Ree Drummond on Baking Must-Haves, Saving Time in the Kitchen, and the Pillsbury Bake-Off
"The Pioneer Woman" also has a new book on the way aimed at busy home cooks.
The Pillsbury Bake-off is back, and Ree Drummond wants to get everyone she knows to enter. After a three-year hiatus, the contest, which was established in 1949, is returning with a new twist and "The Pioneer Woman" as its enthusiastic spokeswoman. Rather than pitting bakers against each other in oven-mitt-to-oven-mitt combat inside of a ballroom, entries for this year's Bake-Off will be sent in and judged by Pillsbury's team of baking experts. But a good recipe won't be the only thing that'll win you fame, money, and glory—you've got to have a good story, too.
"What I love about the Bake-Off this year is that they’re kind of re-imagining it and focusing it more on memories and the stories behind the recipes," Drummond told Food & Wine. Drummond explains that 70 percent of the score will be judged based on recipe qualifications, but 30 percent of the score is the story behind the dish. The other caveat is that every entry must include one of Pillsbury's refrigerated dough products, which Drummond says is an easy way to kickstart your creativity.
We sat down with Drummond in New York to talk about the Bake-Off, her new book, and the tools she thinks every home baker should own.
Food & Wine: Do you have any recipes with a story behind them like Pillsbury is looking for this year?
Ree Drummond: My mom was and is a great cook, and she’s a great baker, so growing up most of my memories cooking with my mom were baking-related. I think parents of children can relate that baking recipes seem to be a little bit more doable with kids, you know? Less about knives and chopping and flames as it is about rolling things out and cutting them out and having fun with it. So my mom and I baked cinnamon rolls together and Christmas cookies together. That’s really in line with what Pillsbury is trying to celebrate with this new Bake-Off, the recipes and the memories behind them.
F&W: Entries must all include Pillsbury refrigerated products, which seems like it makes this a very approachable contest for any level of home cook, right?
RD: Yes, this year is about refrigerated products—so, pie dough, cookie dough, crescent roll dough, biscuits, and pizza dough—that’s all up for grabs. I think it’s amazing to have one ingredient you can rely on that’s ready to go. You can eliminate all of the time it takes to get to that stage. You know, it takes time to make a good pie crust. It takes time to make a good yeast dough. My mom and I always made dough from scratch for cinnamon rolls and it was an all-day thing, you can’t rush that. So being able to substitute the crescent roll dough or even the pizza dough works well for sweet rolls, it has a little bit of consistency that holds it together. My kids are teenagers now and we're crazy busy, it’s gotten to a whole new level, so it’s often about options and swaps. If I have time I’ll go a few steps further, and if don’t have time I’m so darn grateful for the options. And I think that’s how most home cooks are.
F&W: Why do you think baking—in whatever form it takes—is so essential, especially during the holidays?
RD: You know, I was just thinking about what defines the holidays for me, what defines Christmas, and on one hand it is the music, it is the sounds of Johnny Mathis and Bing Crosby. But number two, and probably tied for first, really, are the smells, when your home is filled with the smell of food baking and cooking. I think if I lived in New York I’d be in trouble because I'd just do takeout for every meal, I’d just be so happy, but one thing that’s missing is that the house isn’t filled with the smells of cooking.
F&W: What are your go-to flavors and recipes for the holidays?
RD: Again I’d say my cinnamon rolls. I like playing with variations. One year I did chocolate chip cookie dough cinnamon rolls, which might sound a little weird but they were tremendously delicious. I didn’t put cookie dough in the rolls. I made a concoction that resembled cookie dough, and I did a vanilla bean glaze. Orange marmalade sweet rolls is one of my faves, that citrus really cuts through and I throw cranberries in there around the holidays. I think apples, even though they’re such a year-round thing, they’re so Christmassy to me if you add the right spices or dress them up with caramel sauce. For an apple tart, I just toss the apples with plum preserves and then drizzle the top with honey.
F&W: What advice do you have for people to experiment with their baking and take old recipes to the next level?
RD: As home cooks we’re always putting variations on themes, like a barbecue chicken and pineapple hand pie, that can also be a meat pie with ground beef and tomato paste base or it can be a grilled veggie, sort of Greek Feta pie, so with just one approach, you can use your creativity. Or use your leftovers! Whatever you have. I’ll do that a lot. I’ll reuse my leftovers and make them into something interesting. Bake-Off entries are limited to eight ingredients or less, and that kind of refines things, and to me, it opens up more worlds because when the sky’s the limit you don’t know where to start, but just eight ingredients, I think, inspires creativity.
F&W: What advice would you have for people who'd like to fold more baking into their lives but can't find the time or are a little intimated by the process?
RD: It’s funny, I'm giving advice but I’m the one that burns things. For that, I’d say use a timer! For sure. It’s all trial and error for me. I’ve learned holiday baking doesn’t need to take days. I think a lot of people think “Oh, it’s going to take all day for me to make cookies for people” but you know if you’re willing to swap in shortcuts, or prep things ahead of time. For cooking or baking, either one, if I know I’ve got a bunch of work ahead I try to prep as much as I possibly can. That can be anything from chopping pecans and having them ready, because that saves the time of getting out the cutting board and knife and chopping them in the middle of making your recipe. It’s amazing how much time is saved, especially around the holidays, so many things have pecans or other seasonal ingredients. Another thing I do is I pull everything out of the pantry and drawers. I just have it on my counter and I put greenery around the big container of flour. Because it takes time to lug everything out every time, so I just bring it out and say "welcome to the kitchen, you’re here for a couple weeks."
F&W: Are there any standout recipes from past Pillsbury Bake-Offs you've tried?
RD: It’s fun to look back at the archive of the Bake-Off winners because in some ways you can see how different it was, but in some ways, you can see how similar baking has been. It hasn’t changed all that much in terms of home baking. I think in the ‘50s there was just a sheet cake that had some orange frosting and I was like “I would so eat that right now.” One of my very favorite Pillsbury product recipes, I don’t think it was a winner, but tell me if you’ve ever eaten this: take Pillsbury crescent roll dough, you cut an apple into eight wedges and roll them up into the dough triangles, lay them in a buttered pan, and then you melt butter and sugar together until it’s just mixed and pour that over, and then you crack open a can of lemon-lime soda and pour it in and then you bake it. I know it’s weird, but you’ve got to try it. I’ve baked it for people and not told them what it was, and they think it’s like a French dessert. I’m not kidding. It creates kind of a syrup and it does something to the crescent roll dough, it sort of makes it puff a little bit. Trust me. I make it. I’m an evangelist about that recipe. I even did a variation of it in my upcoming cookbook!
Ree's 5 Must-Have Baking Tools
- A pizza cutter: "It's really handy because you can cut strips of dough, you can cut shapes for sugar cookies. They have pizza cutters that are huge and then they have them all the way down to smaller sizes. I don’t think they call them pizza cutters at that point, I think they’re called dough cutters after that. But I’m always working with a pizza cutter."
- A good pastry brush: "It’s hard to find a good pastry brush for egg washes and butter. I like boar bristles over silicone, but I have to pull on the bristles in the store because sometimes you buy a boar bristle brush and the bristles come out."
- A set of round cutters: "If you don’t have cookie cutters, you can do a lot with a good set of round, graduated cutters. You can start with a circle and use a knife to make shapes. I’ve improvised a lot with my round cutters."
- A good rolling pin.
- Oh, and don't forget that kitchen timer!
Entries for the 48th Pillsbury Bake-Off can be submitted between October 1 and November 10 via www.bakeoff.com, where you'll also find details on the prizes, including $50,000, a trip to New York City to appear on The Kitchen, a feature in Food Network Magazine, and a kitchen makeover courtesy of GE Appliances for the grand prize winner.
Ree Drummond's says her latest addition to "The Pioneer Woman Cooks" series, "Come and Get It!: Simple, Scrumptious Recipes for Crazy Busy Lives," is "very much a reflection of the times we live in on the ranch." With a new restaurant and her aforementioned teenage kids, Drummond says, "everything’s real quick, easy, simple, make-ahead, you know, sheet pan suppers, slow cooker meals, freezer food—it’s all about easy, low-stress cooking." The book will be available at bookstores and Amazon.com on Tuesday, October 24.