Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nothing like a little baking controversy to stir things up at the Bake-Off


















Last week, the winner of the most recent Pillsbury Bake-Off was finally announced. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that I have been trying to complete a project of sorts - testing out every grand prize winning Bake-Off winner, as well as some of the finalists entries that I felt like trying. I had already tried a few of this year's finalists recipes out, such as Java Glazed Cinnamon Rolls, as well as Mini-Greek Turkey Burgers and Blueberry-Almond Creme Muffins. I actually thought the blueberry muffins had an excellent shot at winning, as they were not only beautiful to look at and easy to make, they were so delicious and called for really ordinary ingredients. Even though I was not an entrant in the contest, I anxiously awaited the announcement of the winner this year, which was presented on the Oprah Winfrey show. Out of the four main category prize winners, the million dollar grand prize winning recipe was Sue Compton's Mini Ice Cream Cookie Cups.

Almost immediately the Pillsbury forums were filled with many comments questioning the appropriateness of the winner. Some questioned its ease, limited actual baking, and heavy use of ready made ingredients. Well, as I have been studying the winning recipes very carefully over the past several months, I can tell you that one thing they seem to always look for is a clever way to use a common or prepared ingredient and turn it into something very different from its original form, either by creating something unexpected, such as turning breakfast waffles into stuffing as in Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing (Grand Prize Winner #42) or a clever new cooking method, such as the water rising technique used in the Nut Twists (Grand prize Winner #1). While it may be true that the current winning recipe didn't involve much scratch baking, that has not been a requirement of the contest for many years, so there really isn't much to complain about there. In fact, all entrants are required to utilize sponsored ingredients, many of which are things like prepared cookie dough and other ready made items.

However, one complaint that did perhaps ring a bit true was over the originality factor. Just how unique and creative was this recipe, making it worthy of such a generous prize? Whether or not Sue Compton intended to or not, her recipe does seem awfully similar to another prize winning recipe from a 2004 Taste of Home cooking contest for Coffee Ice Cream Cups. While technically there are some differences, they are really two variations of the same really clever idea.

Actually, the idea of using cookie dough to create dessert cups is even less original. Recipes from The Pampered Chef and even a previous Bake-Off category winner used this technique (Choco-Peanut Butter Cups). So OK, fine, so she might have seen cookie cup desserts before and perhaps was inspired to come up with her own version, but this does not mean she cheated. The judges loved her spin on it and felt hers was original enough. At some point, you just have to understand that with the nature of recipe sharing, especially over the internet, clever new cooking methods can easily become household standards. What if the winner had instead been the fish tacos? Would we all have been hunting down every pre-existing version and saying see look, she copied? A quick Google search for fish tacos recipe draws 615,000 results. So to all the naysayers and sour grapes out there, why not give Sue Compton the benefit of the doubt?













As for the recipe itself, I made it over the weekend and it was really cute and tasty, if a bit fiddly to make. I think kids would have a blast helping out with this, especially the part where you get to dunk the cookie cups into the melted chocolate and then roll them around in the sugary nuts. A note of caution - you need a lot of freezer space to store these. I somehow missed that part of the instructions until I was scooping the ice cream. Finding space for 24 mini ice cream filled desserts in a well stocked freezer can be quite a challenge.

10 comments:

  1. Great post Heather! I'm with you, originality in ingredient use is the key to this contest. The last few winners have been simply brilliant. A peanut butter ball in a cookie or waffles for stuffing, well done! The only one I have a problem with is the granola pie that beat me out for the million (ha!).

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  2. You know, I must have been living in a box all this time. It was only after you mentioned your oven breaking that I ever realized you had been a contest winner. I will have to try your recipe out one of these days - I love any sort of lettuce wrap type thing.

    I agree - the past several winners have shown a lot of creativity in using the sponsored ingredients. I really do feel that gives them an edge.

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  3. Creativity is the main reason I follow bake-offs in the first place. So often the ingredients used in the recipes aren't necessarily things I'm all that interested in... but the inspiration factor is always HUGE when I glance through the recipes. Gotta keep those cooking/baking wheels turning, after all!

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  4. Lo, I absolutely agree. I love seeing what new ways they come up with to use things. It is a smart marketing tactic really, as it gets me to buy ingredients I might otherwise not have considered purchasing.

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  5. I have to say, my PBO recipe was not my finest. I don't think they even sell the Old El Paso precooked taco meat anymore but thanks for thinking of making it. I'm looking forward to the next one, I'd love to go again. Now that you're back in the States, you should give it a go. I'll meet you there!

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  6. Karen- I was so sad when I got back to the US and found out it was too late to enter - especially when it was in driving distance this year. Can you imagine? /groan two more years before I can even try! ;)

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  7. Great post Heather. I have long been the fan of the Bakeoff contest! I even have several of the cookbooks! As you know alot of their ready made ingredients are not available over here, so to make one of these recipes I need to put my thinking cap on and come up with substitutes. Not that hard to do in many cases!

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  8. Marie - Thnks :) Yep, some things you may have to improvise with, but there are plenty of reasonable things to substitute usually. The recipes are for the most part rather easy to prepare and often very flexible with subs.

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  9. Hi. I love your blog. I love lavendar, everything about it, the smell, the look. Very interesting blog post. I have never followed bake-off's. I have seen them on TV, though. Maybe, I will start. I think the cookie cups are a great idea. I have never seen them. I think I will try them over the summer. They will make a cute treat for the kids. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. Thank you for visiting Raina, and for your nice comments:) The mini cookie cups seem very suited to a summer party for kids - wonderful birthday party fare, I think.

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