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Four Floridians are finalists in Pillsbury Bake-Off, set for Orlando

Salted Caramel Macaroons? Mini Carrot-Spiced Cupcakes With Molasses Buttercream? Caramelized Onion and Peppered Bacon Flatbread?

These are just three of the 100 finalists for this year's Pillsbury Bake-Off, proving once again that this is not your great-grandmother's Bake-Off. Well, it isn't and it is. For the first time in a while, there seem to be more recipes that involve scratch cooking with a small assist from a convenience product. This year, there is honest-to-goodness baking, and recipes with upward of 10 ingredients.

The names of the finalists' recipes reflect American cooking trends, if not in your kitchen, then certainly in cookbooks, magazines and restaurants. Many of the titles read as if they've come from the menu of a trendy urban eatery. Orange-Cream Macadamia Tart and Caramelized Pear, Spinach and Chicken Pizza, for instance. That's a far cry from the No-Knead Water Rising Twists that won the first Bake-Off in 1949. It's likely that Theodora Smafield of Michigan, the first winner, had never heard of mango salsa, salted caramels or caramelized anything. She was probably a heck of a cook, though.

This year, Martha Stewart, the queen of the involved home project, is the host. That's quite a change, too, from past hosts who were more often game show or TV hosts (Bob Barker, Alex Trebek, Arthur Godfrey).

The finalists will compete in Orlando on March 25-27 for the $1 million prize, the biggest purse in all of amateur competitive cooking. The categories for the 45th Bake-Off are Breakfast & Brunches, Entertaining Appetizers, Dinner Made Easy and Sweet Treats.

In the beginning, the only required ingredient was Pillsbury flour. After all, the Bake-Off was a baking competition. Over the years, as Americans' cooking and eating habits changed and food conglomerates began to eat up other manufacturers, the Bake-Off was transformed.

Today, there is a long list of eligible products that can be used. Besides Pillsbury flour, there are Pillsbury refrigerated and frozen bread products, plus products from Progresso, Muir Glen, Smucker's, Hershey's, Eagle Brand and Land O'Lakes, among others. All are owned by General Mills or are otherwise sponsors of the Bake-Off.

Florida has four contestants in the finals, though none from the Tampa Bay area. Their entries, too, reflect modern food mores plus a bit of Sunshine State cuisine. Andrea Yacyk of Sebastian offers a nod to Florida with Key Lime Pie Cinnamon Rolls, and Naylet LaRochelle of Miami gives sloppy joes a South Florida Latin beat with Sloppy Jose Gorditas. Maryann Rems of Windermere will be making Cherry-Jalapeno-Cream Cheese Tartlets, and Dawn Onuffer of Crestview in the Panhandle is turning refrigerated oatmeal cookie dough, cream cheese and instant cappuccino mix into Cappuccino Toppers.

The recipes, the host and even the signature aprons to be worn by contestants have a contemporary twist. Three Project Runway reality show contestants have designed aprons for the competitive cooks, and the winning one will be unveiled at the competition.

Honestly, who knew the Bake-Off could be so hip?

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586.

>>MODERATE

Salted Caramel Macaroons

1 can (14 ounces) Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 jar (12.25 ounces) Smucker's Caramel Ice Cream Topping

1 cup Pillsbury BEST All Purpose Unbleached Flour

1 ¼ teaspoons McCormick Sea Salt

2 bags (14 ounces each) shredded coconut

1 ½ cups Fisher Chef's Naturals Chopped Pecans

1 cup Hershey's semisweet chocolate baking chips

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large cookie sheets with cooking parchment paper; spritz with nonstick cooking spray. In large bowl, combine condensed milk, caramel topping, flour and ¾ teaspoon of the sea salt; mix well. Stir in coconut, pecans and chocolate chips until well mixed.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 1 inch apart onto cookie sheets. Lightly sprinkle tops with remaining ½ teaspoon sea salt.

Bake 15 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. Store in airtight container.

Makes 60 cookies.

Source: 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist Sarah Meuser, New Milford, Conn.

>>MODERATE

Caramelized Onion

and Peppered Bacon Flatbread

¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar

¼ teaspoon McCormick ground black pepper

teaspoon McCormick cayenne pepper

8 slices thick-sliced bacon

4 cups thinly sliced sweet onion (about 1 lb)

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons Land O'Lakes butter

1 can Pillsbury refrigerated thin pizza crust

1 can (14.5 ounces) Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes, drained

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line 15- by 10-inch pan with sides with aluminum foil. Place cooling rack in pan.

In large resealable food-storage plastic bag, combine brown sugar, black pepper and cayenne; shake to combine. Separate bacon slices and place in bag; shake to coat. Place bacon on rack in pan.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, turning once halfway through baking, or until bacon is browned and thoroughly cooked. Cool completely. Chop bacon; set aside.

Meanwhile, in 12-inch skillet, cook onions and garlic in butter over medium heat 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, or until onions are golden brown. Remove from heat; set aside.

Spray 15- by 10-inch pan and sides with nonstick cooking spray. Unroll pizza crust dough in pan; press dough to edges of pan. Bake 7 minutes. Remove from oven.

Spread onion mixture over partly baked crust; top with drained tomatoes. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses; top with bacon.

Bake 7 to 11 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheeses are melted.

Remove from oven; sprinkle with basil.

24 appetizers.

Source: 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist Dawn Logterman, Janesville, Wis.

>>EASY

Mini Carrot-Spiced Cupcakes

With Molasses Buttercream

Cupcakes:

1 roll Pillsbury refrigerated sugar cookie dough

1 tablespoon Land O'Lakes unsalted or salted butter, melted

1 tablespoon full-flavor (dark) molasses

2 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons McCormick ground ginger

1 ½ teaspoons McCormick ground cinnamon

teaspoon McCormick ground nutmeg

2 cups shredded carrots

½ cup Fisher Chef's Naturals chopped pecans

Frosting:

7 tablespoons Land O'Lakes unsalted or salted butter, softened

1 tablespoon full-flavor (dark) molasses

2 ½ cups powdered sugar

½ teaspoon McCormick ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Let cookie dough stand at room temperature 10 minutes to soften. Spray 32 mini muffin cups with nonstick spray with flour.

In large bowl, beat cookie dough, melted butter, the molasses, milk, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg with electric mixer on medium speed until blended. Add carrots and pecans; beat on low speed just until blended. Spoon 1 heaping tablespoonful batter into each muffin cup.

Bake 16 to 21 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove from pans to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

To make frosting, in large bowl, beat the butter and molasses with electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Add powdered sugar, cinnamon and milk, beat on medium speed until smooth. Spread or pipe frosting onto cupcakes. Store in covered container.

Makes 32 mini cupcakes.

Source: 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist Natali Morales, Oakley, Calif.

Four Floridians are finalists in Pillsbury Bake-Off, set for Orlando 02/07/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 3:30am]

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