, really likes it. "It has a really crunchy, sweet outside and it's creamy in the middle, so it's kind of a surprise when you bite into it."
In a press release, the judging panel lauded the cookies for simplicity and approachability. The panel was headed by Angela Shelf Medearis, cookbook author and host of the "Kitchen Diva!" PBS television show.
"All the judges were professionals and well-versed in cooking, and they are passionate about maintaining the integrity of the contest, and this was the clear winner," Shelf Medearis said after the awards ceremony, when journalists had a chance to sample the cookies in the press room. She added, "I have three of those cookies in my purse to eat on the plane going home."
The cookie evokes memories of Peanut Blossoms, the peanut butter cookie topped with a Hershey's Kiss that was a 1957 Bake-Off contender. Although it didn't win, it went on to become a classic in American households.
The Bake-Off is known as the premier recipe contest since it began in 1949 and enhanced that reputation when the grand prize ballooned from $50,000 to $1 million in 1996. The grand prize has remained at $1 million, but the category awards were downsized from $10,000 to $5,000 each this year. The public could vote on the Bake-Off Web site for a favorite recipe, and that $5,000 award went to Toffee Banana Brownies by Gwen Beauchamp of Lancaster, Texas. Another award a set of GE kitchen appliances for the most innovative recipe went to Phyllis Weeks-Daniel for her Blue Cheese and Red Onion Jam Crescent Thumbprints.Hilterbrand's and Edwards' recipes ran in the Deseret News Food section April 9 and can be found at deseretnews.com. Other winning recipes are listed on Bakeoff.com.
DOUBLE-DELIGHT PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES
1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup confectioners powdered sugar
1 16.5-ounce roll refrigerated peanut butter cookies, well-chilled
1. Heat oven to 375 F. In small bowl, mix chopped peanuts, granulated sugar and cinnamon; set aside.
2. In another small bowl, stir peanut butter and powdered sugar until completely blended. Shape mixture into 24 (1-inch) balls.
3. Cut roll of cookie dough into 12 slices. Cut each slice in half crosswise to make 24 pieces; flatten slightly. Shape 1 cookie dough piece around 1 peanut butter ball, covering completely. Repeat with remaining dough and balls.
4. Roll each covered ball in peanut mixture; gently pat mixture completely onto balls. On ungreased large cookie sheets, place balls 2 inches apart. Spray bottom of drinking glass with nonstick cooking spray; press into remaining peanut mixture. Flatten each ball to 1/4-inch thickness with bottom of glass. Sprinkle any remaining peanut mixture evenly on tops of cookies; gently press into dough.5. Bake 7-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack. Store tightly covered. Carolyn Gurtz, Gaithersburg, Md., $1 Million Grand Prize
SALMON PASTRIES WITH DILL PESTO
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
1/2 cup lightly packed chopped fresh dill weed
1/3 cup light olive oil
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, if desired
3/4 pound salmon fillet, thawed if frozen and patted dry
1 15-ounce box refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
1. Heat oven to 400 F. In food processor bowl with metal blade or in blender, place chopped dill weed, oil, walnuts, lime juice, garlic, mustard, 1/2 cup of the cheese, salt and pepper. Cover; process, stopping once to scrape side of bowl, until smooth.
2. If salmon has skin or bones, remove them; rinse fillet and pat dry with paper towel. Cut salmon into 24 (1-inch) cubes.
3. On cutting board, roll 1 pie crust into 12-inch round. Cut into 4 rows by 3 rows to make 12 (4-by-3 inch) rectangles. Repeat with remaining crust. (Rectangles cut at edge of crust will have rounded side.)
4. Spoon 1 level teaspoon dill pesto onto center of each rectangle; top with 1 salmon cube. Bring 4 corners of each rectangle over filling to center and pinch at top; pinch corners, leaving small openings on sides to vent steam. (For rectangles with rounded side, bring 3 points together at top, pinching to seal.) On ungreased large cookie sheet, place pastries 1 inch apart.
5. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.6. Place remaining pesto in small resealable food-storage plastic bag. Cut small tip off 1 bottom corner of bag; squeeze bag to drizzle pesto over serving plate. Place pastries on serving plate. Sprinkle pastries with remaining cheese and garnish with dill weed sprigs. Serve warm. Makes 24 appetizers. Edgar Rudberg, St. Paul, Minn., $5,000 Category Award
MASCARPONE-FILLED CRANBERRY-WALNUT ROLLS
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Nonstick cooking spray
1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 12-ounce can refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (10 biscuits)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese or cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese or cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners powdered sugar
1. Heat oven to 350 F. Lightly spray 8- or 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In small bowl, mix cranberries and walnuts; set aside. In another small bowl, mix granulated sugar and cinnamon; set aside.
3. Separate dough into 10 biscuits; press each biscuit into 3-inch round. Place heaping 1 teaspoon of the mascarpone cheese on center of each biscuit. Bring all sides of dough up over filling, stretching gently if necessary, and gather in center above filling to form a ball; firmly pinch edges to seal. Roll each biscuit in melted butter, then roll in sugar-cinnamon mixture. Place 1 biscuit in center of pan. Arrange remaining biscuits, seam sides down and sides touching, in circle around center biscuit. Pour remaining butter over biscuits; sprinkle with remaining sugar-cinnamon mixture.
4. Reserve 1/4 cup cranberry-walnut mixture; sprinkle remaining mixture over biscuits.
5. Bake 28 to 33 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown. Place heatproof serving plate upside down on pan; carefully turn plate and pan over. Let stand 1 minute, then carefully remove pan.6. Sprinkle with cranberry-walnut mixture. In medium bowl, stir glaze ingredients until smooth. Drizzle glaze over top of rolls. Serve warm. Serves 6. Pamela Shank, Parkersburg, W.V., $5,000 Category Award
APPLE-JACK CHICKEN PIZZA WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS
Prep time: 40 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
3 tablespoons butter
2 large sweet onions (such as Maui or Walla Walla), very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 13.8-ounce can refrigerated pizza crust
1 unpeeled large Red Delicious apple, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 cups cubed cooked chicken breast
1/3 cup cooked real bacon bits (from 3-ounce package)
2 medium green onions, sliced (2 tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded pepper jack cheese
1. In 12-inch skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add sweet onions and thyme; cook about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden. Stir in salt and pepper. Remove onions from skillet; set aside.
2. Heat oven to 425 F. Spray large cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Unroll pizza crust dough on cookie sheet; press dough into 14-by-10-inch rectangle. Bake 7-11 minutes or until light golden brown. Reduce oven temperature to 375 F.
3. Meanwhile, in same skillet, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add apple and sugar; cook 4 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar is melted and apple is slightly soft.
4. Spread onion mixture over partially baked crust. Top evenly with chicken, apple mixture, bacon, green onions and cheeses.5. Bake 10-20 minutes longer or until cheeses are melted and crust is golden brown. Serves 8. Niki Plourde of Gardner, Mass., $5,000 Category Award
MEXICAN PESTO-PORK TACOS
Prep time: 40 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
1 17-ounce package refrigerated fully cooked pork roast au jus
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 medium tomato, chopped ( 3/4 cup)
1 medium avocado, pitted, peeled and chopped ( 3/4 cup)
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro sprigs
3/4 cup Spanish peanuts
2-3 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno chile, seeded, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
Taco Shells and Cheese:
1 4.7-ounce box taco shells (10 shells)
1 4-ounce cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Lime and orange wedges for garnish
1. Heat oven to 325 F. In medium microwavable bowl, shred pork; discard juice. Toss pork with orange juice and cumin; set aside. In another medium bowl, mix tomato, avocado, lime juice, sugar and salt.
2. In food processor bowl with metal blade, place 1 1/2 cups cilantro, the peanuts, garlic, chile and oil. Cover; process about 30 seconds or until well blended; set aside.
3. Heat taco shells in oven as directed on box.
4. Meanwhile, cover bowl of pork mixture with microwavable paper towel. Microwave on high 2- 3 minutes or until warm.5. To serve, spread about 1 tablespoon pesto over 1 side of each taco shell. Fill each with about 1/4 cup warm pork mixture, 1 tablespoon tomato-avocado mixture and heaping 1 tablespoon cheese. Serve garnished with lime wedges, orange wedges and cilantro sprigs. Makes 10 tacos. Vanda Pozzanghera, Pittsford, N.Y., $5,000 Category Award
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 3 hours, 10 minutes
Nonstick cooking spray
1 19.5-ounce box fudge brownie mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups toffee bits
1 cup macadamia nuts, chopped
2 firm ripe medium bananas, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (2 cups)
1. Heat oven to 350 F. Generously spray 13-by-9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In medium bowl, stir brownie mix, oil, water and eggs 50 strokes with spoon. Add 1 cup of the toffee bits, the nuts and bananas; stir just until well blended. Pour into pan. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup toffee bits over top.
3. Bake 38-48 minutes or until center is set when lightly touched, top is slightly dry and edges just start to pull away from sides of pan. Cool completely, about 2 hours. For brownies, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows. To serve, drizzle each brownie with caramel topping. Cover and refrigerate any remaining brownies. Makes 24 browniesHigh Altitude (3,500-6,500 feet): Increase water to 1/3 cup. Add 1/2 cup all-purpose flour to dry brownie mix. Gwen Beauchamp, Lancaster, Texas, $5,000 America's Favorite Recipe Award
BLUE CHEESE AND RED ONION JAM CRESCENT THUMBPRINTS
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1 8-ounce can refrigerated crescent dinner rolls (8 rolls)
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon extra virgin or pure olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1. Heat oven to 375 F. In small bowl, mix cream cheese and Gorgonzola cheese with fork until blended.
2. Unroll dough; separate into 2 rectangles, each about 11 inches long. Place 1 rectangle on cutting board; press perforations together to seal. Spread half of the cheese mixture over dough to within 1/2 inch of long sides; sprinkle half of the pecans evenly over cheese. Starting at 1 long side, roll up; press seam to seal. Cut roll into 16 (about 3/4-inch) slices with serrated knife; place cut sides down on ungreased large cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, cheese and pecans.
3. Bake 14-17 minutes or until golden brown.
4. Meanwhile, in 8-inch nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook 3- 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly brown. Remove from heat. Stir in vinegar, preserves (breaking up large pieces of fruit if necessary) and thyme; set aside.
5. After removing rolls from oven, immediately press back of a teaspoon into center of each roll to make small indentation. Spoon slightly less than 1/2 teaspoon onion jam into each indentation. Remove from cookie sheet. Serve warm.
Makes 32 appetizers.High Altitude (3,500-6,500 feet): Heat oven to 350 F. Phyllis Weeks-Danie, San Diego, $5,000 GE Imagination at Work Award