Mindy Beaumont likes her chances in contests. She’ll make a try. This year it’s really paid off. Her recipe for honey-roasted corn and crab puffs, an appetizer, won her a place as semifinalist in the renowned Pillsbury Bake-off. She got an all-expense paid trip to the competition, this year at a casino in Las Vegas November 11-15, and a nice microwave.
The bake-off got started in 1951 and showcases talented home cooks thinking up simple recipes (that include two General Mills-owned products) that other family cooks could use. The bake-off winner gets $1 million.
“This year was different,” said Beaumont. “It was their 46th bake-off. Usually they pick 100 finalists. This year they picked 180 from the 30,000 recipes submitted. You got to be a ‘semifinalist’ if you got enough people to vote for you on social networks. Nobody there liked that. Is that really the best recipes? Clearly it was about marketing because in order to vote you had to register at the Pillsbury website.”
Beaumont said she didn’t like having to promote herself with people who had not tasted her cooking. But she got enough votes.
“It’s about home cooks. No chefs or anyone who gets paid for it. You can compete three times. More than half the semifinalists there had been [to the bake-off] before.
“After my experience, it’s not just creating a recipe but thinking about what Pillsbury is looking for. After you’ve been there you realize what will work.” It has to be a recipe anyone could make, that would not take too long or be complicated, and be tasty, she said.
“My recipe with crab in it would never have the mass appeal. They look for quick, easy and economical. The recipe that won was very inexpensive.” She described the winner as a “a loaded potato pinwheel.”
Beaumont’s recipe used Green Giant frozen corn and Pillsbury crescent dough for the product requirement. “You had to use off an approved list,” she said. “It’s not a broad range. You have to think outside of how you normally cook. I like to cook from scratch. If I made it from scratch I’d have had to roast the corn. I used Green Giant corn as a time-savings. You’re not showing yourself as the home cook, but I was game for it.
“I’m not a recipe cook. I wanted to do an appetizer. I’m not a big dessert fan. I started with the corn and made it over and over again until I got what I liked.” When she makes it at home or for friends she uses 6 ounces of fresh lump crabmeat. “I’ve made the puffs for neighborhood events and people love them. My neighbors are making them now.”
“I think if I’d made it with ham [at the bake-off] I would have gotten farther.
“The whole event was impressive. It was really nice. The media coverage was overwhelming. Food editors and bloggers were everywhere. While we were cooking, they were all around.” Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi was there to announce the winner. Last year Martha Stewart did that job.
“I had no idea of the culture of food contests. Other contestants were also in other similar contests. Creating a recipe and writing it down is challenging.”
The contest went four hours. First they were trained on the appliances they would be using. “It’s managed very closely to prevent cheating and tainting of the judging,” said Beaumont. They got briefed on rules by company lawyers. “We couldn’t take cell phones or personal items on the contest floor.
“We felt like big shots for a couple of days. We got four runners as assistants. I would do it again now that I know what they’re looking for.
“The best thing for me was—I know how to cook—being narrowed down to the 100 made me proud. It was really fun. My best story is that one of the judges said, ‘You know you’re getting buzz around the room.’ She tried it and said it was one of the best bites she had that day.”
Next year the bake-off is in Nashville and Beaumont thinks she’s going for it again.
Because she works from her home in Crozet (she does student skill assessment for an online university and teaches an intro class), Beaumont said she can fit cooking into her schedule. “I’m fortunate that I can cook for my family,”—her husband and two daughters—“They appreciate it. We’re all together for dinner. We can focus on each other and catch up.”
They chose Crozet to be home three years ago when her husband (government job) got assigned to Charlottesville. They had moved four times in the previous six years.
“This was about being a resting place and schools. We looked for a couple of years because we knew the move was coming. We chose Crozet for the small town feel and the schools. We have mountain views. We love it here.” Beaumont is a newcomer contact for her girl’s elementary school, Brownsville.
“We garden and I cook seasonally. I’m a whole food type of cook. We do a lot of fish and grilling. My girls aren’t picky.”
Beaumont said her cooking style, which she called Mediterranean, combines things she learned from her Philippine mother and Greek father. “My forte is leftovers,” she said. “I would win a competition over leftovers. My mother never wasted anything.”
Beaumont also won a gas grill this year from a food photography contest she entered, and a year’s supply of Starkist tuna, and she won $1,000 of groceries from Martin’s Food Market.
Honey Roasted Corn and Crab Puffs
Courtesy Mindy Beaumont
- 1 bag (11.8 oz) Green Giant® Seasoned Steamers™ frozen honey roasted sweet corn
- ¾ cup water
- 6 tablespoons butter
- ¾ cup Pillsbury BEST® Self-Rising Flour
- 3 eggs
- 1 ¼ cups shredded Cheddar cheese (5 oz)
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay
- 6 oz fresh lump crabmeat
1. Heat oven to 425°F. Line large cookie sheets with parchment paper (or spray with non-stick cooking spray). Microwave frozen corn as directed on bag for just 2 minutes to thaw. Set aside.
2. In 2-quart saucepan, heat water and the butter to boiling over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, add flour all at once and stir in with wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low; beat vigorously about 1 minute or until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat. Transfer dough to a large bowl.
3. Beat in 1 egg at a time, beating vigorously after each addition until mixture is smooth and glossy. (When you first add the eggs, the dough may look clumpy, but after you keep stirring it with the spoon, it comes together.) Add the corn, cheese and Old Bay and stir to combine. Gently fold in the crab. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonsful 1 inch apart on cookie sheets. (I use a small ice cream scoop to keep uniform size.)
4. Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Serve warm.