While Seattleites were all talking about one particular Cuban sandwich, a different one was making other headlines. Bellingham-area resident Courtney Sawyer was named one of four category winners in the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off contest for her Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets. She’s one of four people competing for the $1 million grand prize. Votes from the public will be combined with judges scores this year to select the wining entry, which will be announced on The Chew Dec. 3.
Sawyer, who was one of four Washington finalists among the chosen 100, is up against “Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters” from Beth Royals of Richmond, Virginia, “Chocolate Doughnut Poppers” from Megan Beimer of Alexandria, Virginia, and “Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers” from Jody Walker of Madison, Mississippi. Check out all the finalist recipes and cast your vote over here.
Sawyer, a certificated instructional assistant and mom to two teenagers, said via email that she’s been cooking since she was around 10.
“My mother let me experiment in the kitchen and taught me along the way. I love the process of cooking and adjust recipes according to my own and my family’s taste. I like thinking about what ingredients taste like and how they will taste when put together. Cooking is creative but also gives almost immediate satisfaction and makes everyone happy. I love to feed my family and holidays and birthdays are great eating occasions at our house.”
Unlike many finalists, the Bake-Off is the only cooking contest she’s ever entered. This year was her third attempt, based on her family’s love of Cuban sandwiches. She thought the ingredients would work well in a pocket or pasty, settling on crescent dough and making a thin patty with ground pork, judging that would stay juicy but cook thoroughly in the competition’s tight time limits. (Precise directions weren’t a problem for her. She taught third and fourth grades before her children were born. “Being a teacher, I give step-by-step directions every day,” she told the Bellingham Herald.)
The contest in Nashville was “so much fun,” and the baking part surprisingly un-stressful, she said. “Pillsbury had everything each of us needed and had it perfectly organized. We each had to make our recipe three times and got to choose which batch we would send in to the judges.”
Then came the surreal part.
“When Carla Hall announced my recipe had won the Doable Dinner category, my mind went blank. The woman next to me was saying “That’s you!” I couldn’t believe it. Carla Hall was so friendly and put me as at ease as possible. That evening is kind of a blur. I have no idea what I said when Carla interviewed me.”