Bakers, Start Your Ovens!

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Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies
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Mascarpone-Filled Cranberry-Walnut Rolls
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Carolyn Gurtz works on the winning cookies.
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Carolyn Gurtz works on the winning cookies.
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Mexican Pesto-Pork Tacos
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Niki Plourde dices pizza ingredients.
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Niki Plourde dices pizza ingredients.
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Toffee-Banana Brownies
9 / 10
Blue Cheese and Red Onion Jam Crescent Thumbprints
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Phyllis Weeks-Daniels conducts the cooks.

“Ready, set, bake!” could have been the rallying cry for the 43rd Pillsbury Bake-Off® held recently in Dallas. One hundred finalists – 92 women and eight men ranging from age 27 to 72 and representing 35 states – vied for the grand prize of $1 million.

Excitement and delicious aromas mingled in the Regency Ballroom at the Fairmont Dallas as the competition got under way. The contestants simultaneously prepared their recipes at individual mini-kitchens as friends, family and food editors from all over the country observed.

As each recipe was completed, the entries were taken to a panel of nine judges sequestered during the competition. They evaluated each entry based on taste, appearance, creativity and consumer appeal.

At the awards ceremony, celebrity host Sandra Lee announced the winners of five categories: Breakfast & Brunches, Entertaining Appetizers, Old El Paso® Mexican Favorites, Sweet Treats and Pizza Creations. From those five winners, the grand prize winner was named.

For her creative take on a classic cookie, Carolyn Gurtz of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was awarded the $1 million grand prize. Her recipe, Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies, takes a traditional favorite and gives it an unexpected twist with layers of peanut butter.

“I knew I was onto something,” Gurtz says, “when I was in the kitchen baking, and my son was working on his computer in the basement. He came upstairs and tasted one of the cookies and said ‘Mom, these are a winner.'”

Judges agreed Gurtz’s recipe surpassed the other competitors for its simplicity and approachability.

Diana McMillen, senior food editor of Midwest Living, was one of the judges. “When I tasted the winning cookie, I had that ‘Oh-my-gosh’ response,” McMillen says, “which is saying something considering I’d spent the whole day tasting food. Add in the easy prep, and I knew people would love this recipe.”

In addition to winning the Sweet Treats category, and ultimately the grand prize, Gurtz also captured the Jif® Peanut Butter Award. The $5,000 award recognizes the best recipe that uses at least ¼ cup of Jif® Peanut Butter.

The other four category winners each earned $5,000 and a GE Profile™ Double Oven Freestanding Range for their entries. The winner in the Breakfast & Brunches category was Pamela Shank, of Parkersburg, West Virginia, with her Mascarpone-Filled Cranberry-Walnut Rolls. Edgar Rudberg, of St. Paul, Minnesota, won the Entertaining Appetizerscategory for his Salmon Pastries with Dill Pesto entry. The winner of the Old El Paso® Mexican Favoritescategory was Vanda Pozzanghera, of Pittsford, New York, with her Mexican Pesto-Pork Tacos. Niki Plourde, of Gardner, Massachusetts, was the winner of the Pizza Creations category for her Apple-Jack Chicken Pizza with Caramelized Onions.

Consumers selected Gwen Beauchamp, of Lancaster, Texas, to receive the America’s Favorite Recipe Award for her Toffee-Banana Brownies. She was awarded $5,000 for receiving the most online votes.

Phyllis Weeks-Daniel, of San Diego, captured the GE Imagination at Work Awardfor her Blue Cheese and Red Onion Jam Crescent Thumbprints. She received a complete set of GE Profile™ appliances (estimated at $5,000) for her innovative recipe.

Grand prize winner Carolyn Gurtz was inspired by her love of baking and the great taste of peanut butter.

¼ cup finely chopped dry roasted peanuts
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup powdered sugar
1 roll (16.5 ounces) refrigerated peanut butter cookies, well chilled
Heat oven to 375°F. In small bowl, mix peanuts, sugar and cinnamon; set aside.
In another small bowl, stir peanut butter and powdered sugar together until completely blended. Shape mixture into 24 (1-inch) balls.
Cut cookie dough into 12 slices. Cut each slice in half crosswise to make 24 pieces; flatten slightly. Shape 1 piece of dough around 1 peanut butter ball, covering completely. Repeat with remaining dough and balls. Roll each ball in peanut mixture; gently pat mixture completely onto balls.
Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Spray bottom of drinking glass with nonstick cooking spray; press into remaining peanut mixture. Flatten each ball to ½-inch thickness with mixture-covered bottom of glass. Sprinkle any remaining peanut mixture evenly on tops of cookies; gently press into dough.
Bake 7-12 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to wire rack. Store tightly covered. Yields 24 cookies.

Pamela Shank created a recipe that tastes like old-fashioned comfort food, but is quick and easy to prepare.

¼ cup coarsely chopped sweetened dried cranberries
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 can (12 ounces) refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese or cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, melted
1 cup powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons milk
Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray 8- or 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
In small bowl, mix cranberries and walnuts; set aside. In another small bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon; set aside.
Separate dough into 10 biscuits; press each biscuit into 3-inch round. Place heaping teaspoon of mascarpone cheese in 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 in sugar-cinnamon mixture. Place 1 biscuit in center of pan, seam side down. 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.
Sprinkle with all but ¼ cup of cranberry-walnut mixture.
Bake 28-33 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown. Place heatproof serving plate upside down on pan; carefully turn plate and pan over. Let stand for 1 minute, then carefully remove pan. Sprinkle remaining cranberry-walnut mixture over rolls.
In medium bowl, stir powdered sugar and milk together until smooth and of glaze consistency. Drizzle glaze over top of rolls. Serve warm. Yields 6 servings.

Edgar Rudberg says this recipe “gives the feeling of gourmet,” but it’s very simple and inexpensive to make.

½ cup lightly packed chopped fresh dill weed
1/3 cup light olive oil
¼ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
Salt and pepper, optional
¾ pound salmon fillet, thawed if frozen
1 box (15 ounces) refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
Dill weed sprigs
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, ½ cup cheese, salt and pepper. Cover and process, stopping once to scrape side of bowl, until smooth. Set aside.
If salmon has skin or bones, remove them; rinse fillet and pat dry with paper towel. Cut salmon into 24 (1-inch) cubes; set aside.
On cutting board, roll out 1 pie crust to 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 a rounded side.)
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.) Place pastries 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
Place remaining Dill Pesto in small resealable plastic bag. Cut small tip off bottom corner of bag; squeeze bag to drizzle Dill Pesto over serving plate. Place pastries on serving plate. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and garnish with dill weed sprigs. Serve warm. Yields 24 appetizers.

Vanda Pozzanghera says her native India and friends from different cultural backgrounds have influenced her cooking style.

1 package (17 ounces) refrigerated fully cooked pork roast au jus
2 tablespoons orange juice
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 medium tomato, chopped (¾ cup)
1 medium avocado, pitted, peeled and chopped (¾ cup)
2 teaspoons lime juice
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups lightly packed fresh cilantro sprigs
¾ cup Spanish peanuts
2 to 3 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped
¼ cup pure olive oil
1 box (10 count) taco shells
1 package shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Lime and orange wedges, optional
Fresh cilantro sprigs, optional
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; set aside.
In food processor bowl with metal blade, place cilantro sprigs, peanuts, garlic, chile and oil. Cover and process for about 30 seconds or until well blended; set aside.
Heat taco shells in oven as directed on box. Meanwhile, cover bowl of pork mixture with paper towel. Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes, or until warm.
To serve, spread about 1 tablespoon pesto over one side of each taco shell. Fill each with about ¼ cup warm pork mixture, 1 tablespoon avocado mixture and 1 heaping tablespoon cheese. Serve garnished with lime wedges, orange wedges and additional cilantro sprigs, if desired. Yields 10 tacos.

Niki Plourde didn’t expect her meat-and-potatoes husband to like her chicken recipe, but he loved this one.

3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 large sweet onions, such as Maui or Walla Walla, very thinly sliced
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 can (13.8 ounces) refrigerated classic pizza crust
1 large sweet apple, unpeeled, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon sugar
3 cups cubed cooked chicken breast
1/3 cup cooked real bacon bits (from 3-ounce package)
2 medium green onions, sliced
1 package (6 ounces) shredded pepper Jack cheese
1 package (6 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onions and thyme; cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden. Stir in salt and pepper. Remove onions from skillet; set aside.
Heat oven to 425°F. Spray large cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Unroll pizza crust 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.
Meanwhile, in same skillet, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Add apple and sugar; cook 4-6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar is melted and apple slices are slightly soft. Set aside.
Spread onion mixture over partially baked crust. Top evenly with chicken, apple mixture, bacon, green onions and cheeses.
Bake 10-20 minutes longer, or until cheeses melt and crust is golden brown. Yields 8 servings.

Gwen Beauchamp admits to being a confirmed chocoholic who decided to reinvent a favorite brownie recipe.

1 box (19.5 ounces) fudge brownie mix
½ cup pure vegetable oil
¼ cup water
3 eggs
1½ cups toffee bits, divided
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts
2 firm ripe medium bananas, cut into ¼-inch pieces (2 cups)
1/3 cup caramel ice cream topping
Heat oven to 350°F. Generously spray 13-by-9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
In medium bowl, stir brownie mix, oil, water and eggs with spoon for 50 strokes. Add 1 cup toffee bits, nuts and bananas; stir just until well blended. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle remaining toffee bits over top.
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. Cut into squares. To serve, drizzle brownies with caramel topping. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. Yields 24 brownies.

Phyllis Weeks-Daniels set out to make a recipe with the crunch of nuts and the flavors of blue cheese and balsamic dressing.

1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1 can (8 ounces) refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon 100-percent extra virgin or pure olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
¼ cup apricot preserves
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Heat oven to 375°F. In small bowl, mix cheeses with fork until blended; set aside.
Unroll and separate dough into 2 rectangles, each about 11 inches long. Place 1 rectangle on cutting board; press perforations together to seal. Spread half the cheese mixture over dough to within ½ inch of long sides; sprinkle half the pecans evenly over cheese. Starting at 1 long side, roll up; press seam to seal. Cut roll into 16 slices (about ¾-inch thick) with serrated knife; place cut sides down on ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, cheese and pecans. Bake 14-17 minutes, or until golden brown.
Meanwhile, in 8-inch nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and 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 Red Onion Jam aside.
After removing rolls from oven, immediately press back of teaspoon into center of each roll to make small indentation. Spoon slightly less than ½ teaspoon Red Onion Jam into each indentation. Remove from cookie sheet. Serve warm. Yields 32 appetizers.

Brenda Kipp is a CAPPER’s associate editor handling the Heart of the Home articles and recipes. The Dallas contest was her first Pillsbury Bake-Off.


  • Christine Bacher, Claremont, New Hampshire, is looking for a recipe for Italian sausage that includes fennel.
  • Lynda Fanton, Mauldin, South Carolina, has been looking for a recipe for mincemeat coffee cake. She writes, “The dough is rolled out and the mincemeat is spread on top, and then it is rolled up like a jelly roll, placed in a tube pan and baked.”
  • Alice Long, Elkton, Maryland, hopes to a find a lost recipe from the 1950s for a black walnut loaf cake with sugar glaze. She thinks it was in an issue of the Southern Planter magazine that was published in Richmond, Virginia.
  • Phyllis Moyer, Brush, Colorado, would like to find a recipe for a moist, seven-grain bread that may be called Ezekiel Bread.

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