Is this cookie REALLY worth a million dollars?

It starts almost the second the winner of the Pillsbury Bake-off contest is announced.

"A million dollars for ... a PIE with GRANOLA BARS?"

"A million dollars for ... CHICKEN with WAFFLES in the stuffing?"

And the latest...

"A million dollars for ... a PEANUT BUTTER COOKIE???"

And I wonder ... what possible recipe would live up to the expectation of a million dollars? How about one that has flecks of 14K gold in it, like the vodka my brother-in-law drinks ... AND tastes decadent but has a negative calorie value ... AND cleans the kitchen as it bakes? Do you think that would put an end to the snarkiness (or is it sour grapes) that ensues every time the winner of the Pillsbury Bake-off contest is announced?

Let's be real about what the Pillsbury Bake-off contest is all about. The Pillsbury Bake-off is to promote products. That's what it was created to do in the 1940s, and that's what it does now. ALL company-sponsored recipe contests exist to promote products.

So why don't you see recipes "from scratch" in the Pillsbury Bake-off contest any more? Let me give you a lesson from Marketing 101 (the following is my unsubstantiated theory, but I'm pretty sure I'm right). General Mills sells a Pillsbury branded flour, but flour verges on being a commodity product. There's little way to differentiate between brands and therefore little wiggle room when it comes to price. Yes, there are some avid bakers who buy based on protein content, and some people who will buy from a smaller company based on their values, but I'm willing to bet that most people reading this blog will admit that they buy flour based on price. Selling a commodity product does not make for a very profitable company (and let's remember that profitable companies do nice things like provide jobs, provide wealth to shareholders, pay taxes, support communities, and help our economy). Convenience products like prepared cookie doughs are far more profitable -- and people buy them and happily use them. And that's why General Mills has prepared products as "qualifying ingredients" for entering the Pillsbury Bake-off contest. Its flour was also on the list this year, but I'm pretty sure that every recipe that they selected to be the 100 finalists used a convenience product (like prepared cookie dough, prepared pie crust, etc.)

Getting back to Carolyn Gurtz's recipe, I've seen comments criticizing her for making her recipe from refrigerated cookie dough. These people need to get a clue. Had Carolyn made her dough from scratch, she would not have been selected to be a finalist in the contest, and she would not have been in the running for the million dollars. End of story. I didn't meet Carolyn at the contest, but I will bet you that she makes a darn good batch of peanut butter cookies from scratch. She entered the recipe with the refrigerated dough to get her to the contest.

I made the million dollar recipe for Double Delight Peanut Butter Cookies yesterday. When they first came out of the oven, they didn't taste much different from a regular peanut butter cookie. When they cooled off, however, I understood why they won. The creamy center, chewy cookie, and crisp coating gave it a great contrast of textures. The flavor was enhanced by finely chopped roasted peanuts. I can't decide about the cinnamon flavor with the peanut butter, but all-in-all, the cookies were delicious. I definitely had a "why didn't I think of that" moment when I tasted them.

If you're going to make them, here are a few tips:
- I think it may be easier to handle the filling if you refrigerate it (or put it in the freezer) for a bit after forming it into balls. The balls should be the size of a large marble.
- Serve/eat these the day they are made -- within a few hours, if possible. The chewy texture doesn't last long.
- My personal preference would be not to flatten these to 1/4 inch as the recipe indicates. The filling has such a nice flavor and texture that I'd rather have the filling be a bit thicker. I'd flatten them to 1/2 inch or so.
- Don't substitute unsalted peanuts or unsalted peanut butter in this recipe. You need the salt.
- If you want to make this recipe, but don't want to use a refrigerated tube of cookie dough, don't! Substitute your favorite "scratch" peanut butter cookie recipe.

So in the end, is this recipe worth a million bucks? On April 15, nine judges evaluated all 100 recipes (a job I wouldn't want) and picked this recipe as the winner. That's the way it works, folks, and that's good enough for me. Congratulations Carolyn Gurtz! Enjoy your winnings and don't let the naysayers get you down!


Barbara Bakes said...

I've been reading your updates about the Bake-off. It sounds like you had a great time. I was a little disappointed to hear the winner was a peanut butter cookie, but after reading your post, I'm definitely going to give them a try.

RecipeGirl said...

Well, I'm sorry you didn't win- but it sure sounds like you had a great time there. You're right about the refrigerated dough. I'm sure that the winner is a talented baker, but Pillsbury looks for their products! I'll have to see if I can come up with something for next year. Are you allowed to enter two years in a row?

Patsyk said...

I have also been following along your updates! I have never entered a cooking contest and must say I think I'd be a bit intimidated!

These cookies sound interesting, may have to give them a try sometime to see what my family thinks of them.

The Cookbook Junkie said...

I don't have a problem with the convenience products but peanut butter cookies are really just nothing new, nothing trendy. I'm sure they are delicious but I would think they would want a recipe that was delicious AND a bit new and exciting.

I'm sure they know what they're doing after all these years but it makes me scratch my head.

Emiline said...

Everyone's going crazy for this peanut butter cookie!
I made a version from scratch on my blog.

Tracy said...

Barbara, I do think you should dry them!

Recipegirl, you ABSOLUTELY can enter two years in a row! But be warned ... if you are earning any kind of an income from your blog, you probably will be considered a "food professional" and disqualified. It's one of the reasons this blog is ad-free (for now).

Patsy, cooking contests are a fun hobby! Go for it!

Cookbook Junkie, fair enough ... although what's trendy here in Rochester is probably "so five years ago" in L.A.! If you're curious about what the judges were thinking, there's a short article here:

robyncz said...

I think we may have been posting our matching diatribes simulateously. That's pretty funny.

Congratulations on making the cut yet again. I'm glad you had a good time in Dallas.

Lisa said...

I bought all the ingredients last night and am all ready to make the cookies. Glad you had fun at the bake off. Maybe one of these years, I'll get there

ServesYouRight said...

Totally enjoyed reading your account of the contest. I was surprised that it triggers such strong reactions! I will confess that while I'm lukewarm about Pillsbury products, I think their marketing is amazing! I was browsing at the local Indian Grocery store a few months ago and came across Pillsbury 'Rotis' (flatbreads) in the frozen section! Looks like they have something for everyone, a strategy that seems to work quite well for them.

Hope you're enjoying this fabulous sunshine!


Tracy said...

Robyn, great minds think alike! ;-)

Lisa, keep trying at that contest! If memory right, it took the million dollar winner many years to get there! You can't win if you don't enter.

Smita, I want to try some of those rotis! Where is the Indian grocer you go to?

ServesYouRight said...

I go to India House on South Clinton - the same folks run the Indian restaurant across the street. The store is a umm, a little crowded! But the frozen flatbreads are in the freezer to the far left corner. Pillsbury has plain and stuffed kinds. They're more expensive ($ 3-4 / package) than some others, but have gotten very good reviews. Curious to hear what you think!


Joe said...

Tracy - The thought never even occurred to me that money made from blogs/ads would shift one into the "food professional" category, but you are probably right! One more reason I'm glad I don't carry ads!

Deborah said...

I just made a similar comment on another blog - people need to stop complaining. Using those products is what the Bake-off is all about!! I'm sorry you didn't win, but it sounds like you had a great time.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Kudos to you for participating! Honestly, I wouldn't say it's a million dollar cookie, maybe $100,000 cookie? It needs to be chewier and chunkier for a million bucks.

Elisabeth said...

Tracy, one of the things I like best about you and reading your blog is how articulately and assertively you speak your mind. I've enjoyed reading all your posts about the Bake-Off too - I hope you go again next year so I can read about all the drama again!

Lori said...

I think it is so cool that you went. I give you credit for your open mindedness about the peanut butter cookie. I think you are right about your pillsbury theory.

Tracy said...

Smita, thanks for the store info!

Joe, if you plan to enter cooking contests as an amateur you are wise to consider keeping your blog (which is awesome) ad free.

Deborah, great minds think alike, eh? :-)

Susan, it's hard to say how much a recipe is worth, isn't it?

Elisabeth, thanks. Guess that degree in journalism is paying off! I'm not sure about next time -- my sons want to go, and if you go three times you are no longer eligible, nor is any other member of your family. At least those are the rules this time.

Lori, thanks!