Stephen Fries: Sharing recipes from the winners of the Pillsbury Bake-Off

What do No-Knead Water-Rising Twists and Bejeweled Cranberry-Orange Rolls have in common? Here’s a hint; think Doughboy.

Give up? They were both winners of the Pillsbury Bake-Off ®. The twists were the winning recipe by Theodora Smafield at the first competition, held in 1949 (for this recipe visit ); the rolls were the recently announced winning recipe submitted by Amy Nelson of Zionville, N.C., in the reformatted 2018 contest. For this year’s competition, Pillsbury partnered with The Foodnetwork and television personality Ree Drummond, host of the network’s “Pioneer Woman.”

If you were wondering what happened to the Bake-Off ®, you are not alone. Thousands of people were waiting to enter their recipes in the iconic, grand-dame-of-cooking competitions. After a three-year hiatus, it resurfaced with many changes, the biggest being no more million-dollar grand-prize. The winner received quite a bit less, $50,000, a kitchen makeover provided by GE, and a feature in Foodnetwork Magazine. All four category winners were invited to New York City to appear on The Kitchen, where the grand prize winner was announced.

This contest didn’t fire up the 100 ovens in the mini kitchens set up in a huge ballroom at the host convention hotel, as it has historically since the contest’s inception. It was one of the most invigorating and exciting food events I have covered, watching 100 home cook finalists prepare their well-thought out recipes using Pillsbury products.

Instead, all recipe submissions were sent in online and reviewed by professional judges to make sure they followed contest rules. After rigorous testing of thousands of entries, four stood out as the best of the best, with the grand prize awarded to Amy Nelson whose recipe, fit in the Cozy Breakfast category. In addition to the recipes, the inspired stories behind each weighed in on the judge’s decision.

Nelson said, “I have so many memories about family and food, especially when it comes to my mama. She loved Pillsbury Orange Rolls, so when I saw those on the list of eligible products, I knew it was a recipe that was meant to be. I just added a filling inspired by a family favorite cranberry salad that Mama always made, and it was a perfect match!”

Other category winners were:

Appetizers for any Party; JoAnne Tucker from Tampa, Fla., for her Toasted Spinach Pesto Ravioli (see recipe below); Dinners with Heart; Sarah Campbell from Palm Bay, Fla., for her Oktoberfest Pizza; No-Fuss Desserts; Sandy Reiter from San Mateo, Calif., for her Cookies and Cream Caramel Layer Bars.

In 2-quart saucepan, cook cranberries, pineapple, ginger beer, orange juice concentrate and ginger over medium-high heat 10 to 14 minutes, stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed and mixture is very thick. Remove from heat; cool 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in 10-inch skillet, toast walnuts over medium heat 4 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Remove from heat.

Open can of dough; do not separate rolls. Set icing aside.

Carefully unroll dough onto cutting board, being careful not to separate. Spread cooled cranberry mixture evenly on dough; sprinkle with walnuts. Carefully reroll dough. With serrated knife, cut each roll at perforations, wiping blade of knife after each for clean cuts. Place rolls about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet, reshaping rolls if necessary.

Bake 9 to 13 minutes or until golden brown. Spread icing evenly over warm rolls.

For best results, work with cold dough directly from refrigerator.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large cookie sheets with cooking parchment paper, or spray with cooking spray. Microwave spinach as directed on box. Drain well; squeeze dry with paper towels. In large bowl, beat spinach, cream cheese, 2 tablespoons of the pesto and 1 of the eggs with electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute or until blended. Add 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese; beat on low speed about 1 minute or until blended. Lightly sprinkle work surface with flour. Unroll dough on surface; if using crescent dinner rolls, pinch seams to seal. Press or roll into 15x12-inch rectangle. Using pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut rectangle into 5 rows by 4 rows to make 20 (3-inch) squares. Spoon heaping tablespoonfuls spinach mixture in centers of 10 squares. Top with remaining dough squares, stretching dough to cover filling; press edges with fork to seal. Place on 1 of the cookie sheets. For easier handling, refrigerate 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, beat remaining 2 eggs with whisk or fork. In shallow bowl, add bread crumbs. Set aside. Dip each ravioli into egg, allowing excess to drip off, then into bread crumbs, coating both sides of ravioli. Place ravioli 1 inch apart on second cookie sheet. Top each ravioli with about 1/2 teaspoon of the remaining pesto; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake 16 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. In small microwavable bowl, cover and microwave marinara sauce 30 to 60 seconds on High or until warm. Serve ravioli with marinara sauce.

Which restaurant recipes or other recipes would you like to have? Which food products are you having difficulty finding? Do you have cooking questions? Send them to me: Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven, 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. (Due to volume, he might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to


Book Signing and Private Reception with Lidia Bastianich, author, restaurateur, host of Lidia’s Kitchen on PBS and food entrepreneur. Today, April 11. Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven. Free parking at Temple Street garage, tickets validated at check-in. 4-5:30 p.m. book signing only, $26 includes Lidia’s new book “My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food,” 6-8 p.m., private reception $100 includes book, hors d’oeuvres and meet and greet with Lidia. Tickets at

New Haven Restaurant Week, now through Friday, April 13, $17 for 2-course prix-fixe lunch menus or $34 for 3-course dinners. For participating restaurants visit

“Hot Chick” pop-up waffle house, Elm City Social, 266 College St., New Haven, 475-441-7436, now through April 30. Creative spins on chicken and waffles and Jack Daniels-based cocktails.

Consiglio’s Murder Mystery Dinner — “Earth Based Crime” April 13, doors at 6 p.m., dinner and show at 6:30, Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489, $55 includes dinner and show (beverages, tax and gratuity not included).

Fifth Annual Saison Day, April 14, 4-8 p.m., Blackhog Brewing, 115 Hurley Road, Building 9A, Oxford. 203-262-6075. Allagash Brewing partners with Black Hog Brewing to celebrate saisons.

Consiglio’s Cooking Demonstration and Dinner: April 25, 6:30 p.m., Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, 203-865-4489 (reservations required), $75 (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). Learn how to make center cut lamb over creamy orzo, calamari and arugula salad, homemade linguine with white clam sauce, chocolate raspberry panna cottai.

Worth Tasting Culinary Walking Tour: 10:45 a.m. April 28, the first guided four-hour culinary walking tour of the season of downtown New Haven. Reservations required, tickets at, 203-415-3519, 203-777-8550, $64.