Baking for glory
The call came from General Mills' headquarters in Minneapolis, informing her that her butternut squash and goat cheese turnover was in the running to become a nationally award-winning pastry. As a finalist in the 2017 Neighborhood to Nation Recipe contest, she would be flown out to Minnesota for a photo shoot, a tour of the Betty Crocker test kitchen and if she won the grand prize a cool $50,000.
Hudson is no stranger to baking. She's spent the past two years as pastry chef for West Egg Caf̩e on the Westside, where wait times for Sunday brunch often clock in as long as an hour and a half. Restaurant owner Jen Johnson was the one who pushed Hudson to enter the General Mills recipe contest, and to take on the contest's challenge to put a new spin on her original recipe.
"I used to type up recipes when I made them, but I have found that I change so much I don't even have time to type them up anymore," Hudson says with a laugh. "I have all these little scraps of paper, which I'm sure drives everyone crazy."
The chef first started developing turnovers for her microwave-loving, Hot Pocket-obsessed husband. "When we got married, I told him he was forbidden to eat those things anymore," she says. "I started making savory turnovers with him in mind."
Her quest began with pepperoni pizza turnovers, then branched out to bacon and Gouda croissants, then pulled pork turnovers with little bread and butter pickles inside. Eventually, she started producing larger batches and selling them at local farmers markets, where they became an instant hit.
As a professional pastry chef for more than 25 years, Hudson knows what will resonate with eaters. Her passion for baking began in her quaint South Georgia hometown of Midway, where she'd spend her days in the kitchen making cornbread and biscuits with her grandmother and great aunt. After she finished culinary school at the Art Institute of Atlanta, Hudson got a gig managing the on-campus bakeshop at Emory University. She later learned all about mousse at Alon's Bakery and dabbled in pastries at the DeKalb Farmers Market, mothering six children in the process. Next was a gig baking for H&F Bread Co., where she'd pack out orders for coffee shops at 4 a.m.
Despite decades of making puff pastries from scratch, Hudson sees the value in premade products that make baking more time-efficient, which is why she's incorporated Pillsbury pre-made dough sheets into her award-winning turnover recipe. "Everyone has a specific skill set and not everyone is used to producing laminated croissants," she says. "It's hard. If your butter and dough aren't the same temperature, the butter will shoot out the other end while you are squeezing it together. It's perfectly acceptable to add in pieces that are pre-made, like the puff pastry, and create something inside that comes from you and your heart."
Out of thousands of applicants, General Mills could taste something special in Hudson's butternut squash and goat cheese turnover. She won the breakfast category and was second runner-up overall, winning $10,000 in prize money. "A lot of people entered and it took months to narrow it down," Hudson says. "It's flattering to even be noticed, knowing everyone in the nation had the chance."
Hudson's latest project is kneading up a variety of biscuits for West Egg Caf̩'s monthly pop-up, Oddbird. The tribute to all things poultry serves up fried chicken, chicken and waffles, chicken biscuits, pies and other delights on the second Wednesday of each month.
"I want the West Egg to become more well-known for its bakery and pastries," Hudson says. "Here, I am able to swap quantity for creativity and very rarely use the same recipes twice. I'm constantly looking for new flavors."
Want to make Hudson's award-winning turnovers at home? Read on.| Courtesy General Mills Foodservice
Carrie Hudson's butternut squash and goat cheese turnovers
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups red onion, sliced
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, finely chopped
7 cups butternut squash, peeled and small diced
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 tablespoons salted butter
3 Pillsbury's Best Puff Pastry Dough Sheets
1 cup + 2 tablespoons goat cheese
1 large egg, beaten
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat.
Add onions and saut̩ until translucent, about 2 minutes.
Add garlic and sauté 30 seconds.
Add squash, salt and pepper; cook until fork tender, stirring occasionally, approx. 15-20 minutes.
Stir in thyme leaves and butter, cook 2 minutes; remove to heat and allow to cool.
Thaw puff pastry at room temperature until pliable but cold, approx. 15-30 minutes.
Cut each sheet into 6 squares.
Place scoop of goat cheese in middle of each square; spread to within 1/2-inch of edge.
Add scoop of squash mixture on top of each; brush edges of each square with beaten egg.
Fold opposite corners together to create triangle; dip fork in flour and press firmly along edges to seal.
Place triangles on parchment-lined full sheet pans; brush tops only with remaining beaten egg.
Cut 3 small vent holes on top of each pastry triangle to allow steam to escape.
Bake as directed below until flaky and golden brown.
Bake at 400°F for 18-24 minutes (or for convection oven, 350°F for 15-20 minutes).
Serve warm or cool. Makes 18 servings.
Pro tip: Assemble ahead and store in freezer until ready to use. Remove from freezer, brush with remaining beaten egg and cut vent holes at that time. Add approx. 10-20 minutes to bake time.