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One Smart Cookie

Carolyn Gurtz reacts as her recipe for Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies is named winner of the 43rd Pillsbury Bake-Off in Dallas.
Carolyn Gurtz reacts as her recipe for Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies is named winner of the 43rd Pillsbury Bake-Off in Dallas. (By Todd Rosenberg -- Associated Press)
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By Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

For 15 years, Carolyn Gurtz submitted entries in the Pillsbury Bake-Off: Fiesta Pie. Devil Delight Bites. Very Berry Muffins.

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But it wasn't until the Gaithersburg homemaker started thinking like a marketer as well as a chef that she won the $1 million prize yesterday.

What set her Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies apart? Reliability, for one: "The measurements come out perfect," she said on the phone after the prize ceremony in Dallas. "Every time you make it, it comes out the same."

Plus: "It had several of the sponsors' products in it." Gurtz only had to use two ingredients from Pillsbury's list, but she tipped her hat to no fewer than five -- Pillsbury cookie dough, Jif peanut butter, Fisher peanuts and both Domino and C&H sugar.

Oh, and apparently this does still matter: The result is delicious. "Everyone loves cookies, and most people like peanut butter," said the 59-year-old grandmother and Sunday school teacher, sounding like the perfect pitchwoman. "You get the crisp, sweet outside, then you bite into it and get a creamy center."

Which is what it always comes down to. Now in its 43rd year (the once-annual competition went to every other year in 1996 when the prize got bumped up to seven figures), the contest exalts American convenience cuisine over gourmet technique or exotic taste -- recipes that the least-skilled cook can tackle, results that will please the most unpretentious palate.

Gurtz, whose recipe was selected from tens of thousands of entries, calls herself "an old-fashioned cook." She's been known to experiment on special occasions -- there was the filet mignon stuffed with lobster tail, another steak served with sauteed bananas, "which sounds terrible, but it was just great." But most days, "I stick with potatoes and meat and chicken-type things. My husband and family love my meatloaf. I don't get into real gourmet with herbs and spices. I really should try and learn some of that."

Actually, seems like she's done just fine without. You read correctly: one million dollars. Her financial-planner husband has some ideas for it; otherwise she's thinking of gifts to her church and her kids. Also: granite countertops for her kitchen. "It's already been spent," she said.

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