WASHINGTON - For 15 years, Carolyn Gurtz submitted entries in the Pillsbury Bake-Off: Fiesta Pie. Devil Delight Bites. Very Berry Muffins.
But it wasn't until the Gaithersburg, Md., homemaker started thinking like a marketer as well as a chef that she won the $1 million prize last month. You read correctly: one million dollars.
What set her Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies apart? Reliability, for one: "The measurements come out perfect," she said after the prize ceremony in Dallas. "Every time you make it, it comes out the same."
Plus, "It had several of the sponsors' products in it." Gurtz only had to use two ingredients from Pillsbury's list, but she tipped her hat to no fewer than five - Pillsbury cookie dough, Jif peanut butter, Fisher peanuts, and both Domino and C&H sugar.
Oh, and apparently this does still matter: The result is delicious. "Everyone loves cookies, and most people like peanut butter," said the 59-year-old grandmother and Sunday school teacher.
Which is what it always comes down to. Now in its 43rd year (the once-annual competition went to every other year in 1996 when the prize got bumped up to seven figures), the contest exalts American convenience cuisine over gourmet technique or exotic taste - recipes that the least-skilled cook can tackle, results that will please the most unpretentious palate.
Gurtz, whose recipe was selected from tens of thousands of entries, calls herself "an old-fashioned cook." She's been known to experiment on special occasions - there was the filet mignon stuffed with lobster tail, another steak served with sauteed bananas, "which sounds terrible, but it was just great." But most days, "I stick with potatoes and meat and chicken-type things. My husband and family love my meat loaf. I don't get into real gourmet with herbs and spices. I really should try and learn some of that."
Actually, she seems to have done just fine without. You read correctly: one million dollars.
Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 2 dozen cookies
1/4 cup Fisher Dry Roasted Peanuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup Domino or C&H Granulated Sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup Jif Creamy Peanut Butter
1/2 cup Domino or C&H Confectioners Powdered Sugar
1 package (16.5 ounces) Pillsbury Create 'n Bake refrigerated peanut butter cookies, well chilled
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, mix chopped peanuts, granulated sugar and cinnamon; set aside.
2. In another small bowl, stir peanut butter and powdered sugar until completely blended. Shape the mixture into 24 one-inch balls.
3. Cut a roll of cookie dough into 12 slices. Cut each slice in half crosswise to make 24 pieces; flatten slightly. Shape one cookie dough piece around one peanut butter ball, covering completely. Repeat with the remaining dough and the balls.
4. Roll each covered ball in peanut mixture; gently pat the mixture completely onto the balls. On ungreased large cookie sheets, place balls two inches apart. Spray the bottom of a drinking glass with Crisco Original No-Stick Cooking Spray; press into remaining peanut mixture. Flatten each ball to 1/4-inch thickness with the bottom of the glass. Sprinkle any remaining peanut mixture evenly on tops of cookies; gently press into the dough.
5. Bake seven to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool one minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack. Store tightly covered.
Per cookie: 141 calories, 3 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, 3 milligrams cholesterol, 115 milligrams sodium, 0.4 grams dietary fiber