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Spicer woman leaving for Pillsbury Bake-Off competition, with chance to appear on 'Oprah'

Michelle Gauer laughs in this Jan. 26 file photo, while holding a plate of her Double-Chocolate Orange Scones in the kitchen of her rural Spicer home. Gauer is a finalist in the 2010 Pillsbury Bake Off in Orlando, Fla. She leaves this week to face 99 other finalists in the competition. The winner will be announced live Wednesday on "Oprah." Tribune photo by Gary Miller

SPICER -- Since finding out seven months ago she was one of 100 finalists in the 2010 Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, Michelle Gauer has made her winning recipe of Double-Chocolate Orange Scones nearly 60 times.

Her family still isn't tired of the rich chocolate milk- and coffee-time treat. They pleaded with her on Friday to make another batch.

This weekend Gauer will make her original recipe three more times in Orlando, Fla., for a panel of judges who will pick a million-dollar winner in the highly publicized national competition.

"I have butterflies on and off every day," said Gauer, of Spicer. "I'm on the home stretch here."

When daydreams of the competition overtake her occasionally, she has to remind herself to come back to earth.

"Oh my gosh, pinch me," she said.

With a longtime penchant for baking, cooking, collecting, Gauer said the Pillsbury competition is "kind of my personal Olympics."

Her goal is to do her "personal best" and whatever happens will be "icing on the cake."

Gauer leaves Saturday for Florida. Registration for the contest begins at 9:30 a.m. Sunday. The only thing she has to bring is her clothes. Everything else is provided by the contest sponsors.

One of the first things Gauer will do this week when she gets to Orlando is meet face to face with 43 of the other finalists that she's gotten to know through a Facebook page for the contestants.

Besides being competitors for the same prize, Gauer said they've also developed deep friendships that won't end when the contest is over. Gauer knows the competition will be stiff.

She's tried many of the recipes she'll be up against and has liked them all. Gauer admits her response has been, "Oh drats, it's a good one."

Which recipe is selected as the winner will "really be up to what the judges want that day," she said. "Some lean toward main dishes and there are other judges that are sweet-treat people."

Part of her duty as a finalist has been doing a media blitz. She's been featured in local and statewide newspapers -- including the West Central Tribune on Jan. 30 -- the public television station in Appleton and WCCO television. She's made presentations about her scone recipe to a Girl Scout troop, schools, senior citizens' groups and churches.

The folks from Pillsbury seem to toss new surprises to the contestants every month. Last week they were informed that -- for the time in the contest's 60-year history -- the winner will announced on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Gauer said that after the banquet April 12 in Orlando, where the four category winners will be announced, those individuals will be flown to Chicago. The million-dollar winner will be announced live Wednesday on "Oprah."

The news sent the contestants scurrying to repack for their trip.

"What does one wear to meet Oprah?" said Gauer with a hearty laugh.

While the chances of winning the bake-off are one in 100, Gauer said the chances of meeting Oprah are one in 25.

The winner will then fly to New York City for a media tour that includes national television and newspaper interviews and appearances.

Not one to sit on her laurels, Gauer is already perfecting her next recipe for a national cream cheese competition promoted by Paula Deen called the "Real Women of Philadelphia."