Today's Food section talks about the Pillsbury Bake-Off's past winners and this year's Utah hopefuls. Now I'll tell you about "the one that got away."

Reading Ellie Mathews' memoir "The Ungarnished Truth" brought back memories, as 1998 was my first time covering a Bake-off. I was in awe when I saw the Orlando contest floor covered with 100 finalists mixing, chopping and cooking as wonderful aromas floated through the air.

Outside, a devastating tornado roared through Florida, and there was drama in the judges' chambers, too. I sat next to one of the judges during the press conference the next day and was told in hushed tones that the group had been deadlocked between Mathews' Salsa Couscous Chicken and Edwina Gadsby's Brownie Souffle Cake. They debated the merits of each. Which best fit Pillsbury's "quick and easy" format? Which would home cooks be likely to make? Was couscous too weird?

When asked about it, judge chairman Susan Westmoreland of Good Housekeeping magazine acknowledged that the salsa recipe narrowly edged out the cake. "We felt this recipe was the better-tasting, more exciting, and the other took much longer to make."

When Gadsby accepted a $10,000 runner-up prize and a Whirlpool appliance, she donated the appliance to someone left homeless from the tornado. I got a bit teary-eyed, as she had no idea how close she had come to the big money. She found out later, because several reporters wrote about it.

Gadsby and her husband, Bob, have both won so many recipe contests that I call them "The Great Gadsbys." But they've never won the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Years later, Ellie met the Edwina again when Edwina was a finalist in a Dreyer's ice cream contest. But there was no resentment; Mathews found the Gadsbys to be "delightful company."

This year, Bob is a Pillsbury finalist, with Italian Chopped Salad Pizzas. Will he finally take home the big prize? Who knows?

Here's Edwina Gadsby's almost million-dollar recipe:


BROWNIE SOUFFLE CAKE WITH MINT CREAM

Mint Cream:

2/3 cup whipping cream

3 ounces white chocolate baking bar, finely chopped

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon mint extract

Cake:

1 package fudge brownie mix

1/4 cup flour (for Utah altitude; if at sea level, omit flour)

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup oil

1/2 to 1 teaspoon mint extract

4 eggs, separated

Powdered sugar

Mint sprigs for garnish

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9- or 10-inch springform pan with cooking spray. In a bowl, microwave whipping cream on high 45-60 seconds, or until warm. Add white chocolate and mint extract; stir until chocolate is melted. Refrigerate 1 hour or until well-chilled.

Meanwhile, in large bowl, combine brownie mix, flour, water, oil, mint extract and egg yolks. Beat 50 strokes with spoon. In small bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks foam. Gradually fold into brownie mixture. Pour batter into sprayed pan. Bake at 375 degrees 32-38 minutes, or until center is almost set. Cool 30 minutes. Center will sink slightly. Carefully remove sides of pan. Sprinkle top of cake with powdered sugar. Beat chilled mint cream until soft peaks form. Cut cake into wedges; top each with mint cream. Garnish with mint sprigs. Serves 12.


E-mail: vphillips@desnews.com