Maryland man wins $2,000 bake-off prize

March 06, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County man with a passion for chocolate was a winner in the 40th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, the nation's premier cooking contest for amateurs.

Steven Mandell of Stevenson was one of 10 men who tied on aprons, whisked mixing bowls and slaved over ovens to compete in the contest in Orlando, Fla., last week.

Mandell, 57, was the lone representative from Maryland. He won one of the top four slots in his category - the Fast & Fabulous Desserts & Treats - for his Milleniyum Chocolate Torte, netting a $2,000 reward. The big bucks went to Denise Yennie of Nashville, Tenn., who won $1 million for her dish of Chicken Florentine Panini.

The biennial event offers the largest cash prize of any national cooking contest.

"It was a wonderful honor just to be there," says Mandell, back at work at Johns Hopkins Hospital as the senior director of clinical information services. "Being on the floor for four hours and watching other cooks work their hardest, seeing their enormous creativity, how so many kinds of things can be done with common products, ... we had a wonderful esprit de corps, an enormous good spirit of camaraderie among the contestants with everybody being very supportive."

One hundred finalists competed in the event, in which each contestant had to use at least one qualifying Pillsbury product in his or her recipe.

Mandell's culinary masterpiece is a decadent delight that would please any chocoholic. "I'm really a chocolate freak," he says. "Nary a day goes by that I don't have chocolate. I like rich, high-quality desserts." He describes his dish as "a very elegant and dense blackbottom, with a chocolate foundation and cream-cheese layer and ganache-type topping."

Mandell's metabolism may have something to do with his recipe choice. Calories can't keep up with this long-distance runner, who's pounded out 419 miles in 16 marathons. "That's how I can eat like this and still stay thin," he says.

Although men were in the minority at the cook-off, Mandell comes from a family where men pulled equal weight in the kitchen. His father was a cook in the Army during World War II, and he later opened a deli in Baltimore, Sid Mandell's. "Just being surrounded by food all the time made me appreciate good food," says Mandell.

It took Mandell a half dozen attempts making his dessert at home before he was satisfied. The Pillsbury contest was both different and similar to running marathons, he says.

"The major difference between a race and this contest is that it is so subjective, there's no line everyone has to cross. ... All you can do is think about trying to do your personal best," he says.

"Marathon training is similar," he adds, "because it has a focus and end goal. You also have to be patient. Training is key. You can't have success without it."

Milleniyum Chocolate Torte

Makes 16 servings

1 cup whipping cream

one 12-ounce package (2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon instant coffee granules or crystals

1/4 cup butter

3 tablespoons water

one 15.5-ounce package Pillsbury Thick 'n Fudgy Chocolate Chunk Deluxe Brownie Mix

2 eggs

one 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9-inch or 10-inch springform pan. Heat whipping cream in medium saucepan over medium heat until very hot. Do not boil. Stir in chocolate chips until melted and smooth. Set aside. (Mixture will thicken.)

In small saucepan, combine coffee granules, butter and water; heat over medium heat until butter is melted, stirring occasionally. In large bowl, combine coffee mixture, brownie mix and 1 of the eggs; mix well. Spread batter in greased pan.

Beat cream cheese in small bowl until light and fluffy. Add remaining egg; beat until smooth. Add 1/2 cup of the chocolate mixture; blend well. Spread evenly over brownie mixture in pan.

Bake at 350 degrees until top springs back when touched lightly in center and surface appears dry. For 9-inch pan, bake 45 minutes to 55 minutes; for 10-inch pan, bake 35 minutes to 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Run knife around sides of pan to loosen; remove sides of pan. Cool 1 1/4 hours or until completely cooled.

Place torte on serving platter. Spread remaining chocolate mixture over top of torte, letting mixture run down sides. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or until chilled. If desired, serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Store in refrigerator.

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