Don't let anyone tell you that a Pillsbury Bake-Off contestant is a grandmotherly type who cooks over a hot stove all day long. Nothing could be further from the truth. This year there were scientists, lawyers, doctors, a cabinetmaker, a floral designer, an antique dealer, a bus driver, and a structural steel designer, among others. They all stepped up to their General Electric ranges at once and demonstrated their flour power as they cooked their very best recipes in this 32nd Bake-Off contest.
The $40,000 top prize went to an updated apple pie, with golden raisins, nuts, and a lattice top, by Mary Lou Warren of Colorado Springs, Colo. The former schoolteacher and mother of three calls her recipe Apple Nut Lattice Tart.
Mrs. Warren's tart was one of dozens of delicious desserts that appeared to be the favorite kind of food in the contest.
In spite of fitness programs and current trends to lighter foods, sweets of all kinds, mostly rich and extravagant, with a few simple, old-fashioned ones, dominated the entries. Desserts accounted for 40 percent of all recipes submitted, according to Marlene Johnson, manager of consumer communications for the Pillsbury Company.
``People seem to enjoy a reward of something sweet,'' she said, ``and they also take pride in the creative aspects of making something pretty to look at and delicious to taste.''
And the rage for chocolate is still with us, if its use at the Bake-Off contest is any indication. Here it was combined with peanut butter, coffee, mint, raspberries, apricots, and other kinds of fruits. Of the 11 winning recipes in the category called ``Rewards or Treats,'' six included chocolate; three were made with apples. Four of the winners were men, four were teen-agers, and two used microwave ovens.
Many recipes were treasured family traditions, served for birthdays, holidays, and special occasions and handed down for generations. Others were purely indulgent creations characterized by a lack of concern for cost, calories, or preparation time. These were made with ingredients such as chocolate, all kinds of nuts, honey, whipping cream, coconut, apricots, dates, and chopped or crushed candy bars or cookies.
But all was not gooey sweet concoctions.
An emphasis on simpler foods seemed to reflect an attitude that anything that's freshly baked at home is a treat or a reward. There were muffin, quick-bread, carrot-cake, pumpkin-bread, and whole- wheat recipes.
Adding cooked or shredded vegetables to baked foods is still very popular. Among the entries were countless carrot-cake and zucchini-bread recipes. Some more unusual additions included spaghetti squash, garbanzo, pinto, and kidney beans, and even lettuce.
There was no shortage of recipes in the Quick and Easy category. These dishes were fast to prepare and required little cooking skills. ``Children could help with the cooking, it's so easy,'' one contestant said. In two-career homes, this may be a real necessity.
Among ethnic entries, Italian food dominated. Pizza showed up in many forms its originators would never recognize. There was a white pizza made of two kinds of cheese along with spices and garlic. Another had a topping of bacon and eggs. Others showed the influence of ethnic backgrounds such as Greek, Cajun, Scandinavian, and Indian.
Over the years Bake-Off entries have provided remarkably accurate reflections of current cooking practices and trends popular in American kitchens. Many of the recipes first introduced at the contest -- such as the Tunnel of Fudge Cake and the first cakes made in Bundt pans -- have become classics.
Here is the recipe for Mrs. Warren's apple tart. Apple Nut Lattice Tart 1 15-ounce package refrigerated all-ready pie crusts Filling 3 to 3 1/2 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples 1/2 cup sugar 3 tablespoons golden raisins 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts or pecans 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel 2 teaspoons lemon juice 1 egg yolk, beaten 1 teaspoon water Glaze 1/4 cup powdered sugar 1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice
Prepare pie crust according to package directions for two-crust pie, using 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom or 9-inch pie pan. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Place 1 prepared crust in pan; press in bottom and up sides of pan. Trim edges if necessary.
In large bowl, combine apples, sugar, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, lemon peel, and 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Spoon into pie crust-lined pan.
To make a lattice top, cut remaining crust into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Arrange strips in lattice design over apple mixture. Trim and seal edges.
In small bowl, combine egg yolk and water; gently brush over lattice.
Bake at 400 degrees F. for 40 to 60 minutes or until golden brown and apples are tender. Cool 1 hour.
In small bowl, combine glaze ingredients; drizzle over slightly warm tart. Cool; remove sides of pan. Makes 8 servings.
Note: Cover pie with foil during last 15 to 20 minutes of baking if necessary to prevent excessive browning.
Phyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor.