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1958 Pillsbury Bake-Off Winner: French Bread Braids Recipe

My mother was an excellent cook who taught me a great deal as she cooked from scratch. Today, both my hubby and I enjoy cooking.

Homemade French bread braids, fresh out of the oven

Homemade French bread braids, fresh out of the oven

Vintage Recipe

My mother kept many recipes in various forms. Some of them are old cookbooks. Others are on recipe cards in a vintage wooden box. Still, others are in old booklets, and some are loosely bound together in envelopes or files. In going through the individual ones, I came across one to make French bread braids.

When my brothers and I were children living in Wisconsin, my mother always baked the bread our family consumed. Until we moved to Texas and I was a teenager, I had never even tasted store-bought bread! Most of the bread she baked was in regular loaf form. Once in a while, she made French bread braids.

The recipe I found seems to be well worn, and some pencil notations are on it as to timing instructions. I decided to make it today and will share my results below.

What intrigued me even more than finding and making the bread was learning about the Pillsbury contests that still operate today. Let's look back at when this all started.

Pillsbury's 80th Birthday Spaun's Contest

In 1949, the company Pillsbury had been in operation for 80 years. To celebrate that fact and bring more attention to their Pillsbury's Best flour, executives decided to start a contest for homemakers across the land to compete for cash prizes. The main caveat was that they had to use their brand of flour in an original recipe.

The contest drew thousands of people competing for the $25,000 cash prize. That was a substantial amount of money back in those days, with an average-sized house costing less than that! The top 100 of those entries were in for an extra special treat!

The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City was the setting for all of the finalists to compete with one another. Imagine what that must have been like for the contestants who may never have been to a fancy hotel. That alone would have been a memory-making prize!

The prize money could also double if the contestants also submitted the seal from Pillsbury's Best flour, from which they made their recipe. I am sure that few people would have forgotten to take that seal with them! The very first winner did double her prize and won $50,000! You can see her photo plus First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was there to help present the awards, in the first link at the bottom of this article.

Contest Evolution

Changes took place over time, as you can tell by watching the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest history video above and the one following this text capsule where the 49th contest winner won the top prize while on the Food Network television show, The Kitchen. My husband and I saw Melissa Jollands make her easy-to-make stuffed appetizer bread recipe on live television.

The original categories were these six: entrees, pies, cakes, cookies, bread, and desserts. As the years passed, more ready-made Pillsbury grocery store items were allowed making convenience foods quick and easy to make, as demonstrated by Melissa Jollands.

The host cities also changed, spanning the country from Los Angeles to Miami, Honolulu to Houston, and many more.

Speaking of hosts, Arthur Godfrey, Bob Barker, Willard Scott, Oprah Winfrey, and numerous others have participated in hosting that eagerly anticipated event.

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In the early days of this contest, it was primarily women competing, with few exceptions. Over the years, more men wished to win some of those prizes and the notoriety associated with winning.

Prize money also increased, with the top-dollar amount being one million dollars in 1996 when the first male beat out all of the other competitors to take home that million-dollar prize. There are now other sponsors that also award prizes adding to the overall excitement for those who compete.

From annual contests to ones taking place every other year, see that and more in the Wikipedia link citing more details at the bottom of this article.

French Bread Braids Recipe

Since 1950, the contest had a junior division (ages of 12 to 18) and a senior division for those 19 and older. The recipe I have for French bread braids was by Mrs. Lillie B. Eldredge. She was the senior winner in Pillsbury's 10th Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest. So this recipe goes back to 1958. I'll share it with you now.

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

3 hours 30 min

32 min

4 hours 2 min

3 loaves of bread

Ingredients

  • 1 packet of active dry yeast, or 1 cake of compressed yeast
  • 1/4 cup shortening, melted
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups warm water, divided
  • 7 to 7 1/2 cups Pillsbury's Best all-purpose flour, enough to form a stiff dough
  • 1 egg, beaten

Instructions

  1. Soften the yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 2 cups of warm water, the melted shortening, the salt, sugar, and the softened yeast mixture.
  3. Gradually add the 7 to 7 1/2 cups of flour to form a stiff dough.
  4. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth and satiny, 5 to 8 minutes. (To knead, fold the dough over on itself and push with the palms of hands. Repeat this process rhythmically, turning the dough one-quarter way around each time). Place in greased bowl and cover.
  5. Let the dough rise in a warm place (85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) until light and doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  6. Punch down and let rise again until light, 30 minutes.
  7. Divide the dough into three parts. Divide one of those parts into three portions. Roll each portion into a strip around 14 inches long. Braid the three strips together, sealing the ends. Place the braided bread onto a greased baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining parts.
  8. Cover and let the braided loaves of bread rise in a warm place until light and doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes.
  9. Brush the tops of the loaves with beaten egg. (If desired, sprinkle with poppy seed or sesame seed.)
  10. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees for another 20 minutes until deep golden brown.

Notes

My mother penciled 12 in place of 15 minutes at the 425-degree oven temperature and underlined 20 in place of 25 minutes at 350 degrees. I followed her advice regarding the timing of making these loaves of bread.

I also used the stand mixer bread hook to do the kneading of the bread instead of doing it by hand as directed in the instructions. If you do not own a stand mixer, the old-fashioned way of kneading dough still works. That is why I left it in the instructions.

Freshly sliced and buttered bread

Freshly sliced and buttered bread

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”

— James Beard

Three attractive loaves of French braided bread

Three attractive loaves of French braided bread

"If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”

— Robert Browning

Sources

Pillsbury: History of the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest

Wickipedia: Pillsbury Bake-Off

© 2022 Peggy Woods

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