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Local baker in running for $1 million, national title

By Erika Pedroza | Published Wednesday, March 20, 2013

For the second time in three years, baker/cook extraordinaire Helen Fields of Paradise is in the running for a $1 million prize in a Pillsbury-sponsored competition.

MILLION DOLLAR PIZZA - Helen Fields of Paradise and her Honey and Bacon Brussels Sprouts Pizza are among the 60 semifinalists in Category 1 of the 2013 Pillsbury Bake-Off. Based on online votes, 33 finalists from this category will compete with the finalists of the two other categories for the $1million prize at national competition Nov. 10-12 in Las Vegas. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

MILLION DOLLAR PIZZA – Helen Fields of Paradise and her Honey and Bacon Brussels Sprouts Pizza are among the 60 semifinalists in Category 1 of the 2013 Pillsbury Bake-Off. Based on online votes, 33 finalists from this category will compete with the finalists of the two other categories for the $1million prize at national competition Nov. 10-12 in Las Vegas. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The decorated culinary artist has a wicker basket full of ribbons and medals to prove her accolades, which include a blue ribbon win in the Pillsbury Pet-Ritz Pie Baking Championship at the State Fair of Texas (Fields and her winning “Jeff Davis Got A New Pie” recipe were featured in the Oct. 27, 2012, edition of the Messenger) and a red apron she received as a participant in the Pillsbury Bake-Off in 2010.

Now Fields and her Honey and Bacon Brussels Sprouts Pizza are among the 60 semifinalist recipes for this year’s Bake-Off.

Fields’ concoction was one Pillsbury selected from the thousands submitted earlier this year for Category 1 “Amazing Doable Dinners” in the national competition.

Online votes now through Thursday, March 28, will determine the 33 finalists who will join 34 and 33 entries from the “Simple Sweets and Starters” and “Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts” categories, respectively, at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Nov. 10-12 in Las Vegas.

Judges, who are professional food critics and chefs, will select a grand champion to receive, among a plethora of prizes, $1 million and GE appliances. Second-place receives $10,000 and third-place, $5,000.

If Fields’ recipe lands her in the finals, it would not be her first time to compete in the prestigious contest.

In 2010, Fields advanced to the Bake-Off finals in Orlando with her Cup of Joe Chocolate Chip Cookies.

However, her advancement was determined by Pillsbury personnel, not online votes.

“When the Bake-Off started in 1949, Pillsbury chose all of the recipes,” Fields explained. “There was an entry period during which they accepted recipes, for about six months. That entry would close, and the judges would test all of those recipes, and the next spring they’d announce who was going to the Bake-Off.

“That’s the way they did it when I went in 2010,” she continued. “They get tens of thousands of recipes so I was quite happy mine was one of the 100 chosen by Pillsbury.”

As a finalist, Fields flew to Florida for a three-day stay, only one of which was for competition. Rows and rows of 100 closely arranged work areas – which included a 20-inch by 20-inch cook station and range – lined the ballroom where the the day-long contest was held.

“They had all the equipment there; you were not allowed to take anything,” Fields said.

Participants can cook their recipe two or three times during the timed four-hour window.

“You choose any two of your attempts,” she said. “One is for judges, who are sequestered – you never know who they are beforehand – and the second dish goes to a display.”

Although Fields and her cookies didn’t receive the crown, she was one of four chosen to film a video promoting the contest.

“I was just like a movie star,” she said. “I got my makeup done and everything. And all I did was make some cookies.”

This year’s Bake-Off will work much the same as the 2010 contest, with the exception of a couple of newly enacted restrictions.

Pillsbury has outlined an A list of products and a B list. Participants must use one item from the A list, and either a second from the same list or one from the B. These two comprise two of the limit of seven ingredients allowed. (Salt, pepper and water don’t count.)

In addition, prep time should be no longer than 30 minutes. (Baking or cooling time do not count.)

“Before, there was no limit,” Fields said. “Now it’s very, very limited.”

Fields triumphed over those challenges when her recipe was among the 60 selected from thousands submitted for Category 1 earlier this year.

(Recipes for Category 2, “Simple Sweets and Starters”, will be accepted April 4-May 9; “Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts”, Category 3, is open July 4-Aug. 8. The 60 semifinalists selected by Pillsbury personnel will be voted on June 13-27 for appetizers and desserts, and Sept. 12-26 for breakfasts.)

Needless to say, Fields hopes to rise above in the online voting to advance to the Bake-Off and vie for $1 million.

Visit www.pillsbury.com/bakeoff to vote for Fields’ recipe or to enter the remaining two categories. Users must create an account before casting their ballot or submitting their entries.

GET OUT THE VOTE

Vote for Helen’s “Honey and Bacon Brussels Sprouts Pizza” recipe online at www.pillsbury.com/bakeoff.

She will make and talk about her recipe on Wednesday’s segment of “Good Morning Texas,” which starts at 9 a.m. on WFAA Channel 8.

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