This Sunday is Mother’s Day and one thing Mom might like is a homemade cake from one of her favorite decades; a time when baking and cooking was a big part of her life. There are a lot of cakes to choose from if you look to the Pillsbury Bake-Off grand-prize winners; she may even remember some of the winning recipes.
The Pillsbury Bake-Off contest became more than just about baking; certainly desserts were the focus since Magic Marshmallow Crescent Puffs won, and Chocolate Silk Pecan Pie, as well as the Tunnel of Fudge Cake, which became a household name in 1966. Wonderful savory dishes began to win, such as Cowboy Steak ’n’ Veggie Soup, Grilled Chicken and Mango Corn Salad, Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie and the now-famous California Casserole, which captured the Grand Prize in 1956 and won its creator, Margaret Hatheway, a tour abroad, where she introduced this most American of dishes to cooks all across Europe.
In research for this column, I read some stories relating to the contest that were interesting, from 1955 winner Rosemary Sport’s prize, a new pink stove, which provided her family with the motivation to become new homeowners, to 1996’s $1 million Grand Prize-winner, single parent Kurt Wait, whose son helped him develop his winning recipe Macadamia Fudge Torte.
One funny-sad story was of an exhausted contestant who accidentally sat on her finished cake entry; now there is a story to tell her grandchildren.
In 1959, Eunice Surles of Louisiana became the first southern woman to win the Pillsbury Bake-Off. She won the Grand Prize with this Mardi Gras Party Cake, a heavenly concoction of butterscotch, coconut and “sea foam” frosting. This is the cake I have chosen to make for Mother’s Day.
Mardi Gras Party Cake
2/3 cup butterscotch chips
1/4 cup water
21/4 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
11/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup shortening (such as Crisco brand which is in the oil aisle of supermarket in small cans or sticks)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup butterscotch chips
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. In small saucepan over low heat, melt 2/3 cup butterscotch chips in 1/4 cup water, stirring until smooth. Cool slightly.
2. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In large bowl, combine flour, all remaining cake ingredients and cooled butterscotch mixture; beat at low speed until moistened. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed. Pour batter into greased and floured pans.
3. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans. Cool 30 minutes or until completely cooled.
4. In medium saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar and cornstarch; stir in half-and-half, 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup butterscotch chips and 1 egg. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, coconut and nuts; cool slightly.
5. In small bowl, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Gradually add brown sugar and vanilla, beating until stiff peaks form.
6. To assemble cake, place one cake layer, top side down, on serving plate. Spread with half of filling mixture. Top with second layer, top side up; spread remaining filling on top to within 1/2 inch of edge.
Frost sides and top edges of cake with Seafoam Cream.
Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving; store in refrigerator.
Grand Prize-winners by the decades
1950s – Desserts win from Orange Kiss-Me Cake in 1950, Starlight Delight Cake in 1951, Inspiration Cake in 1953 and the Mardi Gras Party Cake in 1959.
1960s – One cake winner in 1968, Buttercream Pound Cake, otherwise convenience foods began to hit the spotlight with Candy Bar Cookies in 1961 and in 1969 a huge favorite for years, Magic Marshmallow Crescent Puffs.
1970s – Four cake winners this decade including the popular Banana Crunch Cake in 1973. An occasional savory dish won, but the most popular recipes were the Pecan Pie Surprise Bars in 1971 and the Crescent Caramel Swirl in 1976.
1980s – Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie became a popular winner in 1980 along with the 1986 Apple Nut Lattice Tart, using pre-made refrigerated pie crust for the first time.
1990s – Entries from men continue to increase and in 1996 a man won the grand prize for the first time with his Macadamia Fudge Torte. Blueberry-Poppy seed Brunch cake won in 1990.
2000s – Main dish chicken recipes won in 2002 and ‘06, along with the very popular Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies in 2008. In 2010 Mini Ice Cream Cookie Cups won, and in 2012 Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream was a popular winner.
All these recipes are available on the Pillsbury website and in the many cookbooks that have highlighted the prize-winning recipes. Don’t hesitate to write me if you are unable to locate a recipe that you are interested in.
Some cake fun
This “cake personality test” made the rounds via email; cake of choice equals one’s personality traits.
If your favorite cake is:
Angel Food: Sweet, love to cuddle, a great sense of humor, love to laugh. You tend to be very loyal.
Vanilla with chocolate frosting: Fun-loving, sassy, humorous. Everyone enjoys being around you. You are a friend for life.
Strawberry Shortcake: Romantic, warm, loving. You care about others, can be counted on. Independent.
Ice Cream: You are an excellent caregiver and a good teacher. You like sports. You set your own style. You help others and have loyal friends.
Chocolate with chocolate frosting: Always ready to give, very creative, adventurous and ambitious. Not afraid to take chances.
Carrot Cake: You are fun to be with and people like to hang out with you. Very warm-hearted and like to laugh. You are a leader and a good role model.
Patricia Altomare invites feedback. Email her at email@example.com.