As I sit and wait for the finalists for the 47th Pillsbury Bake Off to be announced, all sorts of emotions and feelings are flooding back to me. I’m anxious, nervous, impatient, and even a little pessimistic about my chances this year. It’s all too familiar. About this time last year, I was entering the Bake-Off for the first time. Little did I know that I was in for quite a ride. Here’s my story:
I always knew what the Pillsbury Bake Off was. I remember growing up in rural Montana and seeing the awards presentations on tv and being in awe of the event. It was something that I could dream about….and only dream about. The Bake Off was a place reserved for an elite group of home cooks. These cooks were the best of the best. They were creative, talented, and way out of my league.
Fast forward 25+ years. I’m now married with 5 kids. Money is tight. Really tight. We have everything we need, but little extra to spare. We knew when we decided that I would stay at home with the kids that there were some things that we’d have to sacrifice. Things like brand new cars and fancy family vacations. And, that’s okay. But, there was always a little part of me that wondered if there wasn’t something that I could do to help out a little. For about 5 years I decorated cakes from home and generated enough extra to allow us an occastional dinner out and mini-family vacation. My little cake decorating endeavor was greatly blessed. I was baking, decorating, and delivering anywhere from 6 to 12 cakes a weekend. That’s a lot of cake for a one man show. In February of 2013, I decided that it was time to walk away from caking. The next step would normally be to open a bakery and cash in on my baking success, but that wasn’t an option. So, I quit. Cold turkey. I fulfilled my committments through the next few months but didn’t take on any additional cakes. While I was relieved to be done with cake decorating, I knew that I was taking a huge leap of faith by giving up that little bit of extra income.
I brainstormed and researched trying to find ways that I could generate some income from home. I stumbled across an article about the Pillsbury Bake Off. Maybe this was the answer. I knew right away that I wanted to enter, but I wanted to do it right. There would be no “hoping” to get in. I was going to get in. For days I poured over blogs, watched videos, scoured online newspaper articles about the Bake Off. I searched online forums for discussion about the Bake Off. I just knew that there had to be a secret to getting in. Some people try for years and never make it. Others are finalists in 3 consecutive contests. There was definitely a secret. I kept researching. I stumbled upon a message board about the Bake Off on Cooking Contest Central (CCC). I tried to access it, but reached a dead end when I realized that I had to be a member. So, I joined on the spot. I’m pretty sure it was the wee hours of the morning when I joined. I searched the message boards and read everything I could find that would give me insight in the Bake Off. The information on CCC was invaluable! I also came across info on 3 different books about the Bake Off and contesting in general. I ordered them and read them right away. When I felt like I had a good idea of what the contest was about and what they were looking for, I started creating. I had more failures than successes, by far. I kept trying. I entered several recipes in the 2nd entry category, Simple Sweets & Starters. One of my favorites was Loaded Baked Potato Mini Pizzas. When notification day arrived, I checked my email faithfully. Truth is, I don’t think I budged from my computer all day. Some buzz started generating on CCC and on Facebook that emails had been sent to potential finalists. I knew then that I was out.
As I waited for the next category to open, Quick Rise & Shine Breakfasts, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to try again. I was bummed that I had been passed over in the previous round and just wasn’t sure I could handle the disappointment again. Two days after the breakfast category opened, I was laying awake in bed at roughly 2 a.m. I decided that the recipes I had been trying to create were too much…they just weren’t practical. I thought back to my childhood and some of our favorite breakfasts. Cheese toast. Cinnamon toast. Waffles. Hmm…I wonder if I could make cinnamon toast waffles. It would definitely need a topping because Pillsbury is all about “eating with your eyes”. What about compote? I jumped out of bed and grabbed my notebook. I wrote down my idea and a few different ways that it could be made. I sat down at the computer to research exactly what compote was. Sounded like I could substitute canned fruit for “compote” and at least make the recipe sound somewhat fancy.
At the crack of dawn I drove 20 minutes to WalMart to get what I needed to try out my Cinnamon Toast Waffles. I took Pillsbury Crescent Rolls and dipped them in cinnamon and sugar and placed them in a scorching hot waffle iron. When I opened the iron to remove the first waffle all I saw was caramelized sugar baked on my waffle iron. Ugh. What a mess. I rethought my plan. What if I dipped it in egg first, you know, like french toast. What do you know, it worked! Hence, French Toast Waffles with Apple Cherry Compote was born. I submitted my recipe right away and waited. While I was really excited about this recipe, I honestly did not expect to be a semi-finalist. When I received the email from Pillsbury stating that I was a potential semi-finalist I was in complete shock. My son was sitting next to me at the computer when I opened the email. He was reading it at the same time I was. We looked at each other and didn’t say a word. I ran outside to where my husband was working in his garden. I think I scared him a little when I started yelling for him to come to the house. We both just kept saying “Is this for real?” I was in shock. I grabbed my cell phone and called my mom. She, my sister, and my immediate family were the only ones that knew I was even trying to get in to the Bake Off. After my phone calls, I sat down to read the entire email only to realize that mum’s the word until I’m “officially” a semi-finalist.
While reading through the info they sent, I realized that my cake decorating experience could cause me to be ineligible. I called Pillsbury right away. Not gonna lie. My conscience was battling me on this one. But, I knew that if they were going to disqualify me I wanted them to do it sooner rather than later. I told the lady on the phone that I had decorated cakes and sold baked goods from my home for about 5 years. She asked lots of questions. Things like “were they your original recipes?” and “how much money did you make doing it?”. She said she would pass the info on to the right people and they would determine if I was eligible. I immediately felt deflated. I just had a hunch that I wasn’t going to be allowed to participate even though I consider myself far from a professional. For two weeks I waited, not knowing what was going on. The day before the semi-finalists’ recipes would go online for public vote, I received an email stating that I was indeed a confirmed semi-finalist. Say what?! I was almost more shocked to get this email than I was to find out I was a “potential” semi-finalist. My saving grace was that I don’t create recipes for pay. Any cakes I baked or goodies I sold weren’t my original recipes. Phew!
As I read the information packet that was attached to the email, I realized that I had a lot of work ahead of me. 60 semi-finalist recipes would be placed online. Only 33 would make it to the actual Bake Off in Las Vegas. In order to get online votes, it was up to me to get the word out by contacting media outlets and informing friends and family. The next two weeks of voting were going to be crucial. I had to develop a plan and get to work. I had come this far, and there was no way I wasn’t going to give this my all. I would have rather never been a semi-finalist then to not make the cut because I didn’t work hard enough to get votes. I started having flashbacks of high school. Like the time I was the only, yes ONLY, girl at cheerleading tryouts that didn’t make the squad. Maybe if I had tried a little harder….. Then there was the time I lost the Montana State Spelling Bee. Maybe if I had studied a little harder…..
Click here to read Doughboy Obsession Part 2