4 area cooks are finalists in Bake-Off

Lime in the Coconut Cookie Fudge by Christine Wilson of Sellersville.
Lime in the Coconut Cookie Fudge by Christine Wilson of Sellersville.
Posted: November 08, 2013

Four home cooks from the Philadelphia area have made it to the finals of the 2013 Pillsbury Bake-Off with recipes for an Italian-style chicken dinner, fancy French toast, healthy quinoa pancakes, and a decadent "cookie fudge."

Nadine Clark of Telford, Kristen Abbott of Paoli, Lynn Connors of Thornton, and Christine Wilson of Sellersville are among the 100 finalists from across the country gathering Sunday through Tuesday in Las Vegas, where the grand prize winner will be chosen.

And the prize is grand: $1 million and $10,000 worth of appliances from General Electric. The first bake-off champion, in 1949, won $50,000.

Food experts will pick the winner, but for the first time, finalists were chosen online by the public. Contest rules also were changed this year to encourage simpler recipes.

That means: no more than seven ingredients and 30 minutes of prep time in three categories - dinner, sweets and starters, and breakfast. This being a mega-promotion, contestants had to use Pillsbury and other sponsors' products.

Clark, a 40-year-old marketer and Bake-Off finalist for three times in a row, chose a recipe that was "different, easy, and something you would actually make on a weeknight when you came home from work."

Clark nailed her Chicken Caprese Focaccia after one try. "Sometimes it's just easy," she says.

The recipe calls for Pillsbury refrigerated French bread shaped into a foccacia-like base, chicken breasts, grape tomatoes, basil, mozzarella balls, and a balsamic vinegar glaze.

With so few ingredients allowed, Clark chose wisely. "I wanted things that pack a lot of punch," she says. The mozzarella marinade did double duty as a flavoring for the bread, and the richer balsamic glaze won out over straight vinegar.

Asked about that million-dollar prize, Clark doesn't hesitate. She'll visit Italy's Amalfi Coast - and hire a cleaning person.

"No more cleaning for me," she says.

Abbott, 33, has been baking since her days at Wheaton College in Illinois, where she provided tartlets, cupcakes, bar cookies and other single-serving treats for her friends' music recitals.

And she loves custardy anything, especially Boston cream pie.

So Boston Cream French Toast was a natural breakfast entry for Abbott, a 2010 Bake-Off finalist. It starts with the Pillsbury refrigerated bread, followed by sweetened condensed milk, whipped cream, egg yolks, vanilla, and warm chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Abbott, program director for Pals for Life, a Wayne nonprofit offering pet-assisted therapy, describes her creation as "a chocolate-hazelnut-decadent-vanilla-custard-scrumpdilliumptious-plate-of-wonder."

With her winnings, Abbott says she'll "do lots of Disney World," give to charity, and travel.


Connors, 54, went a different way with her Whole Wheat Quinoa Pancakes, a simple recipe built around an ancient, highly nutritious grain from South America that's become an international star.

She combined it with whole wheat flour; baking powder; fat-free, sweetened condensed milk; and a single egg. She topped the cakes with warm, triple-berry preserves.


Connors wanted to make a tasty, healthy breakfast and it looks as if she's succeeded, even if it's pancakes on the run. Daughter Emily, 24, has been known to score jam-filled leftover cakes as she bolts out the door for work.

"As a mom, it's a good feeling knowing she isn't just grabbing junk for breakfast," Connors says.


Wilson, 58, a contest finalist once before, perfected her Lime in the Coconut Cookie Fudge in just two or three tries.

It mixes refrigerated sugar cookie dough, sweetened coconut flakes and condensed milk, butter, vanilla, white vanilla baking chips, and lime zest.

The lime cuts the sweetness, making the combo a little more interesting. "I have people telling me they like it when they typically don't like sweets," Wilson says.

The recipe name evokes Harry Nilssen's 1971 hit, "Coconut," and its calypso chorus, "Put de lime in de coconut." "It brings a smile to everyone's face," says Wilson, who sells department store cosmetics and fragrances for a living and learned from her mother's cooking.

Speaking of genes, Wilson's older daughter, 35-year-old Donna Fogel of Whitehall, Pa., made the Bake-Off finals this year. (Younger daughter Amber, 33, came up short.)

If Wilson wins, she'll bump her full-time job down to part time, pick up a volunteer commitment, throw a big party, and "do something nice for my girls."

Oh, and buy a new backsplash for her kitchen.

Chicken Caprese Focaccia

Makes 4 servings

1 can refrigerated Crusty French Loaf

1 container (16 ounce) marinated fresh mozzarella ciliegine cheese (cherry-size balls), drained, marinade reserved

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (4 ounces each)

1 package (8 ounce) grape tomatoes, cut in half

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar glaze

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut loaf of dough crosswise into 4 pieces; place on ungreased 15-by-10-inch pan with sides. Press each piece into 5-by-4-inch oval; make indentations with handle of wooden spoon. Brush 1 tablespoon of the reserved mozzarella marinade on each oval. Lightly sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.

2. Meanwhile, in 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining mozzarella marinade. Sprinkle chicken breasts with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook chicken in marinade over medium-high heat 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until chicken is no longer pink in center and thermometer inserted in center reads 165 degrees. Remove from skillet; cut diagonally into 1/2-inch slices.

3. In each of 4 shallow bowls, place 1 focaccia. Top with chicken, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Drizzle each with olive oil and balsamic glaze. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; garnish with basil sprigs, if desired.

- From Nadine Clark of Telford

Per serving: 800 calories; 56 grams protein; 44 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams sugar; 44 grams fat; 170 milligrams cholesterol; 1,290 milligrams sodium; no dietary fiber.

Boston Cream French Toast

Makes 10 servings

1 can refrigerated Crusty French Loaf

No-stick cooking spray

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

11/4 cups whipping cream

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla

3/4 cup chocolate flavored hazelnut spread

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake Crusty French Loaf as directed on can. Cool 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, spray 13-by-9-inch pan (dark pan not recommended) with No-Stick Cooking Spray. In large bowl, beat sweetened condensed milk, 1 cup of the cream, the egg yolks, and vanilla with wire whisk until well blended. Pour half of mixture into pan.

3. Trim ends of bread; cut into 20 (about 3/4-inch) slices. Place slices over egg mixture. Pour remaining egg mixture over bread slices. Bake 30 to 33 minutes or until light golden brown.

4. In medium microwavable bowl, microwave remaining 1/4 cup cream on high 20 to 30 seconds or until hot. Stir in hazelnut spread until smooth.

5. For each serving, with spatula, remove 1 piece French toast and place custard side up on serving plate. Top with another piece of French toast, custard side down, forming a sandwich with custard in the center. Drizzle each serving with 1 tablespoon chocolate hazelnut sauce.

- From Kristen Abbott of Paoli

Per serving: 460 calories; 8 grams protein; 50 grams carbohydrates; 22 grams sugar; 25 grams fat; 90 milligrams cholesterol; 270 milligrams sodium; no dietary fiber.

Whole Wheat Quinoa Pancakes

Makes 9 servings

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed, well-drained

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 can (14 ounces) fat- free sweetened condensed milk

1 egg

1 jar (12 ounces) Triple Berry Preserves

1. Cook quinoa as directed on package; cool 10 minutes. Spray nonstick electric griddle with Crisco Original No-Stick Cooking Spray; heat to 350 degrees.

2. Meanwhile, in large bowl, mix all remaining ingredients except preserves, until well blended. Stir in quinoa. For each pancake, spoon and spread about 1/4 cup batter onto griddle. Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until bubbly and dry around edges. Turn; cook other side 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown.

3. Meanwhile, in 11/2-quart saucepan, heat preserves over medium heat until warm. Top pancakes with warm preserves.

- From Lynn Connors of Thornton

Per serving: 350 calories; 8 grams protein; 74 grams carbohydrates; 29 grams sugar; 2 grams fat; 25 milligrams cholesterol; 160 milligrams sodium; 3 grams dietary fiber.

Lime in the Coconut Cookie Fudge

Makes 24 servings

1 roll refrigerated sugar cookie dough

1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lime peel

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

1/4 cup butter

1 bag (12 oz.) white vanilla baking chips

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Let cookie dough stand at room temperature 10 minutes to soften.

2. Meanwhile, spread 1/2 cup of the coconut in ungreased shallow pan. Bake 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes. In small bowl, mix toasted coconut and lime zest until well blended; set aside.

3. Break up cookie dough and press into ungreased 13x9-inch pan. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

4. In 1-quart saucepan, cook sweetened condensed milk and butter over medium heat, stirring constantly, until butter is melted and ingredients are thoroughly heated. Do not boil. Remove from heat; stir in white baking chips until melted. Stir in remaining 1 cup coconut and the vanilla.

5. Pour coconut mixture over cookie crust, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with coconut-lime mixture; press in lightly. Cool 15 minutes. Refrigerate 1 hour or until topping is firm.

- From Christine Wilson of Sellersville

Per serving: 260 calories; 3 grams protein; 33 grams carbohydrates; 20 grams sugar; 12 grams fat; 15 milligrams cholesterol; 150 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.






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