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Jonesborough resident Cynthia Bowser is hoping she has the Million Dollar Muffin

Cynthia Bowser is on her way to the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in Orlando next month along with 99 other finalists competing for a $1 million grand prize.
The Jonesborough resident was a finalist in 2008 with her Mexican Stuffed Pepper Biscuit Tostadas and went home as the recipient of a brand new microwave. Determined to return for another chance at the big bucks, this year Bowser is banking on her Blueberry-Almond Créme Muffins to win her the prize.
Pillsbury began its famous Bake-Off in 1949. Since then, 4,000 finalists have competed. The grand prize has grown considerably since the contest’s early days when first place winners took home $50,000.
Surprisingly, the money isn’t the main reason Bowser competes in cooking contests.
“My mom was a stay-at-home mom, so I learned to bake from her,” said Bowser, who grew up in Kingsport. “We always baked a lot at Christmastime and it’s something we enjoy doing together. When I got to college and started cooking and baking for myself, I started trying out new things.”
She entered two cookie contests in Jonesborough, winning Best of Show each time.
“Those experiences got me interested in taking my baking to the next level,” she said. “I always picked up those Pillsbury Bake-off booklets at the grocery store every year, and I had it in the back of my mind to do it eventually.”
Each year, Pillsbury distributes a list of products from which contestants can choose to create their new recipes.
“I like contests that give you a list of ingredients and say, ‘Put something together that will taste great,’” Bowser said. “I like the challenge of getting in the kitchen and making something new. The whole process is completely enjoyable.”
According to Bowser, it takes time to get the feel for how much of each ingredient is needed to perfect a recipe.
She said she “just knows” when the recipe is ready to send away. Of course, she also has an in-house taster in her husband, Christopher.
The winners get to go to the contest in Orlando. Once there, it’s non-stop baking, interviews and jitters.
“The media are everywhere and the pressure is incredible,” said Bowser, the only contestant from Tennessee. “But it is worth it. You meet so many wonderful people. It’s a great opportunity.”
In addition to the $1 million grand prize, first place winners in each category get $5,000 and all finalists get a new microwave.
To see Bowser’s recipe and those of the 99 other contest finalists, visit