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Spicer woman is finalist for Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest

Michelle Gauer of Spicer is a finalist for the 2010 Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in April in Orlando, Fla. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

A strong creative streak tinged with "recipe madness" has landed a Spicer woman in the country's ultimate baking challenge.

Michelle Gauer is one of 100 finalists in the 2010 Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest that will be held April 11-13 in Orlando, Fla.

Among the tens of thousands of recipes submitted, her original recipe for Double Chocolate-Orange Scones was selected to be judged against 99 other top recipes.

Gauer, who is one of five Minnesotans in the final round-up, will be competing for a $1 million grand prize.

As a finalist, she's already received a new microwave and all-expense paid trip to Florida.

"Just the experience alone is a gift," said Gauer.

Since being notified in September she was a finalist, the high-publicity event has kept her busy with monthly tasks, like creating a how-to video of her recipe -- which had to be done without talking. She's also had to do a photo shoot, conduct interviews and compile a detailed list of equipment she'll need to prepare her recipe at the Bake-Off.

Being a finalist has also brought her into a new social network with many of the other contenders who chat regularly online about recipes, cooking and the excitement of the competition.

As far as Gauer is concerned, she's already won a great deal from the experience and competing at the official Bake-Off will be icing on the cake.

That being said, however, Gauer said winning $1 million, plus $10,000 in new kitchen appliances, would be nice.

With three children, including one already in college, the prize would make a "nice college fund" and would allow her and her husband, Lee, to make additional contributions to their church and non-profit organizations, she said.

The winner will also be swept off to New York the day after the contest to make an appearance on national television.

Honestly humbled by being named a finalist, Gauer said she is "very grateful for this experience to share my love of cooking and baking."

Cook gone wild

Steeped with effervescent energy, Gauer is passionate about cooking.

"My mom was a fantastic cook," said Gauer, who remembers a house "full of good smells" when she was a child.

Gauer was constantly watching and learning from her mentor and at age 8 started doing her own baking.

Always curious to know if a good dish could be made even better, Gauer started tinkering with recipes, a knack she's practiced and perfected over the years.

A self-taught learner, Gauer studied herbs and spices to know which would add zip to kitchen-tested recipes and would "dig into books" to learn about food textures and flavor combinations.

"Then I started going wild," said Gauer.

Recipes in her nearly 500 cookbooks are covered with hand-scratched notes of alterations and lists of ingredients she substituted.

She's been writing her own cookbook that she hopes to publish in the future.

Range 92

When she arrives in Orlando, Gauer will get an orientation on the new style oven that will be used and meet her proctor, or table runner, who will be at her side during the five-hour competition.

Everything -- the ingredients and the equipment -- is provided for the contestants.

Each finalist is assigned to a kitchen or range station. Gauer will be on range 92.

They are given three chances to make their recipe. One will go to the judges, one is for display and one is given as tastes to observers.

With a room full of observers and media with cameras watching every move, not messing up the recipe will be a challenge.

With a laugh, Gauer said her goal is to "do my personal best and not burn anything."

Winning recipes

Besides winning praise from her family, neighbors and Bible study groups, some of Gauer's recipes have already won contests, including the West Central Tribune's Baker's Best contest featured at the Kandiyohi County Fair. She's also won cash awards and had her recipes printed in magazines such as Taste of Home, American Profile, Better Homes & Gardens and she recently won WCCO's Gold'n Plump chicken contest.

She'd entered the Pillsbury Bake-Off in 1995 but hadn't tried again until 2009.

With four different categories to choose from -- breakfast and brunches, entertaining appetizers, dinner made easy and sweet treats -- Gauer sent a total of 11 recipes that met the contest requirements, which includes using certain ingredients made by the contest sponsors.

Gauer had been revising and testing recipes to submit, including one for Dreamy Peanut Butter Fudge Dessert, which she really thought had a good chance to be a winner.

She'd already typed in 10 recipes for the contest, but as the midnight deadline for online applications approached on April 15 she pulled another original recipe from her stack for a white chocolate scone. She hadn't been totally happy with that recipe and wasn't going to submit it.

But then she started doing some last-minute tinkering.

The egg was taken out and heavy whipping cream added, the white chocolate was removed and replaced with cocoa powder and, because she loves the combination of chocolate and orange, she added orange marmalade and mini chocolate chips.

"I kind of knew what it needed to give it a bam," she said.

Without ever having actually made the recipe for Double Chocolate-Orange Scones, she hit the send button.

"But I didn't think this recipe would be my strongest contender," she said.

Getting the call in September that she was a finalist sent her soaring. News that the scone recipe was the winner sent a shock wave through her. She was thrilled, of course, but nervous that perhaps the scones wouldn't taste as good as the recipe looked on paper.

Since that phone call, she's made untold batches of scones and gets constant requests for more. Everybody loves them, she said.

She's hoping the Pillsbury Bake-Off judges agree.

For more information about the 2010 Pillsbury Bake-Off, and for copies of the 100 finalist recipes, go to

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750