Local Woman Wins Big At Pillsbury Bake-Off
Friends and family of Sandy Hilbert know several things about the northern Fulton County woman with undeniable certainty – she always has a hankering for chocolate and that sweet tooth is likely one of the reasons she is sweet genius in the kitchen.
Travelling to Florida for last week’s 45th annual Pillsbury Bake-Off, Hilbert participated in the “sweet treats” portion of the national contest based out of the convention room at Peabody Orlando Hotel. Her chewy peanut butter-caramel bars did not disappoint the judges or talk show host Martha Stewart, who on a Hallmark Channel live broadcast last Tuesday morning pronounced Hilbert the winner of the “Jif Peanut Butter Award.” In addition to the title, Hilbert also took home a cash prize of $5,000.
Hilbert told the “News” her involvement with the Pillsbury Bake-Off began August 2011 when she received an unexpected telephone call from a company representative about being chosen as a possible finalist based on her online recipe submission. After jumping through several hoops and completing the necessary steps, her finalist status was confirmed on October 7.
“I know that I was most nervous during the ‘wait for confirmation’ period than I was during any other part of the process,” said Hilbert, of Sinoquipe Road, Fort Littleton.
As dictated by the contest’s rules, Hilbert’s sweet creation was required to contain two specific ingredients from provided lists. Bakers, according to Hilbert, could invent a recipe from scratch or could put a twist on an existing idea by incorporating the two new ingredients to achieve a new flavor profile or texture. Grand-prize winner Christina Verrelli from Devon, Pa., based her recipe for pumpkin ravioli with salted caramel whipped cream on a menu item at a local restaurant.
Hilbert’s chewy peanut buttercaramel bar recipe was conceived from an “amalgamation” of recipes that in turn produced a unique result. “I wanted to create a dessert that appeared like Grandma spent a very long time to prepare but in fact only takes a short preparation time. I love that when you bite into the bar you taste each distinct layer. Then, when you begin to chew, the layers combine to form yet another wonderful taste,” she said.
Hilbert arrived at the Pillsbury Bake-Off to find 100 kitchen ranges lined up for participants competing in four categories: breakfast and brunch, entertaining appetizers, dinner made easy and sweet treats. Each kitchen work space included a small cabinet and countertop for food prepa- ration.
Hilbert stated she was required to prepare three pans of her chewy peanut butter-caramel bars for presentation to the judges; for display on a photo table; and for sampling by media, Pillsbury staff, store representatives and other finalists. Preparing all three pans simultaneously, she unfortunately started off the four-hour contest on a sour note by dropping her base layer of sugar cookies on the floor.
“Normally, I think that would have heaped stress on me, but since I was praying that God would just help me to stay calm I said to myself, ‘Well, that makes things easier. Now I only have to compare two finished dishes to decide which to submit to the judges,’” Hilbert said.
With slightly more than 30 minutes left on the clock, Hilbert submitted her recipe to the judges. Thinking back, she realized not only did she fail to sample anyone else’s dish but also did not taste her own dessert before or after submitting it to the judges.
Perhaps the “icing on the cake” for the local baker was meeting home decorating and gardening guru Martha Stewart. Stewart moved throughout the convention floor speaking with contestants and posing for photos. Hilbert would later appear on the Martha Stewart Show to hear the announcement of individual category winners and the grand-prize winner, who took home a check for $1 million.
“I wasn’t nervous about being on the show until we lined up for the grand march onto the bakeoff floor. I prayed that God would help me to remain calm. At that point I just set myself up to enjoy myself,” stated Hilbert. After the show aired, contestants enjoyed a brief question and answer session with Stewart. One of Hilbert’s questions was selected by show executives, and she was able to ask Stewart what was her favorite thing about being a grandmother. Hilbert said Stewart gushed about her grandbabies and informed the group her not quite 1- year-old granddaughter already has her own rolling pin.
Hilbert would be remiss if she did not pay homage to her 74- year-old mother, Gloria Fegley, who was responsible for inspiring in her a love of cooking and baking. “She made everything from scratch. We had breakfast every morning before school, and dinner was ready for us each day when we got home from school ... I love to see people enjoying the food I’ve prepared. If they get seconds or thirds it’s like giving me a hug,” Hilbert exclaimed.
“My mom always teases me about being ‘the modern cook’ because she says everything I make either comes out a box, a bag or can. I called her after the Martha Stewart Show to say to her, ‘See that! Not bad for a modern cook,’” she added.
Shocked to have come home with a $5,000 prize, Hilbert said her family, consisting of husband Dusty and children Heather and Heath, have not yet decided how to spend the winnings although the idea of putting the money in a vacation savings account sounds appealing. In the meantime, she said she’s gearing up to submit additional recipes to the Pillsbury Bake-Off for the 2013 competition. In preparation, her pantry is stocked with numerous Pillsbury and sponsor ingredients.
“Since Pillsbury receives tens of thousands of submissions I realize that the competition is high and returning to the Bake-Off won’t be easy. However, I’m just going to have fun and enjoy myself in the process,” she concluded.