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 [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.