Secrets of the Pillsbury Bake-Off

How to boost your chances of winning $1 million.

Cooks from the Philadelphia area have won the last two Pillsbury Bake-Off contests, a remarkable feat that only means that a three-peat is possible.

How do you improve your odds?

Christina Verrelli (left), a Bake-Off finalist in 2010, with the winner, Sue Compton.

For advice, I asked Sue Compton of Burlington County (who won the $1 million grand prize in 2010 with Mini Ice Cream Cookie Cups) and Christina Verrelli of the Main Line (who won the $1 million in March by making Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream).

Keep these tips with your recipe file. It will come in handy in 2013, when Pillsbury is expected to begin seeking entries for the next Bake-Off contest.

Compton said: "Read and reread the rules to see what the criteria will be for judging your dish, and above all, your recipe must taste great. Have family members taste test and give you feedback on your creation."

This sounds so obvious, but I've heard from many people associated with the contest that many home cooks simply don't include necessary ingredients. It's also important to be original. The Bake-Off staffers have seen everything, and they will scour the Internet and their own voluminous files to be sure your creation is unique.

Verrelli echoed the sentiment about following the rules, and added: "Try to include an element that is familiar and an element that is new."

Very telling, since her pumpkin ravioli incoporated pumpkin (something old) and newly popular salted caramel.

"Above all it has to be yummy!" Verrelli said. "And pray for luck."