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Pillsbury Bake-Off finalists
The Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest is the most competitive cooking and baking contest in the United States. Home cooks have a fraction of a chance of becoming one of the lucky finalists who compete for prizes that have totaled millions of dollars since the competition began in 1949.

Smart Cookies: How Home Cooks Became Finalists in the Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest tells the stories of 27 people who beat the odds, most of them more than once. In conversations with author Mary Beth Protomastro, the finalists explain in detail how they came up with their ideas, how they increased their chances of winning, and why the best prize turned out not to be the money after all.


Some of the finalists tried for decades to get into the Contest; several were accepted every time they entered. Five finalists who bounced back from adversity—depression, cancer, grief—reveal the resilience that took them all the way to the Contest floor. Three finalists who won the million-dollar grand prize describe their strategies.


You’ll read about:


• Mary Hawkes, who tried for nearly 30 years to get into the Contest—then changed her approach and was accepted three times in a row.


• Brenda Watts, whose recovery from a near-fatal illness inspired her to fulfill her grandmother’s dream of becoming a finalist.


• Beth Royals, whose inventive use of Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust earned her the million-dollar grand prize.

• And 24 other home cooks who became finalists or winners.

Whether they’ve participated once, twice, or the maximum three times, all the finalists describe competing at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest as a unique experience that has enriched their lives in myriad ways. Their stories of perseverance, ingenuity, and resilience will inspire cooks and noncooks alike.

Smart Cookies is available in paperback (ISBN 978-0-9989935-0-8) from,, and other booksellers’ websites. The ebook is available only in a Kindle edition


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