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The Story of a ... Pillsbury Bake-Off Finalist

Maryann Rems, 50, hopes the judges think her tartlets appetizer tastes like a million bucks.

Photo by Norma Lopez Molina

“My mom and my grandma were wonderful cooks. It was like everything revolved around the kitchen. I used to watch them.”

“I got into baking when we moved into our house [in 1998] and I finally got a decent stove. I went, ‘Oh, this is actually 350 degrees when it says 350! Let’s dive in.’’’

Rems’ entry in the 2012 Pillsbury Bake-Off is cherry-jalapeño-cream cheese tartlets. “One of my favorite appetizers has long been jalapeño poppers. This recipe is my take on a deep fried, cream cheese-stuffed jalapeño popper with red pepper jelly. It’s creamy, crunchy, sweet and savory—super delicious. You’ve got to try them!”

The Windermere resident is one of 100 Bake-Off finalists from around the country. They will compete March 26 at The Peabody Orlando for a grand prize of $1 million and $10,000 worth of GE appliances.

“I like to sketch, I like to write books, I like to sing. I like making things, not following someone’s recipe. That’s not where I like to go with cooking. I like to look at the basic components of a recipe, put it away, and then start creating.’’

“I require 3 or 4 hours sleep max, so I’ll be up like the mad baker in the middle of the night, testing recipes. It drives my husband crazy. I’ll wake him up at 6 o’clock and say, ‘Do you want to taste these cookies?’ And he’ll say, ‘Hold that thought, can I have two more hours and then we’ll talk?’’’

“There really are no rules other than you want it to taste good. And if it’s a disaster, you learn from it and you move on. Don’t be afraid to try new things because being innovative is what I think got me to this point.’’

Rems entered the Bake-off once before but didn’t make the cut. “I proceeded to go to Albertson’s and got Edy’s ice cream, spumoni, Ben & Jerry’s. I was consoling myself with ice cream. And, then after I got done feeling sorry for myself, I said, ‘Get yourself up and get serious about this and see if you can really be a competitor.’’’ She perfected the tartlets recipe and others by hosting cocktail parties and asking guests to fill out surveys afterward.

“It was miraculous when I got the phone call [about reaching the finals] because tens of thousands of people enter. So my husband’s going, ‘Look, I already have ice cream in the freezer, so if things go downhill, we have, you know, the backup in the freezer.’’’

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