‘Betty Crocker Best 100′ updates timeless dishes for today’s tastes

Cookbook celebrates 100th anniversary of a name that’s well known in home kitchens
Dishes from the new Betty Crocker cookbook “Betty Crocker Best 100” (Houghton Mifflin, $25). (Photos courtesy of General Mills)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Dishes from the new Betty Crocker cookbook “Betty Crocker Best 100” (Houghton Mifflin, $25). (Photos courtesy of General Mills)

The first Betty Crocker cookbooks appeared in the 1930s and ‘40s, with the first picture cookbook published in 1950, each filled with recipes created by the cooks and home economists in the Betty Crocker test kitchens. Now Betty Crocker cookbooks number in the hundreds with over 75 million cookbooks sold to date.

This month, General Mills is publishing “Betty Crocker Best 100” (Houghton Mifflin, $25) to celebrate the 100 years of recipes and advice published under the brand of “Betty Crocker,” the fictional character who first appeared in 1921 and has served as a reassuring guide for home cooks around the world for a century.

Cathy Swanson Wheaton, the executive editor for all Betty Crocker cookbooks, was in charge of choosing the 100 recipes for "Betty Crocker Best 100” (Houghton Mifflin, $25). (Courtesy of General Mills)

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Cathy Swanson Wheaton is the executive editor for all Betty Crocker cookbooks and was the first writer for bettycrocker.com. She’s worked for the company for 25 years, beginning with creating recipes to publish on the back of product packages, creating new product prototypes for the company, and as she says, working her way into her sweet spot, publications, where she enjoys sharing her love of cooking with others.

Wheaton grew up in Minneapolis, preparing meals for her family. “My parents always wanted to go out to dinner at mediocre restaurants, so I said I would be happy to make dinner from the refrigerator so we wouldn’t have to go out. Everyone liked what I made.”

Marry her youthful success in the kitchen, the lessons she learned from her Italian grandmother who prepared elaborate meals that gathered the family around the table to eat, laugh and talk, and her sister’s Girl Scout tour of the Betty Crocker kitchens in Minneapolis, and Wheaton had found her calling.

“I said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I went to Purdue for their excellent program for food science, and came back to Minneapolis and took a job waiting tables until there was an opening in the test kitchens. I’ve been working here ever since, with a break for raising my kids.”

Some of the early products she worked on or developed prototypes for were for Betty Crocker mix for angel food cake and Suddenly Salad Caesar salad.

When it came time to mark Betty’s 100th “birthday,” Wheaton was in charge of choosing the 100 recipes for the new cookbook. “It was daunting and I was losing sleep. How do I decide what the best recipes are?” She looked to data, finding the top rated recipes from bettycrocker.com, poring over the questions that come into the General Mills consumer relations department (which answers over a million recipe questions every year), and looking at the tried-and-true recipes that have made it into many of the Betty Crocker cookbooks.

“I wanted a book that would include recipes people can’t stop talking about, comfort food favorites, and recipes that would become favorites for our children’s generation.”

The result is a book with 100 recipes, leaning heavily toward baking, with each recipe including a brief introduction that might be a consumer quote, a fun story about its creation or the history behind a recipe.

In testing the recipes for the book, many factors went into play. For example, the No-Knead Oatmeal-Molasses Bread is a nod to the “casserole breads” popularized in the 1950s and ‘60s. “Today people are interested in things they can put together quickly, and these casserole breads were probably the original no-knead breads, so popular today.”

But in the 70 years since those recipes first appeared, ingredients have changed and our awareness of food safety issues has as well. “Many of those breads were baked in coffee cans, and we now know that’s not a good idea. Yeast has changed and the way we incorporate it into a recipe has changed, which means a change in the order of the ingredients and even the temperature of the water you use. We tweaked the original recipes, if necessary, so they are easy for anyone to make, taste great and that you’d be proud to serve.”

Ingredients are not the only thing that has changed. “Our memories of our favorite foods may stay the same, but our taste buds have changed. We expect more flavor than we used to, and we are accustomed to more sophisticated seasonings. We’ve come a long way in understanding the role of salt and sugar and how to get great flavor without so much of either.”

Creating healthier versions of favorites like zucchini bread with more fiber than the original recipes and developing gluten-free recipes that not only skip the wheat but actually incorporate more vegetables, all while using ingredients commonly found at the neighborhood grocery store, were all part of the consideration in getting to those final 100 recipes.

The result is 100 well-tested recipes, updated for today’s tastes and easy to incorporate into today’s meals.

RECIPES

Try these four recipes from “Betty Crocker Best 100” (Houghton Mifflin, $25), out this month.

Bacon-Wrapped Barbecue Pork Tenderloin is among the recipes in "Betty Crocker Best 100.” Recipes have been adapted to modern standards. For instance, today's pork doesn't need to be cooked to as high a temperature to be safe. (Courtesy of General Mills)

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Bacon-Wrapped Barbecue Pork Tenderloin

This is the only non-baking recipe we chose, a nod to my mother’s standard dinner party dish of bacon-wrapped filet mignon. Today’s pork has been bred to be leaner than in years past, and doesn’t need to be cooked to as high a temperature as was once considered safe. If you cooked this pork tenderloin to the temperature your grandmother did, it would be way overdone. Wrapping the tenderloin in bacon keeps the pork moist, and as Cathy Swanson Wheaton, executive editor of “Betty Crocker Best 100,” likes to say, “It adds an exclamation point on top of this delicious recipe.”

— Adapted from a recipe in “Betty Crocker Best 100: Favorite Recipes From America’s Most Trusted Cook” (Houghton Mifflin, $25).

No-Knead Oatmeal-Molasses Bread, one of the recipes in "Betty Crocker Best 100," can be made with all-purpose flour or whole-wheat flour. (Courtesy of General Mills)

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No-Knead Oatmeal-Molasses Bread

No-knead breads are not a new phenomenon. What were called “casserole breads” have been around for decades, with the dough stirred together and then put into a casserole dish to rise and bake. The original version of this recipe was baked, not in a casserole, but in a coffee can, but today we recognize that it’s not a good practice, since materials from the can may leach into the bread.

We made this recipe with both all-purpose flour, as given below, and with whole-wheat flour. It works perfectly with either one, with the whole-wheat flour baking up, as you would expect, to be a denser loaf.

— Adapted from a recipe in “Betty Crocker Best 100: Favorite Recipes From America’s Most Trusted Cook” (Houghton Mifflin, $25).

You can enjoy Skinny Zucchini Bread, one of the recipes in "Betty Crocker Best 100," soon after baking it, or set it aside and freeze it for later. (Courtesy of General Mills)

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Skinny Zucchini Bread

I confess to not being a fan of zucchini bread, but this recipe converted me. It’s delicious right of the oven and so moist that it keeps well for several days. It makes two loaves: one to enjoy right now, one for the freezer to enjoy later.

— Adapted from a recipe in “Betty Crocker Best 100: Favorite Recipes From America’s Most Trusted Cook” (Houghton Mifflin, $25).

Though "Betty Crocker Best 100" calls them Gluten-Free Chocolate-Zucchini Muffins, you'll be tempted to have them for dessert. (Courtesy of General Mills)

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Gluten-Free Chocolate-Zucchini Muffins

This recipe says “muffin” but we think these should really be called “cupcake.” These are absolutely delicious, moist and rich, with none of the texture problems you sometimes have when baking gluten-free. We think these would make a great dessert.

We made these twice, once with the coconut flour as called for in the recipe, and once substituting 1 1/2 cups of gluten-free flour for the 1/2 cup of coconut flour. Both versions were equally luscious. Most grocery stores are carrying gluten-free flours these days, so you should be able to find one, if not both, of these flours. Just be sure not to overbake the muffins since it can be hard to gauge when a dark chocolate muffin is cooked through. Start testing at 25 minutes just to be safe.

— Adapted from a recipe in “Betty Crocker Best 100: Favorite Recipes From America’s Most Trusted Cook” (Houghton Mifflin, $25).

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