We spoke with The Chew’s Carla Hall about her role as host of Pillsbury’s 47th annual Bake-Off. Hall (along with the Dough Boy) presented the four finalists, selected from thousands. The final recipes are: Cuban-style pocket sandwiches, creamy corn-filled sweet peppers, peanutty pie crust clusters, and chocolate doughnut poppers. The winner will get $1 million. Hall also shared her own baking tips, especially for around this time of the year. She also dished on the progress of her Kickstarted hot chicken restaurant, due to open in New York this year.
Can you tell me about what makes the Pillsbury contestants’ recipes really unique and delicious?
It’s hard to create something new in this day and age, and for it to be new, fast, and exciting is certainly a challenge. I was impressed with everything I saw, and you realize you’re only seeing the 100 semi-finalists, so I can only imagine what was left on the cutting room floor. I kept thinking, “oh, you did that with that?! That’s amazing!”
Why did you decide to participate in the Bake-Off?
Well for one, it was held in Nashville, which is my hometown, but also not many people know that before I went to culinary school, I was pretty much self-taught from cookbooks. I would actually buy the Pillsbury cookbooks in line at the grocery store. I would get my ideas for sandwiches or soups from there, and also for when I did small catering jobs. I felt truly excited to be a part of this moment.
Speaking of baking, what are some of your top tips for stress-free baking during the holidays?
Plan ahead! Your freezer is your friend. One tip I can give to people, especially if you’re doing lots of cookie gift boxes or the like, is make your dough (be it cookie dough or pie dough) ahead of time, and put it in a refillable Ziploc bag. Lay it flat, mark what it contains, put it in the freezer, and then you can cut the bag open when you’re ready to go. The freezer bags protect the dough, and it’s a space- and time-saver.
What’s the progress with your newest venture, the hot chicken restaurant?
We’re looking at spaces here in New York this week; it’s so exciting to get the support from the community. We’re looking at floor plans and we already have the logo. Right, now, I am actually doing a Thanksgiving Day dinner deal [an at-home catering package] through Groupon, and a percentage goes back to Feeding America. The deal is for six to eight people for only $165, and you get a turkey plus sides. Each of the packages comes with a YouTube link that shows you how to cook everything.
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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi