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From the archive: Pillsbury Dough, Oh Boy!

Austin cooking ace wins Bake-Off grand prize: $1 million

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Anna Ginsberg of Austin, Texas, center, stands in a blizzard of confetti as she wins a million dollars as the grand prize winner for her Baked Chicken and spinach Stuffing in the 42nd Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in Kissimmee, Fla., Wednesday, March 22, 2006.

Originally published March 23, 2006.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Call her Austin's cooking contest phenom.

The $1 million Pillsbury Bake-Off grand prize was awarded Wednesday to Anna Ginsberg, a 35-year-old mom who has put together an impressive string of recent contest wins with recipes developed in her home kitchen in Southwest Austin.

Her original recipe for Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing won out over 98 other finalists from across the country at the 42nd Pillsbury Bake-Off in Orlando. The prize will be given as a $50,000-a-year annuity for 20 years.

Ginsberg creatively combined spinach with frozen homestyle waffle sticks, fresh sage and pecans for the stuffing, and then used waffle syrup in the peach glaze for the savory chicken dish.

Judge Martha Holmberg, food editor of the Oregonian and former food editor of Fine Cooking magazine, said of the recipe: “It’s not a lot of work but feels restauranty in the good sense of the word. The waffle fingers had a nice texture, and it was a good way to get spinach and vegetables in there. It’s a complete dinner.’’

Recipes were judged on appearance, appeal, creativity and taste.

The contestants had to win one of the Bake-Off’s six categories before they could compete for the grand prize during judging this week. Ginsberg’s recipe won the Cooking for Two category. Each of the other five category winners earned $10,000 plus GE Profile ovens with Trivection.

All recipes in the Bake-Off, one of the oldest and richest such competitions in the United States, had to include at least two of more than 60 qualifying products from food companies such as Pillsbury, General Mills, Progresso, Green Giant, Yoplait and Old El Paso. Ginsberg used Green Giant frozen spinach and Pillsbury Dunkables waffle sticks.

Ginsberg is the first Austinite to win the Pillsbury Bake-off, officials said, although several have been finalists.

In addition to the $1 million, Ginsberg will receive $10,000 worth of GE Profile stainless steel kitchen appliances.

Confetti rained down on Ginsberg, à la Vince Young, as she was announced the grand-prize winner. She clutched her head in disbelief.

“It’s like I haven’t woken up yet,” she said of the early-morning announcement. "I can't believe it. It hasn't quite sunk in."

She said she made the recipe up for dinner one night because she likes stuffing.

“I thought it was creative and it tastes so good. I ran upstairs and typed it up.”

She plans to use the money for her 4-year-old daughter’s education, a trip to London and to join the Disney Vacation Club. And she dreams of owning a coffeehouse, with a playscape for kids, where she would bake cookies every day. Her daughter, Emma, and husband, Todd, a software engineer, accompanied her to the Orlando contest.

Though she has been cooking competitively for only two years, Ginsberg has already been a finalist or winner in 15 national contests. Last year, her wins included $10,000 in a California raisin contest and $5,000 in the Cooking Light contest. In 2004, she was a Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist. Even though her recipe did not place that year, it whetted her appetite to keep trying.

Ginsberg said she was a bit disappointed to learn that, as a grand prize winner, she can't enter the Pillsbury contest again.

Rarely entering single recipes in contests, she estimates that she has submitted 300 original creations in two dozen contests in the past couple of years. She was elusive about how many she entered in the Bake-Off but told reporters it was on the high end of between 1 and 100 recipes.

While the money is nice, recipe contests are “more of a creative outlet for me,” the University of Texas advertising graduate told the Austin American-Statesman last year in a profile after her Cooking Light win.

Ginsberg was not the only Austin resident competing in this year's Bake-Off. Jennifer Mohn was a finalist with a roasted tomato-corn chowder with cilantro pesto. As a finalist, she won an expense-paid trip to the competition at the Gaylord Palms Resort, a $1,700 value.

"I've had the time of my life," said Mohn, a cooking contest neophyte. "What fun, how elegant. We were treated like royalty. I definitely will enter again."

Judges for the Bake-Off were nine newspaper or magazine food writers (including American-Statesman food editor, Kitty Crider, who did not judge Ginsberg's category), dietitians and cookbook authors. Austin author and food radio show host Angela Shelf Medearis also was a judge this year.

Ginsberg planned to be in New York City today for television appearances. She is scheduled to cook her $1 million dish on the "Today" show this morning, as well as tape a segment for the Martha Stewart show Friday before returning to Austin.

Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing