The Pillsbury Bake-Off is the biggest amateur cooking and baking contest in the world, with a grand prize of a million dollars going to one creative home cook. There were tens of thousands of entries this year, for the 47th Bake-Off contest, and that number was slowly whittled down to 100 finalists after a rigorous process of test kitchen baking, tasting and evaluation based on the contest criteria. This year, there were four categories that people could enter in: Simply Sweet Treats, Savory Snacks & Sides, Weekend Breakfast Wows and Amazing Doable Dinners.
This year’s contest was held in Nashville, Tennessee, at the beautiful Omni Hotel. While the location in Music City was different from previous contests, the format for the contest was the same: 100 identical kitchen stations were set up in one of the hotel’s huge ballrooms and outfitted for everything that the finalists needed to make their recipes three times during the contest. Giving the contestants multiple opportunities to bake allows them to have a little wiggle room in case their first try doesn’t turn out as perfectly as they had hoped due to nerves or anything else. The air on the contest floor is electric because everyone knows that someone out there cooking is going to be the big winner. There are a number of other prizes, as well, including those for the best use of sponsored products like Jif Peanut Butter or Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk.
One of the things that makes the contest so challenging is that the cooks and bakers need to use a couple of required ingredients in addition to using no more than seven total ingredients. The recipes should be creative, delicious and easy enough to make that you’ll want to make them again and again! Many of the finalists are repeat entries to the Bake Off. In fact, this year there were only 22 newcomers to the contest floor – which means that previous competitors may have been inspired by previous trips to the Bake-Off to come up with new ideas for future contests. Contestants can only be finalists a maximum of three times, even if they don’t take home the grand prize, so there is always a good mix of fresh faces and experienced ones – and everyone helps everyone else out. It’s a supportive crowd.
After the contest, the finalists can finally relax. That night, we were called back together for an awards ceremony were the sponsored prizes were given out and the finalists in each category were named. Carla Hall, one of the hosts of The Chew acted as the MC and did a fantastic job getting the crowd going, with the help of a wonderful local country band.
This year, for the first time ever, they did not announce a Grand Prize winner at the awards show. Instead, America – that would be you readers! – has a chance to try the recipes and cast their vote for the one they think should take home the big prize. The four top finalists are: Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets, Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers, Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters, and Chocolate Doughnut Poppers.
You can cast your vote at Pillsbury.com and help make some baking history! The Grand Prize winner will be announced the first week of December, so there is plenty of time to play along. I admit that it was a bit anticlimactic to not have confetti drop on the grand prize winner at the awards dinner, but I think that giving more people a chance to try the recipes is a really novel idea and a fun way to stir up interest and inspiration for next year’s Bake-Off, as well. Good luck to all the finalists – and happy tasting to everyone at home who tries the recipes and casts their vote!
UPDATE: The winners have been announced and the grand prize winner is the Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters!!!