Mar 22, 2012 • By

The ultimate Bake-Off family

You could call Debbie Vanni a Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest enthusiast, but that would be an understatement.

In high school, she started making the cooking competition’s winning recipes. As a young mom, she was a two-time finalist. Since then, she’s collected four full sets of Bake-Off cookbooks. When we called to interview her for this post, she was compiling Bake-Off statistics. (In case you were wondering, California has produced the most winners, followed by Minnesota.)

“The Bake-Off goes very deep,” Debbie reflects. “It’s a part of cooking history, and a lot of people’s families.”

She ought to know. Debbie is part of a three-generation Bake-Off family. When her mother and daughter saw how much fun she was having with it, they joined in.

“I sort of followed in my mom’s footsteps and entered the Bake-Off as well, and was lucky enough to be selected as a finalist,” explains Kristina Vanni. “It just happened to be in that exact same year, my grandma was also a finalist.”

The year was 1992. Kristina was just 12 years old. She won $2,000 for her cake recipe. Her grandmother – Debbie’s mother, Pat Bradley – won $10,000 for her soup recipe.

“No joke. This is 20 years later, and I still have not spent that money. My dad said, ‘You know what you should do? You should buy a savings bond.’ So I bought a savings bond, and it hasn’t matured yet,” Kristina says with a laugh.

Kristina was a finalist a second time when she was in college at age 20. Nowadays, she is a culinary diva seen on TV and in magazines. She also dishes out easy, elegant, everyday recipes on her blog.

Both Debbie and her mom, Pat, have entered the competition over the last two decades but have not returned to the Bake-Off floor as finalists … yet.

Pat, who is now 90 years old, is still coming up with new recipes!

“It’s hard to say who loves it the most. We all do. Kristina and I both kind of live and breathe it when it comes around,” says Debbie.

The festivities for the 45th Bake-Off begin this weekend in Orlando. The contest is Monday – and the Vanni pair is pumped. Leading up to the big event, the two profiled all of the previous winners on Debbie’s blog. That included researching each winner, preparing the recipes and photographing the food.

They even produced a video slideshow of all the winning recipes!

“It was a really exciting project, and a way to take a little peek into the history of this contest,” Kristina explains. “We learned so many amazing stories and sort of really watched the transformation of cuisine in America.”

This year, Debbie and Kristina will be reporting for Pillsbury’s Behind-the-scenes blog on They covered the 44th Bake-Off, too. (Check out their post on that Pillsbury blog about their family connection to the Bake-Off.)

Although Debbie won’t be chopping, stirring and scooping on Monday morning, she couldn’t be more excited to be at another Bake-Off.

“It’s like everything has come full circle. I loved being on the floor and cooking, but being behind-the-scenes and watching them I think is just as much fun. I really do.”