This time last year I was getting ready to travel to Orlando, Florida to compete in the 45th Annual Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined the outcome that happened! Who will create the million dollar grand prize recipe this year? I think it could be you!! Get working on those recipes!!
The Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest (PBO) began in 1949 as the “Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest.” That first contest was held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Pillsbury executives and their advertising agency created the contest as an opportunity to promote Pillsbury Best Flour and as a way for homemakers to share their original recipes. The grand prize that first year was $50,000. In 1996 the grand prize was raised to $1,000,000! The contest was held every year until 1976 at which time it switched to every other year. This year’s 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, to be held in Las Vegas, NV, marks a return to holding the contest annually once again.
1950 Grand National Bake-Off, NYC The Duchess of Windsor, second from right, the former Wallis Simpson, congratulates winners of the Pillsbury Grand National Bake-off. From left are Mrs. Bernard Derousseau of Rice Lake, Wis., who won a $5,000 first prize in a junior division of the bake-off, and Mrs. Peter Wuebel, of Redwood City, Calif., winner of the $25,000 first prize in the bake-off. The women are joined by Philip W. Pillsbury, president of Pillsbury Mills, who along with Wuebel, holds the “Orange Kiss Me Cake,” which won the top prize. Photo, The Associated Press
Through the decades, the contest has seen changes that have followed American cultural changes. In the early days of the contest, the baked creations were all made from scratch, as many mothers were homemakers at the time. Convenience foods were added to the Bake-Off’s list of approved ingredients in the 1960’s following America’s increased use of prepared and packaged food products. Ethnic flavors have been more prevalent in the past decade of the contest due to our desire to explore global cuisine. The emphasis in the mid-90’s was “quick and easy”. This year’s contest seeks recipes that are even “quicker and simpler” with streamlined recipe categories, smaller ingredient list requirements and strict cooking time frame limits. New also this year, the contest incorporates a larger voting component than in years past. This follows the trend of most companies today who utilize social media in advertising.
My Savory & Sweet Breakfast Biscuit Sliders from the 44th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest. 2010 Photo: Pillsbury
I was lucky enough to have been a finalist in the 44th PBO in 2010. My recipe, Savory & Sweet Breakfast Biscuit Sliders, was in the breakfast & brunch category that year. I had a wonderful time being a finalist and met some great new friends who I still communicate with today. Even though I was so happy to be a finalist, you always hold out this teeny tiny hope that maybe your name will be read as won of the prize winners. In my heart, I knew that my recipe probably wasn’t the million dollar winner, but you still hold out hope for one of the other prizes. Alas, there was no prize for my sliders that year.
I remember a moment when I was leaving the awards show and passed by a conference room and there through the open door I saw Sue Compton and the other semi-finalists fielding questions in a press conference. I thought to myself that that was pretty darn cool and I was going to give it my best shot in the next Bake-Off to see if I could make it back as a finalist, possibly score a prize and a press conference!
I decided to have some strategy this time around. I liked my slider recipe from the 44th. But I felt I could do better. There was a dominance of sweets and chicken dishes among the grand prize winners in the past. This is where I would focus my efforts. The recipes had to be somewhat simple yet have a new and trendy element that would catch the eye. I decided to come up with a handful of chicken and sweet recipes that I really loved.
The savory dishes came to me first: A chicken masala dish with “naan” breads made out of the breadstick dough, a Cuban biscuit sandwich with black bean soup and a lattice breadstick topped chicken cacciatore casserole. One dessert was individual cappuccino chocolate chip cookie icebox cakes and the other was Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream.
The pumpkin ravioli recipe was inspired by the simple flavors of another Pillsbury recipe, Crescent Sopapilla Cheesecake Squares. I liked how the cream cheese, crescent rolls and cinnamon all worked together. It was also inspired by the “hot & fresh mini doughnuts cinnamon sugar rolled, trio of dipping sauces” served at our local restaurant, Nectar. I liked the idea of coating the ravioli in cinnamon sugar like a doughnut and providing a dipping sauce. The pumpkin part of the recipe did not come until later. I wasn’t happy with the plain sweetened cream cheese filling and was trying to come up with a flavor to add. Pumpkin popped into my head out of the blue. I like to think my dad, who passed away in 2006, “popped” that idea into my head. The only dish my father ever cooked were the pumpkin pies for our Thanksgiving dinner every year! I would say I spent the better part of a week, used up many blue tubes of dough and had gained a few extra pounds by the time I had perfected the recipe.
Experimenting with various ravioli forming methods while developing the pumpkin ravioli recipe. January, 2011 Testing different filling flavors while developing ravioli recipe. January, 2011
The call came on August 30, 2011! General Mills called and I was going to be a finalist in the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off with my pumpkin ravioli recipe! Off we went to The Orlando Peabody Resort in late March, 2012! The Bake-Off events lasted 3 days. The busy schedule was filled with meetings, orientations and delicious food! I was so thrilled to get the opportunity to be a finalist a 2nd time, I don’t think my feet ever touched the ground!
Being interviewed while working on my recipe at the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off.
The actual Bake-Off Contest was a whirlwind of excitement from “the grand march”, the traditional start of the event, until the last entry was turned into the judges just under the wire. The contest lasts for four hours. During that time you make your recipe 2-3 times, pose for photos, film some video, get interviewed by press and food celebrities, meet the doughboy and have fun with the contestants around you.
The next morning we were lined up to enter the set of The Martha Stewart Show that had been set up in the conference center of the hotel. We were all very excited and were wishing each other good luck! Martha was getting ready to announce the dessert category winner. I watched her mouth form a letter “p”. I heard her say the word “pumpkin”, and I thought to myself, “Who else made a recipe with pumpkin?” It took a moment to register and then I sprung from my seat and made my way to the stage to stand next to Martha! Unbelievable!!! More unreal was when she called my name as the Grand Prize winner!! Then there was confetti and tears and hugs!
My Bake-Off events came full circle shortly after the show when I got to sit next to Martha at my own press conference!! Incredibly amazing!!
At the press conference with Martha Stewart following the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.
The new 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest is now accepting recipe entries!! I would love to see you at the next press conference!! So get cracking on those recipes!! Below are my 10 tips to help you create your winning recipe and successfully compete in Las Vegas at the next Bake-Off!
10 Winning Tips for The Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest:
1. Do Your Recipe Contest Homework:
Go to www.pillsbury.com and sign up to be a member of the website. Print out the contest rules and the eligible product lists. Read the FAQs. Read the rules very carefully, paying special attention to deadline dates, times, recipe ingredient limitations, recipe time limitations and recipe category descriptions. Develop recipes that use their product(s) in a new and creative way while also trying to incorporate a trendy or fun element. Consider that this recipe should appeal to the Pillsbury “audience” of consumers and also that it will be judged by “foodie” chefs and food professionals.
2. Get Your Inspiration & Creativity On:
I gather inspiration from wherever I can. I read food magazines, the newspaper food section, cookbooks and blogs. When I go out to eat I study the menu. I have been watching cooking shows since I was a teenager. If I have extra time while grocery shopping, I like to look for ingredients that I have never used before. I also look for products that contain multiple ingredients/flavors. Ingredients such as these are particularly useful in contests with ingredient limits. These are methods that I use to gather ideas for my recipes. This is not to say that you should copy anyone’s work (that is a huge no-no and chances are you will be caught), but sometimes just reading a certain food word will connect with something in the recesses of your food brain and will spark a new idea. You should also be creative when coming up with your recipe titles. Study the former winners of the contest and see what recipe names are used. Get a sense of what the contest may be looking for in a recipe title. Try to create a title that will catch someone’s attention.
3. Test, Tweak, Take Notes:
Gather all your ingredients and test your recipe. Take notes every step of the way. You will need these notes later on when you write up your recipe on the computer. Make sure you note ingredient amounts, ingredient preparations, preparation times, cooking times, cooling times, etc. Take note of specific types and sizes of equipment used. If the recipe isn’t just the way you want it the first time, figure out what you want to tweak and then try it again, taking more notes. I also like experimenting to find out if the recipe can be prepared in advance and reheated and whether or not it takes well to freezing.
4. Writing Rules:
There are rules to writing recipes. Some contests like you to follow their specific rules. Most contests these days have some sort of an online form for entering your recipe. I like to type my recipe fully in my word processing program and save it before I enter it anywhere. Then I’ll cut and paste the parts of the recipe from my document into the online recipe submission form. This way if something happens like your computer crashes right in the middle of your submission, you won’t have to start from scratch on writing out the recipe.
• List the ingredients in the order they are used
• List the specific amounts of the ingredients and be consistent with your measurement types
• List whether ingredients should be chopped, minced, diced, etc…
• Write the method in a logical sequence using short sentences
5. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread:
Read your recipe over and over. Read it on your computer and print the recipe out and read it. Read it forwards and backwards. Match the ingredients in the list to the ingredients in the method, making sure you don’t forget to mention one in the other. Have someone else read it for you to see if it makes sense. Then read it again!
6. Connect with Others:
If and when (hopefully!!) you become a finalist, it is a great help to find other finalists to communicate with. You will have lots of questions and chances are there are others who will have the same questions and/or already know the answers. A great place to start is a cooking contest website called, Cooking Contest Central (there is an annual fee to join this site). Here you can learn about contests and participate in contest forums. If you hit it off with people on the website, you can hook up with them on Facebook as well. Also, with this year’s voting component to the contest you are going to want to get the word out to your friends and family to vote for your recipe. So if you don’t currently use social media, it may be something you want to start exploring.
7. Equipment & Ingredients:
When you are a finalist you will have the opportunity to approve the ingredients and equipment that will provided for you at the Bake-Off. It is crucial that you make sure everything you need is on the list. If you forget something, chances are it will not be supplied to you.
8. Plan Your “Game Day” Strategy:
The Bake-Off floor ready for action!
If this upcoming Bake-Off is like the two I participated in you will have 20 minutes in your cooking station before they allow the press onto the Bake-Off floor to begin their interviews. Have a plan in your head for what you want to accomplish during this time when you will be free of interruption. I planned to get an overview of where all my equipment/ingredients were. I opened any containers that would need opening (besides the blue tubes). I also tried to get my chopping done at this time. I didn’t want to have any cut fingers because someone startled me while I was chopping. Also, have a plan in your head for when you want to turn your dish into the judges. If my first round of ravioli looked and tasted good, I was going to take them to the judges. I like to serve them warm and I knew I would feel most confident if my first batch turned out well. Other contestants would make all three batches and decide which looked best before turning them in. This is a good option if your dish doesn’t need to be served at a certain temperature.
9. Have a “Geek” Folder:
I was a total “geek” before the Bake-Off carrying around a folder with all my PBO related papers. But if I feel prepared, I am less nervous. I had printouts of my recipe, my equipment and ingredient lists, my strategy plan (see, total geek!) You won’t be allowed to bring this on the Bake-Off floor with you, but you can review it beforehand.
Hanging out with the Doughboy!
10. Breathe, Have Fun, & Make Friends!
Being a finalist at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest is such a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Make sure you enjoy every moment, take pictures and make friends. Take a break in the midst of your baking to breathe and “soak it all in!” Being a finalist is such a special moment and quite an accomplishment!! When you are a finalist, you are part of The Pillsbury Bake-Off Family with a history that goes back to 1949!!
I wish you the best of luck!!! I’ll be rooting for you!! Tina ( :
For More Pillsbury Bake-Off Information Check Out:
THE UNGARNISHED TRUTH, “A Cooking Contest Memoir” by: Ellie Matthews (Grand Prize PBO Winner)
BAKED-OFF! Memoirs of A Pillsbury Bake-Off Junkie, by: Steve Grieger (Three time PBO Finalist)
COOKOFF, Recipe Fever in America by : Amy Sutherland
Debbie & Kristina Vanni, a mother, daughter duo with their own Bake-Off histories, wrote a series of blogs on the history of the PBO. Just search on their blogs for Bake-Off. Click the links below:
The Culinary Cellar, Debbie Vanni
The Daily Dish, Kristina Vanni
My family and I were invited up to visit General Mills/Pillsbury after the PBO. Here are two videos we filmed, click the links below:
Meet the Million Dollar Winner
How to Make Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream
We had a great visit to General Mills in MN after the Bake-Off!
If you have any Bake-Off questions, leave in the comment section below and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Thanks for spending some time in the cloud with me!! Tina ( :
[wpurp-searchable-recipe]10 Winning Tips for The Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest – – , ; – – Breakfast – Cooking/Recipe Contests – Dessert – Baked-Off! – CookOff! – Crescent Sopapilla Cheesecake Squares – Grand Prize Winner 45th Annual Pillsbury Bake-Off – Nectar Restaurant – Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest – Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream – Savory & Sweet Breakfast Biscuit Sliders – The Culinary Cellar – The Daily Dish – Winning Tips[/wpurp-searchable-recipe]
What a great write up Christina. Thanks so much for your winning tips. You have lived my dream.
Thanks so much Karen!!! Feels like a total dream!! I’m rooting for you!!! ( :
That is a great post! I really enjoyed watching the videos at the end…your ravioli was such a clever idea and I am surprised at how simple they really are!
Thanks Veronica!! Glad you enjoyed the videos – was such a fun experience filming them!! The ravioli really are simple once you see how to assemble them. Take Care! ( :
What a generous and gracious post! Huge congratulations on your win, and double huge thank yous for paying it forward by helping those who follow in your footsteps.
That’s really sweet Jenni!! Very much appreciated!! ( :
What a unique idea! Thanks so much for sharing your tips and experience with us!
Thanks Stephanie!! I signed up to follow you on "Munch I Munch" – love the name!! ( :
Hi, Tina! What a great post you’ve shared w/all of us…your genuine enthusiasm for the success of us P’bury ‘wannabes’ comes through loud and clear, and that’s very encouraging. Your tips are simple and ones that I need to read over and over…especially, the word SIMPLE!! I’m very grateful to have connected w/you! Now, on to round two and getting those creative juices pumping! xo Ally
Thanks so much Ally!! Wishing you all the best for round 2!! I know you’ll come up with something SIMPLY awesome!!
Kristin @Dizzy Busy and Hungry!
Amazing story! Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed the photos and videos too!
Hi Kristin, Thanks so much!! I appreciate you stopping by!!
Great post friend!!!!
Thanks Laurie!!! xo
You are amazing! Your tips are so helpful and thorough and we all want to learn from the best. 🙂 It’s fun to hear about your journey to the PBO and what you learned from the first go around to help you bring home the big bucks the second time around. I am so happy for you and all of your success!!!
Thanks so much Melissa!!! You are so sweet!! ( :
Love it- hoping to get an entry in for the next round 🙂
Thanks Danielle!! Wishing you all the best in the next round!! ( :
What a great and helpful post! I have some insights to share about public voting (I was an unsuccessful participant in the You Be the Judge voting last time around), but for now, all I can say is don’t be deterred by the public voting aspect of the contest this year, and don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of contacts who will vote for you. Pillsbury’s Facebook page has about 2 million likes, and trust me, a LOT of them vote. I don’t think it hurts to ask your friends to vote, but in the end, I don’t know that it matters all that much either.
Thanks for sharing Nancy!! I think the voting can be really nerve wracking, but I think you’re right that the Pillsbury Facebook Community probably has a big voice. Best of Luck to all!!!
Thank you so much for the amazing truth and great information you have provided your readers. I thought, (and my husband), that I was a bad cook/baker. You reminded me, developing a recipe takes time. My errors in taste,ratios, texture and appearance must be part of the process when you are making your own recipes.
I have made some silly errors up until this point with, wonderful, delicious oatmeal cookies with too many ingredients, baked goods made from items not on this years list and missing a deadline.
Developing an original recipe is not as easy as it appears to those not making the effort to attempt the contest. A stranger in the baking aisle, just last week, made fun of my bake off idea. "Do you really think you will win a million dollars with that?", she asked me in disgust as she turned on her heel. Not really, but isn’t it fun to try?
After years of being bedridden/homebound, I am so proud of starting to get back on my feet and I feel happy in the kitchen. I have loved cooking for years and will give it my best shot. Thank you for the tips and your frank portrait of the Bake-Off Contest.
Gail, I’m so happy that you are feeling good and back in the kitchen! Wishing you all the best with your original creations! They do need a lot of tweaking sometimes – just keep at it! I hope I’ll be seeing your name as one of the lucky finalists!! ( : Best to you!!
I am a semi-finalist in this years competition…(shocked) It was the first year I entered, so I’m pretty proud of myself. I have been doing everything possible as far as social media and television appearances, as well as newspapers and local magazine interviews. Do you think there is anything else I should be doing? My recipe is Sweet and Spicy Chicken Flatbread, and I think it appeals to a pretty diverse crowd. I’m from Omaha, Nebraska, so I’m hoping that my smaller city size wont hurt. We shall see!! Thanks so much for all of the wonderful and insightful tips!!
Hi Tanya – Just checked out your recipe!! Looks yummy & creative – great combination!! Huge congrats on making it through on your first try!! Good for you!! It sounds like you’re on the right track with getting the word out on your recipe!! I’ve seen some of the semi-finalists also post on the Pillsbury FB page – if you haven’t done that… I think a lot of the voters probably come from there as they have over 2 million likes on their page!! Best wishes with it all Tanya!!! Hope you get to visit Vegas with the doughboy!! ( ;
Stevie Ann Duvall
I am so excited to come across this article. I have been dreaming of winning recipe contests for years. So far all I have won was a recipe published in a cookbook and I won a free copy of that cookbook! I have a question, once you enter your recipe, you cannot change anything about the recipe, right? Like, you can’t adjust the cooking time to account for using a different oven, or add or take away any ingredients, right?
Hi Stevie – Congrats on your win!! Any win is amazing in my book!! If you’re talking about the cooking at the actual Pillsbury Bake-Off. I believe you can adjust your cooking time due to using a different oven. I don’t think you can add or take away any ingredients. Good luck!!!
Thanks so much for this chance to ask a question. The rules suggest having a recipe that can be made twice in 3 1/2 hours. Does the first batch have to be completely done before starting the second batch? Or can you start while the first batch is cooling or baking? Does Pillsbury have a site for questions? Thanks again. Cynthia
Hi there Cynthia!
I believe in past years you could work on the second batch while one was cooling/baking. We were also allowed to prep. for two batches at the same time. For example, you could chop all the nuts for both batches at once. Now, they do change rules from year to year, so just to be safe you can check out the FAQ’s or look for the "Contact Us" links on this Pillsbury.com page and perhaps send an inquiry for your question. Good Luck!!!
Thanks SOOOOO much!
Hi Christina! First congratulations on your win and for making it to the other contests! I am entering for the first time this year. i have a question that I don’t know if you can answer but I sent the question to Pillsbury and they basically copied and pasted an answer from their FAQ’s that did not answer my question (hence me sending them the email in the first place…lol..oh well). Maybe you have some insight. One of my recipes should be served with something…it could be fruit, bread, crackers, whatever really…it would be totally consumer preference…I don’t know if I have to include one of those as an ingredient. Their answer states that you must include any "essential" ingredients, however, they are really not essential as it could be anything the consumer wants…more of a serving suggestion I suppose,but it would definitely be served with SOMETHING. If I had to include that I need to leave out an ingredient that I’d prefer not to, but could if I must to meet the ingredient limit. So I guess my question is do you know if I can list those in the recipe instructions at the end such as "Serve cold with this, that or the other" or would that disqualify me? It’s my best recipe and I don’t want it disqualified! And if I have to include it, it’s difficult to pick only one of those suggestions. I am stressed out over this LOL. Wondering if you ever ran into this or have any insight?
Hi there Kelly!
That is a tricky one! Since there is no limit to the number of recipes you can submit. I would maybe submit two versions of the same recipe – one where you just give the "accompaniment" suggestion as a "note" or something at the end. And maybe submit another version where you make it an ingredient and get rid of one of the other ingredients. This way you have both bases covered in case. The ingredient limits are so tough!!
At the last minute, I actually submitted a different version of my pumpkin ravioli that had a greater amount of whipped cream. I remember stressing that people may have difficulty whipping just one cup.
Hope that helps!! Best of luck to you!! Tina ( :
Thanks for your opinion…great idea about submitting two versions 🙂
Best wishes to you Kelly! Will you work on a few for the next category?
Hi! I wanted to thank you for your helpful tips in this article. I am going to the Bake-Off this year for the first time, so I appreciate your advice and sharing your experience. Congrats on being the grand prize winner!!!
I also enjoy reading all of your posts and getting new recipes from you. It was fun watching and cheering for you on America’s Greatest Cook! 🙂
Glad you enjoyed the article. CONGRATS on going to the Bake-Off!! WooHoo!! I had such an amazing time both times when I was a finalist ( : Wishing you all the best!! I’ll be rooting for you!!
Hi Tina! I don’t know if you remember meeting me at the 46th PBO, but you were a great help while I agonized over which of my pies to send to the judges. I was lucky enough to be selected as a finalist again this year! My question for you is how early did you end up turning your recipe in? Were you amongst the first to turn in or did you end up going with the second batch. My recipe is a gluten free Dutch pancake with a cherry topping. I could turn it in very early, but not sure if I should wait a bit…What do you think? Sorry for writing a whole book!
Hi Lauren! Good to hear from you! I definitely remember you and your pies ( :
So excited you get to go back again!
I believe I was the first dessert to turn in. I debated back and forth and decided if I liked my first try, I was going to go for it.
Best wishes to you!! Stay in touch!
How can I access the past winning receipts?
Hi Randy – Thanks for visiting epicuricloud! I just went to pillsbury.com where they have all the recipes, but I couldn’t find them in one easy place. Wikipedia has a list of past Grand Prize Winners https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PillsburyBake-Off#GrandPrize_Winners
You can copy and paste a recipe title into the Pillsbury Page Search bar and you should be able to pull up each of the recipes.
Good luck!! Tina ( :
Ive noticed that some people have been to the bake off three time in a row. if this is a blind pick, how do you and they keep getting picked. I have entered thirty time and have never been picked and i know some of my recipies were better than the ones chosen.
Hello there GR –
I do know that folks submit many, many recipes. I also know someone who entered for over 20 years and was never chosen until the last Bake-Off. So don’t give up! I wish you lots of luck!
Free Pillsburys Best Recipe Cookbook – EBook
Hello, love your story, Congratulations! I’m a PBO fan, have checked the cookbooks out at the library a million times. I entered a few years back but have been very busy for a couple years and haven’t given it much thought. Of course today I grabbed a box of pie crust only to find one in the fridge already and thought it a good reason to play around with recipes over winter break. So… I can’t find anything about the next contest, is it 2017 to enter or 2018 to enter?
I don’t want to miss it again (:
Hi Sarah! Thanks for stopping by! Yes, everyone has been waiting and waiting to hear anything on the new PBO. They only said something vague about it happening in the next baking season?? So not sure! I’ll post any news I see on my epicuricloud Facebook page. Feel free to reach out with any questions!
Tina ( :
When is the next bakeoff?
Hi Faye – That is the question everyone is asking – but Pillsbury hasn’t said anything yet. So we’re all hoping they will continue to have Bake-Offs! Fingers crossed!