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Morton Grove woman makes Pillsbury Bake-Off for second year

Arlene Erlbach of Morton Grove created a cranberry orange dark chocolate flatbread that was named a semifinalist in Pillsbury's 46th annual bakeoff. She now needs public votes to advance.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media
Arlene Erlbach smells her finishes her cranberry orange dark chocolate flatbread that's a semifinalist in Pillsbury's 46th annual bakeoff.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media
Arlene Erlbach of Morton Grove created a cranberry orange dark chocolate flatbread that was named a semifinalist in Pillsbury's 46th annual bakeoff. She now needs public votes to advance.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media
Arlene Erlbach's recipe starts with spreading Smucker's jam and olive oil onto rolled pizza crust.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media
Next in Arlene Erlbach's recipe is to spread dried cranberries onto the jam-covered crust.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media
Chocolate chips are then sprinkled atop the cranberries.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media
The final ingredient is a cup of sliced almonds.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media
Arlene Erlbach pats her flatbread to mix the cranberries, chocolate chips and dried almonds.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media
The flatbread bakes at 400 degrees for 12-to-18 minutes.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media
The flatbread bakes at 400 degrees for 12-to-18 minutes.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media
Arlene Erlbach of Morton Grove created flatbread with cranberries, chocolate chips and almonds, and it was named a semifinalist in Pillsbury's 46th annual bakeoff.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media
Arlene Erlbach of Morton Grove created flatbread with cranberries, chocolate chips and almonds, and it was named a semifinalist in Pillsbury's 46th annual bakeoff.  |  Rick Kambic/Sun-Times Media

Facts

Arlene’s recipe: "Cranberry Orange Dark Chocolate Flatbread"
• 3/4 cup turbinado sugar
• 1 can of Pillsbury refridgerated thin pizza crust
• 12 ounce jar of Smuckers Orchard’s Finest Pacific Grove Orange Marmalade Medley
• 2 tablespoons Crisco light olive oil
• 3/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
• 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
• 3/4 cup sliced almonds
 
Spread jam and olive oil onto dough, layer other ingredients and bake for 12-to-18 minutes or until edges are golden.
 
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Vote for Arlene
Click here to vote for Arlene Erlbach’s cranberry orange dark chocolate flatbread.
 
Voting ends Sept. 26.

Arlene Erlbach of Morton Grove created a cranberry dark chocolate flatbread that was recognized as one of the top 60 recipes in a nationwide Pillsbury Bake-Off competition.

Now, as a semi-finalist in the annual competition, Erlbach needs help to get closer to the $1 million prize. Judges sorted through thousands of recipes to find those top 60, and now online voting will decide the final 30.

“I’m a baker, not a politician, but I understand that Pillsbury wants traffic to their website,” Erlbach said jokingly. “What’s frustrating and endearing at the same time is when I ask people to vote for me and they repeatedly call back wanting some of the flatbread.”

Erlbach said she’s always enjoyed creating new blends of foods and attempting complicated recipes, but she found more time on her hands after retiring from Chicago’s William P. Gray Elementary School and decided to put her hobby to work by entering competitions.

Pillsbury’s competition has three main categories for its competition: breakfast, appetizers and dinners. The final 30 in each category are flown to Las Vegas to bake side-by-side against each other for the best overall recipes.

First place gets a $1 million prize, second place gets a $10,000 prize and $3,000 worth of kitchenware, and third place gets a $5,000 prize and $2,000 worth of kitchenware. Other sponsors also give prizes of lesser value.

The competition challenges bakers to create a recipe using only seven ingredients, with at least two Pillsbury products or one Pillsbury product and one item from a list of other sponsors — which include JIF peanut butter, Smuckers, Crisco and Eagle.

The inventions are judged on creativity, taste, appearance and consumer appeal.

This year is the first time in Pillsbury’s 45-year competition that public input will be factored into the results. Last year, judges chose Erlbach as one of the overall 100 finalists and she went to Orlando, Fla. to square off against her competition.

“I didn’t want to go alone, so I was going to ask a friend to accompany me, but my husband Herb and my adult son Matthew asked to go with,” Erlbach said. “That was the million-dollar prize for me. Having my family recognize my interest and go out of their way to cheer me on was the greatest reward I could get.”

Erlbach’s interest in blending tastes first started when she was 5 years old. She was playing with her cousin Mark Favermann when his mother, Aunt Evelyn, took them out for lunch. Aunt Evelyn was drinking iced coffee and offered the children a taste.

“I immediately fell in love with the taste of coffee,” Erlbach said. “Iced coffee wasn’t as hip back in the 50s and 60s, so it was a real special order. When I became a teenager, I started drinking iced coffee all the time and began baking with coffee, too.”

Erlbach said her mother wasn’t much of a cook, and so there was no “baking gene” passed down. The hobby came from her desire to mix favorite foods or mix healthy foods with sweets to justify eating both.

“I know it’s not good to associate emotions with food, but there’s something to be said about wanting others to feel relaxed and enjoy themselves when visiting or coming home from work,” Erlbach said.

Jello molds used to be one of Erlbach’s trademarks when hosting social events. Now, friends and family reportedly praise her white cheese lasagna with spinach and her lamb stew with apricots.

In her two years of retirement, Erlbach has submitted custom recipes to about a dozen contests and has been published in magazines, but she said Pillsbury’s contest is the “granddaddy” of them all.

“If I won a prize, I’d probably donate some to charity and then take my family on a trip,” Erlbach said. “It’s a lot of money, but money doesn’t change who you are. I love my family and I love to bake.”

Read More People

Facts

Arlene’s recipe: "Cranberry Orange Dark Chocolate Flatbread"
• 3/4 cup turbinado sugar
• 1 can of Pillsbury refridgerated thin pizza crust
• 12 ounce jar of Smuckers Orchard’s Finest Pacific Grove Orange Marmalade Medley
• 2 tablespoons Crisco light olive oil
• 3/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
• 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
• 3/4 cup sliced almonds
 
Spread jam and olive oil onto dough, layer other ingredients and bake for 12-to-18 minutes or until edges are golden.
 
----
 
Vote for Arlene
Click here to vote for Arlene Erlbach’s cranberry orange dark chocolate flatbread.
 
Voting ends Sept. 26.
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