Over the years I’ve seen many jewelers who entertain interesting hobbies on the side. From Mardi Gras float builders to local clothing shelters, our industry consists of some really creative people. Joanne McGhee is no exception. Her passion for jewelry is matched only by her love of baking, and this year she created an original cookie recipe that catapulted her to the finalist round of the 47th Pillsbury Bake-off Contest.
“Over the years I’ve discovered I have a love for baking,” explains Joanne. “I enjoy getting three or four cook books and looking at different ingredients and wondering how they would work if I used them in different ways. I write down my ideas and go from there.”
The Dothan, Alabama jeweler is a self-taught cook. Having onlya cookbook and a few pots when she graduated college, she found herself hungry and on her own. Over the years she’s found deep enjoyment in baking, and entered her first recipe contest in 2006.
Dothan, known as the ‘Peanut Capital of the World,’ plays host to the National Peanut Festival every year. Joanne entered the National Peanut Recipe contest at the Festival in 2006 and won her first ribbon. In 2007 she won first place at the Festival with her Ultimate Peanut Butter Carrot Cake and has been winning ribbons, cash and prizes ever since.
“The first time I entered a recipe contest I went through so many drafts of my recipe,” explains Joanne. “I never knew how much work it was getting the wording exactly right. It has to be accurate, concise and use the proper cooking terminology to have it make sense. I originally wrote it out like I was talking to someone and had to revise many times before getting it down to a correct format.”
Indeed the nuances of writing a proper recipe are many. The rules for the Pillsbury Bake-Off include recipes that are original, seven ingredients or less and must be able to be prepared in less than 30 minutes before baking. Contestants cannot be professional chefs and they must incorporate at least two Pillsbury items into their ingredient list, i.e. Jif, Watkins, Crisco, Green Giant or Eagle Brand or Pillsbury.
“I knew from the beginning I wanted to use Pillsbury peanut butter cookie dough since Dothan is known as the Peanut Capital of the World. It was a creative nod to my home town.”
Joanne also knew she wanted a creamy middle made with Jif Hazelnut spread. She put on her thinking cap wondering what went well with Hazelnut spread. The answer, of course, was cream cheese!
Keeping the creative juices flowing meant adding something a little different to knock up the flavor. Joanne’s choice was toffee chips.
“I decided to roll the cookies in something other than peanuts or hazelnuts, so I chose milk chocolate toffee bits. It created this multi-dimensional taste that provides the perfect balance to the other ingredients. These cookies aren’t heavy or very sweet. But they are rich on taste!”
With only three tweaks to her recipe before reaching her final version, Joanne’s next challenge was naming the cookie. Joanne decided to incorporate the descriptor ‘roundabouts’ in tribute to an actual roundabout located just outside her neighborhood. Toffee Roundabout Sandwich Cookies were born and the reaction to them has been phenomenal.
In June Joanne found out her Roundabouts had made it to the finalist round. With more than 60,000 recipes entered covering 4 different categories, Pillsbury narrowed the field to 100 finalists and flew them to Nashville, TN in November to compete for cash and prizes totalling $1,089,000.
“Being a finalist in the Simply Sweet Treats category was amazing,” recalls Joanne. “Being on the Bake-off floor and getting to meet the other contestants was like joining a new sisterhood. Everyone was such a great sport cheering each other on.”
oanne’s recipe, along with the other 100 finalists, will be published in Pillsbury’s 47th Bake-off 100 Finalists Cookbook. Although she didn’t win 1st place in Nashville, she calls the experience a “blessing from God,” explaining that, “God wanted me in this bake-off and if He wants to put you somewhere, He will make it happen!”
As for advice to the rest of us ‘wanna-be’ bakers out there? Joanne laughs and tells me, “Just go play with your food!”
Joanne and her husband Jim have owned First Class Diamonds in Dothan, Alabama for nearly 3 years and have been a part of the jewelry industry since 2009.