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8 Things You Didn’t Know About the Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest

Updated August 15, 2017
Eleanor Roosevelt presents an award at the first-ever Bake-Off® Contest.
It hasn’t always been just pies, cookies, and grand-prize winners—the Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest’s long and interesting past full of fun facts and surprising stories most people don’t know about.

Since its inception in 1949, the Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest has been about inspiring home cooks everywhere to share their recipes, and celebrating the stories behind them. Over the years the contest has grown and changed to reflect what’s happening in real homes across the country, so really, a look back at the Bake-Off is like a look back at life in America over the past 70 years. Let’s dig in!

8. The Bake-Off Put Bundts on the Map
We cannot lie: if you’ve ever enjoyed a Bundt cake, you have the Pillsbury Bake-Off to thank. The 1966 winner Ella Rita Helfrich used a little-known cooking tool in her Tunnel of Fudge Cake recipe: a Bundt pan. The recipe was so popular that demand for the Bundt pan soared. It quickly became Nordic Ware’s number-one selling pan, and Pillsbury even developed a line of special cake mixes for Bundt pans.

Tunnel of Fudge Cake

7. You’re 18,550 Times More Likely to Win the Bake-Off Than the Lottery
Math check: Since its inception in 1949, there have been 53 Bake-Off Contest Winners out of more than 500,000 entries, and acccording to the Huffington Post, your odds of winning the lottery are one in 175 million. (So it’s looking like you should skip that lotto ticket and enter the next Bake-Off Contest instead.)

6. Only One Male Has Won the Grand-Prize
It’s true, the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest has only had one male grand-prize winner. That’s Kurt Wait of Redwood City, California who won in 1996 with his Macadamia Fudge Torte. However, men have been involved in the Bake-Off from the start; there were three gentlemen finalists at the first-ever contest in 1949—one of which won a category prize for his recipe called "Quick Man-Prepared Dinner."

5. The Bake-Off Caused a National Sesame Seed Shortage
Until Dorothy Koteen took home the grand-prize in 1954 for her Open Sesame Pie, sesame seeds were not a common kitchen ingredient in homes beyond the South. So when her recipe was publicized in newspapers and packages of Pillsbury’s Best Flour, it sparked a buying frenzy that resulted in supermarkets nation-wide selling out of the tiny white seeds.

4. Eleanor Roosevelt Was the Guest of Honor at the First-Ever Bake-Off
She attended at the invitation of Philip W. Pillsbury, then president of Pillsbury Mills. In her recount of the event she wrote, “This is a healthy contest and a highly American one. It may sell Pillsbury flour but it also reaches far down into the lives of the housewives of America. These were women who ran their homes and cooked at home; they were not professional cooks.” Nearly 70 years later, that still holds true!

Eleanor Roosevelt presents an award at the first-ever Bake-Off® Contest.

3. The Most Famous Bake-Off Recipe Ever, Peanut Blossoms, Was Not a Winner
Those peanut butter cookies with the Hershey’s™ chocolate kiss in the center that are a mainstay on Christmas cookie trays everywhere? Those came from Freda Smith who entered them into the ninth Bake-Off in 1957. However, they only made it to the finalist stage and she received no prize money. But the story doesn’t end there! She did receive a trip to Los Angeles to compete in the contest, the GE stove she used to make the recipe at the competition, and in 1999 Peanut Blossoms were one of ten recipes inducted to the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest Hall of Fame at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

2. There Has Been a Bake-Off Winner From Every State
The Bake-Off truly is an all-American event. Every single state has at at least one finalist or grand-prize winner. California is the state with the most, they’ve contributed a whopping 132! It’s a near tie for second and third place between Pennsylvania with 72 and Texas with 71. The three states with the fewest number of winners—all tied at one each—are North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

Woman baking muffins at the Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest.

1. The NYC Subway Saved the First Bake-Off
Just hours before the first Bake-Off Contest in 1949, organizers were dismayed to find that baking in the world’s largest kitchen would be impossible. The 100 electric ranges set up in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel ballroom in New York City needed alternating current to run, but the generator that supplied the hotel was for direct current only. During the middle of the night, Pillsbury had electricians break a hole in the wall and drop a cable down into the city subway system to tap into the alternating current cable there. The contest went on the next day without a hitch!

Learn more at BAKEOFF.COM!

Bake-Off is a registered trademark of The Pillsbury Company.