Eleanor Roosevelt and Art Linkletter with finalist Laura Rott in 1949.
The Pillsbury Bake-Off , commonly referred to as the nation's "best-known cooking contest", doesn't


Maple Valley Cook Headed to Pillsbury Bake-Off

Eleanor Roosevelt and Art Linkletter with finalist Laura Rott in 1949.
The Pillsbury Bake-Off, commonly referred to as the nation's "best-known cooking contest", doesn't have much cachet in Amy Andrews social circle.

"The newer generation, they're not aware of it," says the Maple Valley stay-at-home mom, who this month was chosen as one of 100 finalists in the biannual competition. "It's kind of shocking."

Andrews, 34, remembers watching the Bake-Off on television, perhaps back in the 1980s, when perennial Miss America host Garry Collins emceed the broadcast. Launched from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1949, the contest energized a nation of unappreciated housewives equipped with rolling pins; Thousands of amateur cooks devised floury cookies, cakes and pastry twists in hopes of winning a fortune. The grand prize - which held steady for decades at $50,000 - was raised to $1 million in 1996.

Yet all those extra zeroes and an online component, in which 10 of the finalists are selected by consumer vote, have apparently failed to put the Bake-Off back in the popular vernacular. For serious home cooks, though, being named a finalist is still considered a pinnacle achievement: Many competitors enter dozens of recipes every year to better their chances of being invited to the big event, held this year in Orlando. Few of them will ever get the call (which, as contest vets knows, almost always comes on Thanksgiving weekend.) Fewer still earn a finalist spot with a first submission, as Andrews did.

"I was looking for how I could bring in a little extra revenue," Andrews says. "I cook every night for my family and really value home-cooked meals."

After scouring the list of past winners and realizing it was short on shrimp, Andrews devised her Sweet and Spicy Shrimp Cups, made with mayonnaise, marmalade and hot chili sauce.

"It was a little trial and error," says Andrews, who admits it took a few rounds to properly balance the sweetness and heat. "It comes down to a mathematical equation for the ingredients. My husband was a very good guinea pig."

Since perfecting the recipe, Andrews estimates she's made it "a total of five times," although she's practicing for the showdown, when she'll have to prepare the stuffed cups for judges. She's also checked out her competition online: Pillsbury now posts recipes for all 100 finalist dishes.

The grand prize winner is selected from the winners in four recipe categories: Andrews is competing in the "entertaining appetizer" division. "It's hard to know which category they'll choose," Andrews says.

Andrews is optimistic, but an appetizer has never won the grand prize. The last two dishes to mint new millionaires were Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cups and Mini Ice Cream Cookie Cups, in keeping with Bake-Off tradition: Baked goods have taken most of the grand prizes, with a full 25 percent of them bestowed upon chocolate desserts.

Can Andrews' cups compete with Spiced Chocolate Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream and Peanut Butter Boston Cream Cake? There are signs it could be the year for shrimp: Judging by the other recipes chosen as finalists, healthy foods and international flavors are in good standing. And online reviewers are enthusiastic: "Huge success and very simple to make," a Pillsbury.com commenter wrote after testing the recipe. "The appearance and taste made me seem like a pro."

"I'm hoping the judges enjoy it," says Andrews, who fully appreciates the significance of being selected for the competition. "It's an honor. What an honor."

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