First-Ever Pillsbury Bake-Off Winner Celebrates 100th Birthday With the Doughboy
The second-place winner of the first-ever Pillsbury Bake-Off just celebrated her 100th birthday in a very special way. Friends, family, and even the Doughboy gathered at Laura Rott’s residence in Naperville, Illinois, to enjoy the cookies that scored her a cool $10,000 69 years ago. The prize money may seem modest in retrospect, but it was equal to 10 years’ worth of her annual pay at the time.
In 1949, 100 finalists were invited from all over the country to compete at the first Pillsbury Bake-Off in New York City. Ninety-seven contestants were women and three were men, one of whom prepared a recipe called “Quick Man-Prepared Dinner.” The exact ingredients for this dish are unknown.
In preparation for the competition, 100 General Electric ovens were installed in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom in Manhattan. This required so much energy that electricians had to bust a hole in the wall so that they could drop a cable down to the city’s subway system for an increased electrical supply.
The grand-prize recipe was No-Knead Water-Rising Twists, which were made by a woman named Theodora Smafield. She was awarded $50,000. Rott secured a spot as the runner up with her Starlight Mint Surprise Cookies — a type of sugar cookie with mint-chocolate candy in the center and a walnut on top.
Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended the award ceremony as guest of honor at the invitation of Philip W. Pillsbury, then-president of Pillsbury Mills. She later wrote about the experience for the Buffalo Courier-Express, and was quite taken by Rott and her cookies.
“I was assured by those who sampled them as they came out of the oven that, though they might look like ordinary cookies, they tasted like your dream of something highly delectable,” Roosevelt wrote. “Miss Rott was speechless. She could hardly stand up and she had no idea what she would do with the money. She never thought of having so much money at one time in her hand."
After collecting her winnings — including the original stove from the bakeoff, which she’s kept to this day — Rott decided what she would do with the check. The then-31-year-old used it to buy the house in which she would spend her 100th birthday surrounded by loved ones and Starlight Mint Surprise Cookies. To recreate the timeless, prize-winning recipe, follow these simple steps.
The Pillsbury Bake-Off returns for its 49th year this summer. Who will top last year’s Bejeweled Cranberry-Orange Rolls? In honor of the all-American contest, here’s a look at every single winning dish from the iconic Pillsbury Bake-Off.