The Doughboy and Martha Stewart are cozying up this weekend in Orlando at the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off. He’s the sponsor’s mascot – she’s the sponsor’s grand celebrity pooh-bah. My, how the contest has changed.
Cakes, breads took first prizes
Art Linkletter led the celebrities who’ve hosted the show, and kicked it off in 1949, announcing the winning contestants of the “Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest.” The event was dreamed up by ad execs to celebrate Pillsbury’s 80th birthday, and was held in New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Media at the event coined the “Bake-Off” moniker and it stuck.
The grand prize winner that year was Theodora Smafield of Rockville, Ill., who took home a whopping $50,000 – a fortune for a homemaker in those years. Two other runners-up won $10,000 each. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was there to congratulate the winners.
Smafield’s recipe was for No-Knead Water-Rising Twists. It called for the dough to be wrapped in a tea towel and put in a pot of warm water to rise. Pillsbury has updated the recipe (see it below) for modern cooks.
In those early years, from-scratch baking was the norm, and flour was a required ingredient in all recipes.
An annual contest was born
The contest was such a success, Pillsbury latched on to it as a marketing vehicle. Prize money was dropped to $25,000 in the early years. During the 1950s and the post-war boom, flour was the only required ingredient. Most of the recipes were for fancy cakes or breads and baked goods in the first decade of the contest.
According to Pillsbury’s history of the Bake-Off, “The economic boom of the postwar years led to a belief that America had abundance in all things. The good life was evident in rich, filling meals and glamorous desserts. Since women rarely worked outside the home, housewives spent hours in the kitchen.” Fancy desserts and more involved recipes were prevalent.
Women back to work
Of the many radical changes in American society brought by the ’60s, perhaps none changed the way we cooked like women returning to the workforce and gaining self-independence.
Meals became simplified and convenience foods were used to get dinner on the table for two-paycheck families.
In 1966, Pillsbury added the “Busy Lady category” – and cake mixes, frozen vegetables, canned products and refrigerated doughs dominated the contest ingredients.
Peacheesy pie, using refrigerated pie crusts and canned peaches, won the top prize for Melbourne, Fl., contestant Janis Risley in 1964.
Exploring new flavors and experimenting in the ’70s
Cooks in the ’70s took on ethnic cuisines that previously had been deemed exotic. The Bake-Off had a number of entries that represented Mexican, Asian and Middle Eastern foods.
The natural diet guru Euell Gibbons and the earth mothery Moosewood Cookbook were stars of the decade, and had followers in the contest who used natural products – fruits, nuts and vegetables – in their dishes that had a homey appeal. Chocolate cherry bars became a national favorite after it won for Francis Jerzak of Porter, Minn. in 1974.
The Pillsbury Bake-Off changed, too and became a biennial event.
’80s cooks entertained and were health conscious
Entertaining with wine and taking cooking classes was entertainment for 1980’s cooks. Chefs were beginning to gain TV ground and the food vocabulary became more sophisticated. Gourmet shop sprouted and supermarkets hurried to keep up with ethnic and upscale cooks.
Cholesterol was the health buzzword – so the ’80s Bake-Off saw more chicken dishes and fewer red meats in the contest.
Millicent Nathan of Boca Raton won the 1980 Bake-Off with her Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie.
$1 million prize in the ’90s
More men were cooking in the 1990s, and in 1996, the first year that Pillsbury upped the prize money to $1 million, the contest was won by Kurt Wait of California.
Recipes in this decade were casual-gourmet, yet simple, with more varied ingredients to choose from. Pillsbury added to its eligible list of products salsa and taco shells.
A new century of cooking
Cooks in the new century are taking on bold flavors, and mixing sweet and savory on the same plate. Chicken with waffles and spinach stuffing, a $1 million winner in the 2006 Bake-Off, is an example. The dish mixes baked savory baked chicken with sweet peaches and maple syrup along with frozen waffles and spinach as a stuffing on the side.
Unusual use of ingredients will continue, as well as flavorful, sweet endings to meals, according to Pillsbury trend watchers. Convenience will be matched to sophisticated palates and the globalization of foods.
Watch Martha live for this year’s winner
Martha Stewart will announce the winners of the Pillsbury Bake-Off live on her show Tuesday morning (March 27, 10 a.m., on the Hallmark Channel). A special studio was built to accommodate the large audience at the Peabody Hotel, host of the Bake-Off in Orlando. She’ll have film from the event. She’ll also be promoting her new cookbook, Martha’s American Food.
Check back to JanNorris.com for the winning recipe and photos from the Bake-Off 2012. Follow tweets from the Bake-Off at JanNorrisDotCom, #Bakeoff.
The Bake-Off online
For more information about the Pillsbury Bake-Off, including how to enter, tips from Pillsbury, and endless recipes, go to pillsbury.com/bakeoff/
Here are grand prize winning recipes from past Pillsbury Bake-Off contests.
No-knead water-rising twists (1949 winner)
- 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 cups Pillsbury BEST® All Purpose or Unbleached Flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 envelope active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1/2 cup margarine or butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup of the sugar, salt and yeast; blend well.
In small saucepan, heat milk and margarine until very warm (120 to 130°F.). Add warm liquid, vanilla and eggs to flour mixture; blend at low speed until moistened. Beat 2 minutes at medium speed. By hand, stir in remaining 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups flour to form a soft dough. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and cloth towel. Let rise in warm place (80 to 85°F.) until light and doubled in size, 30 to 40 minutes. (Dough will be sticky.)
Grease 2 large cookie sheets. In small bowl, combine nuts, remaining 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon; blend well. Drop about 1/4 cup dough into nut mixture; thoroughly coat. Stretch dough to about 8 inches in length; twist into desired shape. Place on greased cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover; let rise in warm place, about 15 minutes.
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Uncover dough. Bake 8 to 16 minutes or until light golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheets; cool on wire racks. Serve warm.
Makes 12 rolls.
(Recipe courtesy Pillsbury)
- For filling:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 to 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 can (28 oz) peach slices, drained, reserving 3 tablespoons liquid
- For crust:
- 1 box Pillsbury® refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
- For topping:
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 package (3 oz) cream cheese, softened
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
In 1-quart saucepan, mix 2 tablespoons of the reserved peach liquid, 1/3 cup sugar, the lemon juice and eggs. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
In small bowl with electric mixer, beat sour cream and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Gradually beat in hot egg mixture until well blended; set aside.
Heat oven to 425°F. Place 1 pie crust in 9-inch glass pie pan as directed on box for One-Crust Filled Pie. Spoon filling into crust-lined pan. Dot with butter. Spoon topping mixture evenly over filling.
Remove second pie crust from pouch; place flat on work surface. With floured 3-inch round cutter, cut out 8 rounds from crust. Brush tops of rounds with remaining 1 tablespoon reserved peach liquid. Arrange pie crust rounds over topping.
Bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F; bake 35 to 40 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown. After 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover crust edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Store in refrigerator.
Chocolate Cherry Cake Bars (1974 winner)
- 1 (18.25-oz.) pkg. Pillsbury® Moist Supreme® Devil’s Food Cake Mix
- 1 (21-oz.) can cherry pie filling
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup milk
- 5 tablespoons margarine or butter
- 1 (6-oz.) pkg. (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
- For the filling:
- 1/3 cup low-fat sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- For the cake:
- 1 (18.25-oz.) pkg. Pillsbury® Moist Supreme® Devil’s Food Cake Mix
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/3 cup oil
- 1 (15-oz.) can sliced pears in light syrup, drained
- 3 eggs
- 1/3 cup chopped macadamia nuts or pecans
- 2 teaspoons water
- For sauce:
- 1 (17-oz.) jar butterscotch caramel ice cream topping
- 1/3 cup milk
Chicken with waffles and spinach stuffing (2006 winner)
- 3 tablespoons maple-flavored syrup
- 2 tablespoons peach preserves
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 bone-in skin-on chicken breasts (1 lb)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 4 frozen plain or buttermilk waffles
- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
- 1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon beaten egg white
- 1 box (9 oz) Green Giant® frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained (about 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon chopped pecans