Beatrice Ojakangas has baked hundreds, probably thousands of loaves of bread in the last two years while developing recipes for her latest cookbook, "Great Whole Grain Breads." So it is with an embarrassed laugh that she recalls winning second grand prize at the 1957 Pillsbury Bakeoff with a recipe she submitted untested -- for Chunk-o-Cheese Bread.
It was also at the 1957 bakeoff that she had a photo opportunity with a man who over the years has had at least as much experience posing for pictures as Ojakangas has had kneading dough.
She doesn't remember much about the bakeoff itself except that it was in a huge room in a hotel, "there were ovens and state banners hung over them and runners with pans of water," and there were lots of celebrities. One was Art Linkletter, who "was very friendly," according to Ojakangas. Another, not yet known as "The Great Communicator," was Ronald Reagan. "He didn't talk to any of us," she says.
She does remember, though, that she baked her Chunk-o-Cheese bread, handed it in and went to her room. There, she found a note under her door asking that she "Please be in the Nordic Suite at 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning to have your picture taken with Ronald Reagan . . ."
That night at the awards dinner, she was shocked to learn she had come in second and won $5,000 for bread that she had never tasted.
That Ojankangas even entered the contest is about as unlikely as winning with an untested entry. In 1957 her husband, Dick, was in the Air Force stationed in England. One night, she explains, they were at a club when one of the men shouted, "Any of you gals want to make a bunch of money?" He held aloft a handful of applications and challenged them to enter the Pillsbury Bakeoff.
Ojakangas wasn't interested. Nevertheless, she and her husband talked about the contest as they drove home that night, and on his next trip to London, Dick Ojakangas picked up an application. The entry deadline was that very day.
"Dick and I had talked about a cheese bread, and so I took a family bread recipe, added some chunks of cheese to the ingredients list, hoped that they would stay suspended when the bread was baked, and mailed in the application," she says.
After returning to the United States and settling into a home in Duluth, Okakangas received a call "out of the blue." The caller enthusiastically announced that she had been chosen as a finalist for the Pillsbury Bakeoff and was asked to fly to Los Angeles for the contest.
"When is it?" she asked. "October 14th." "Oh my God, that's the day my baby is due," she said.
Her daughter Cathy was born two weeks early, however, and despite her fragile condition, friends persuaded her to go to the finals. "I flew to the bakeoff feeling like a sick cow," she says, "and I didn't want to be there."
The rest is history. What did Beatrice Ojakangas do with the prize money? She used it to put her husband through graduate school. "I wonder," she said recently, "how many women would do that today?"
Ojakangas, who holds a degree in home economics, has had a varied career in the food field. She learned to bake at the age of 4 and could make a cake before she learned to read. When old enough to join 4-H, she took cooking projects, not because she cared about baking, but because she had discovered that the winner won a trip to the state fair.
And a free week at the state fair for the teenage Ojakangas was a dream come true. "The Minnesota State Fair is the best state fair in the country," she declared proudly during a recent interview from her home in Duluth. As winner of three grand championships in the Minnesota State Fair and two national grand championships, Ojakangas has spent a lot of time on the fairgrounds.
She published her first cookbook, "The Finnish Cookbook," in 1964 and is pleased "it's still in print." She spent three years as a food editor for Sunset magazine, and a year in research and development for Gino's Pizza. Next she hosted a local TV cooking show, and then opened a restaurant in Duluth.
When her children -- there are three in all -- became teen-agers, the restaurant became a problem. "It was either let the kids run loose or let the restaurant run loose, so we decided to let the restaurant run loose. That was no way to run a restaurant," she says, so they decided to give it up.
Ojakangas has written for such magazines as Gourmet, The Pleasures of Cooking, Sphere, Cuisine and Woman's Day and is the author of 10 cookbooks. "Gourmet Cooking for Two" and "The Complete Fondue Menu and Party Book" ("Remember when fondues were the thing?" she says shyly) came first. She edited (for Consumer's Guide) "The Convection Oven Cookbook" and "The Food Processor Bread Book," then published a cookbook on her own.
"Was that a mistake!" About 6,000 copies of "The Best of the Liberated Cook" are stored in her basement, she says.
One more cookbook and some teaching at a local vocational high school ("Quantity food preparation for dropouts, not easy to teach," she says) kept her busy until recently, when she began working on her new cookbook, "Great Whole Grain Breads" (Dutton, for release about Nov. 15). Here are four recipes from that book, and from the kitchen of one of America's most prolific bread makers: STREUSEL WHEAT COFFEECAKE (Makes 1 13-by-9-inch coffeecake)
Whole-grain coffeecakes take well to the usual coffeecake embellishments: streusel toppings, spices, apples and nuts. This is a quick batter bread. 1/4-ounce package active dry yeast 1/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees) 1/2 cup milk, scalded and cooled to 105-115 degrees 3/4 cup butter, melted, plus extra for pan 1/3 cup sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 eggs 1 cup whole-wheat flour 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour FOR THE CINNAMON STREUSEL TOPPING: 1/2 cup sugar 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour 1/4 cup butter, softened 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1/4 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped FOR THE VANILLA GLAZE: 1 cup confectioners' sugar 2-3 tablespoons hot coffee 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
In a large mixer bowl, dissolve yeast for coffeecake in warm water; let stand 5 minutes until yeast foams. Add the milk, butter, sugar, salt, cinnamon and eggs, beat well. Beat in the whole-wheat flour and all-purpose flour. With spoon or electric mixer beat until very smooth and elastic. Cover and let rise in warm place for 30 minutes. Beat down and spread in well buttered 9-by-13-inch pan. Combine the ingredients for streusel topping mixture until crumbly. Sprinkle over the top. Cover; let rise until doubled, 30-45 minutes. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden, in a 350-degree oven. If desired, frost while warm with a vanilla glaze. To make the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar, coffee and vanilla and drizzle the mixture over the coffeeecake. CHEESE-OAT CASSEROLE BREAD (Makes 1 large casserole bread or 2 medium loaves)
The cheese in this loaf adds a wonderful aroma to the kitchen as it bakes -- and a great taste when you bite into it! Serve it with a hearty vegetable soup when the weather turns chilly. 2 packages (2 tablespoons) active dry yeast 1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees) 1/4 cup sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 2 eggs 1 cup rolled oats, quick or old-fashioned 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese 3 tablespoons caraway seeds Butter for pan and drizzling
In large mixer bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in the sugar, salt, egg and oats. Add half the flour and beat for 2 to 3 minutes with electric mixer until dough is very smooth and satiny. Add cheese and caraway seeds, then 1 cup more of the flour. Beat until blended. Work in the remaining 3/4 cup flour until it can no longer be seen in the dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes. Stir down and turn into a greased 3-quart casserole dish or into 2 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Let rise 45 minutes to 1 hour until batter reaches top of the pan. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour for the casserole loaf, or 35-40 minutes for the standard loaves in a 350-degree oven. Remove pans and cool on rack; brush with melted butter. RUSTIC SABINA RYE BREAD (Makes 2 loaves)
This simple bread emphasizes the wonderful, clean flavor of rye. A popular rye bread in Finland, the name Sabina actually comes from an ancient tribe of people captured by the Romans in 290 B.C. It defies its namesake in ingredients, but is shaped like Italian bread. 2 packages (2 tablespoons) active dry yeast 2 cups warm water, 105-115 degrees 2 tablespoons dark corn syrup 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 cups dark rye flour 2-2 1/2 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour plus extra for kneading Butter for bowl
In a large mixing bowl dissolve the yeast in warm water and add the corn syrup; mix and let stand 5 minutes until yeast forms. Add salt and rye flour; beat well. Add the bread flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing well until stiff dough forms; let rest 15 minutes. Turn out onto floured board and knead 8-10 minutes until dough is smooth. Wash bowl, grease it, and add dough to bowl; turn over to grease top of dough. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down. Divide in half. On oiled surface, shape into a slender loaf about 12 inches long. Cover baking sheets with parchment paper and place loaves on sheets; let rise until about doubled. Slash lengthwise with sharp knife or razor blade. Brush with water. Bake loaves 30-35 minutes in a 375-degree oven, or until crusty and loaves sound hollow when tapped. WHOLE-WHEAT AND CURRANT SCONES (8 servings)
These are best hot from the oven, but if you have any left over, split the wedges horizontally and toast them for breakfast. 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 3 tablespoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature 1 cup dried currants 2 eggs, slightly beaten 1/3 cup whipping cream Additional whole-wheat flour to sprinkle over top 3 tablespoons melted butter for top
In large mixing bowl, stir together whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. With fork, blend in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add currants and fold to mix them in evenly. Beat eggs and cream together and add to flour mixture to make a stiff, but slightly dry dough. Turn out onto lightly floured board and knead a few turns to make a smooth ball. Grease a baking sheet lightly, and place ball of dough onto baking sheet. Dust top with additional whole-wheat flour and press down to make an evenly thick round 8 inches in diameter. With straight-edged knife, cut into 8 wedges but leave wedges in place. Drizzle melted butter over. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until golden, in a 425-degree oven. Serve warm. Or split and toast, if any are left, for another meal.