Feb 24, 2018 • By

A “bejeweled” recipe wins big

The 48th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest wasn’t just about great recipes.

It also was about celebrating the sweet memories and heartfelt stories behind favorite meals to make at home. Pillsbury received thousands of recipes that looked and tasted delicious, with great backstories to boot.

But it had to come down to one recipe and one story.

On an episode of Food Network’s The Kitchen that aired today, February 24, Amy Nelson of Zionville, North Carolina, learned that she is the grand prize winner of the 48th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.


Nelson’s Bejeweled Cranberry-Orange Rolls, the winner of the Cozy Breakfast category in the contest, also earned her the grand prize – $50,000, a kitchen makeover from GE Appliances and a feature in Food Network Magazine.

Nelson topped the other three category winners:  JoAnne Tucker, from Tampa, Florida, who won in the Appetizers for Any Party category for her Toasted Spinach Pesto Ravioli recipe. The Dinners with Heart category was won by Sarah Campbell, from Palm Bay, Florida, for her Oktoberfest Pizza. And the No-Fuss Desserts category winner was Sandy Reiter, from San Mateo, California, for her Cookies and Cream Caramel Layer Bars.


Pillsbury Bake-Off contestants Amy Nelson (L), JoAnne Tucker, Sarah Campbell, and Sandy Reiter, as seen on The Kitchen, Season 16.

“We loved hearing Amy’s story of how her recipe was inspired by her mother’s famous cranberry salad and how the Bake-Off Contest allowed Amy to bring her own new twist to a long-time family favorite,” says Joanna Hargus, senior marketing manager for Pillsbury. “We love hearing how Pillsbury helps today’s home cooks honor family memories while creating new recipes and traditions.”

I caught up with Nelson to learn more about why she entered the 48th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest and the role her late mother played in her winning Pillsbury Orange Roll-based recipe.


Bejeweled Cranberry-Orange Rolls

It all started when Nelson saw a post about the contest on Pillsbury’s Facebook page. In the spot, featuring Food Network’s Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, Nelson heard about a kitchen makeover being one of the grand prize items in the Bake-Off Contest. She says while she doesn’t “need” a new kitchen, she sure would appreciate one – as she makes nearly all of her family’s meals in their 1900s era farmhouse in the mountains of North Carolina.


This recipe book entry from November 23, 2015, includes a mention of how much Nelson would appreciate some updates to her kitchen. Part of her 48th Pillsbury Bake-Off grand prize is a kitchen makeover from GE Appliances.

She was also drawn to the idea of sharing the stories behind some of her favorite recipes.

“Writing is something I’ve always enjoyed. I knew if it had to be a story about my family and my childhood that I could really come up with something that was very authentic and could really touch somebody,” she explains.

With just days until the submission deadline last November and a quick skim of the contest rules, Nelson gathered three of her favorite recipes for inspiration for her submissions. Her Bejeweled Cranberry-Orange Rolls recipe had extra special meaning, thanks to the memories it brought up of her late mother.


Amy Nelson’s mother, Betty Rae Nance, inspired her love of home cooking. This photo was taken in 1999.

Nelson says she sat in her den, off-and-on for two days, to write her submission, cry happy tears and cook as the recipe creation process brought back so many fond memories.

“I was amazed when the application process was finally done, just how connected we are with food,” Nelson says. “Who cooked it. What it tasted like. Who was there when you ate it. What was the environment like. There are so many things that are prompted when we smell certain foods or those taste receptors are activated. In our brain it just sets loose a host of memories and feelings and that’s something I wasn’t so very aware of until I went through this process.”


Nelson as a child, alongside her mother in 1969.

Growing up, Nelson’s mother cooked most of her family’s meals from scratch at home – much like Nelson herself does today – but Pillsbury Orange Rolls were one of the exceptions her mother enjoyed for their taste and convenience.

“When I taste those rolls I just think of my mama. It’s so immediate. I taste that orange flavor and it’s like my mama is sitting at the table with me,” she says. “And then I started thinking about what I could do to those rolls. And the other thing is, what do you think of when you think of mama’s cooking? You think of holiday meals.”


The taste profile of her mother’s Congealed Cranberry Salad recipe was the inspiration for Nelson’s winning Bejeweled Cranberry-Orange Rolls recipe.

One of Nelson’s mother’s most popular holiday recipes is a congealed cranberry salad, featuring gelatin, cranberries, oranges, pineapple, nuts, and more. Nelson still makes the salad for her family today, and it was that taste profile that inspired her Bejeweled Cranberry-Orange Rolls recipe.

She says, “I knew that would go really well with orange so I started with cranberries and added ginger,  ginger ale and crushed pineapple. I made a filling with that and put some toasted walnuts in there and rolled them back up and baked them like that. And they turned out really well!”


Nelson’s son, Asa, taste-tested his mother’s Bejeweled Cranberry-Orange Rolls recipe before she submitted it into the contest.

The recipe obviously turned out more than just “well,” because it beat out thousands of recipes vying for the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest grand prize!

Since its inception in 1949, the heart of the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest has been about inspiring home cooks everywhere to share their recipes and celebrate the stories behind them.

Over the years, the contest has evolved to reflect what’s happening in real homes across the country. Learn more about the legacy of the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, in this story.

Nelson talks more about the story behind her recipe and what it was like finding out she won on the set of The Kitchen, in our latest podcast.

Listen (12 min)

SHOW NOTES – Episode 31: February 24, 2018 

Link: 48th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest

Video: 48th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest Grand Prize Winner Announcement

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