THIS TUESDAY AUGUST 24TH I WILL AGAIN BE JUDGING THE REGIONAL PILLSBURY PIE CRUST CONTEST AT THE RHINEBECK, NY DUTCHESS COUNTY FAIR. COME ON BY, SAY HI AND CHECK OUT THE PIES!
Also, come on by at 3:30 and 5:30 for demos from my newest book, Unforgettable Desserts. There will be plenty of samples.
This past Tuesday I was up at the NY State Dutchess County Fair teaching chocolate classes as well as judging a Pillsbury Pie Contest. The chocolate classes went well, as they always do. Folks get to learn about how cacao is grown and taste different chocolates. I spent a fair amount of time talking about How to taste chocolate critically....look for that info in an upcoming blog.
But at 7pm I was one of 4 judges who got to sample 40 home baked pies. Here we are getting our instructions.I was joined by a CIA pastry professor (to my left), a recent graduate and a gentleman who owns several restaurants. Jack Ford, the organizer is in the blue chef's coat. The rules were provided by Pillsbury. Contestants had to use both crusts from the Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust package, fruit had to be in the filling and they had to be 9-inch pies or 9 or 10-inch tarts. The pies/tarts had to be there a half-hour before judging and be accompanied by the recipe typed on an 8x11" paper.
At about 6pm the pies started arriving.
There were several classic double-crust apple pies, some with lattice work and even one savory pie! It was a BBQ chicken and Pineapple Pie. The rules said fruit had to be in the filling, so this was within the suggested parameters. The chicken was shredded and the top crust was dusted with cayenne and chili powder. It was actually a nice break from all the sweet pies, but it didn't make it into the finals. Here's another shot of some of the great entries.
We judged on Appearance, Creativity, Ease of Preparation, Taste and Overall Impression. We split into 2 judging teams and each of us took one table full of pies. Then we tabulated our scores to get the top 3 pies on each long banquet table and we all sampled those last 6 and picked our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners.
Equipped with clip-boards, judging sheets, pencils and bottles of water, we got down to work. Here we are tasting and discussing as the crowd looks on. I was equipped with a mic and was giving some running commentary.
Even before we started sampling, I noticed at least one pie that was in a tempered glass pie plate that I knew was larger than 9-inches. I asked the organizer, Jack Ford, if we had a ruler or measuring tape, which he provided. I huddled with my fellow judges, who at first eyed me a bit suspiciously, and I explained my thought process. This judging was going to be hard enough as it was, and as far as I was concerned, Pillsbury had provided the rules and we were supposed to judge by the rules And the contestants were supposed to follow the rules. If anyone hadn't followed the rules, I thought they should be disqualified. They all agreed and quickly added that this should go for any of the rules. Turns out that a couple of pies were too large, one arrived late and one had the recipe hand-written on a small notecard. Unfortunately, these were all disqualified. I say unfortunately because some of them were very tasty!
We used clean knives to cut slices and clean forks for each bite. Someone asked me if I was going to bite and spit. No Way! I was here to eat some pie!
I thought it was interesting that there were so many apple pies. After all, these were not going to get big marks for creativity, and therefore the rest of the execution had to be spot on. I found several of them to be way too heavy with nutmeg and/or cloves; for me this meant they were marked down. We had several crusts that were underdone. Even thought everyone was starting with the Pillsbury crusts, there was huge variation. Several factors come into play: some used a tin pan, some used Pyrex and some crockery. All conduct heat differently. Some started in a high oven and left it there throughout. Others started in a very high oven and turned the heat down....pies were baked on pans and off...on different rack placements in the oven and what have you.
There were a few that were very creative, but then the execution wasn't carried out very well. There was a Blueberry Merlot pie that I loved, but apparently the other judges didn't because it didn't make it to the finals. The most creative was a Key Lime Blueberry. Here is a pic:
It had a bottom crust, a layer of key lime, a layer of cheesecake filling and a layer of blueberry filling all under a decorative top crust. The cheesecake layer was too thick and the filling on the whole was too gloppy. But I Love this idea and hope the baker will refine it. Curiously only 2 pies contained chocolate, both combining it with berries. There were many, many blends of fruit. Many of the pies were way too sweet for me. There was also a lot of tapioca used as a thickener, which I too like to use. And I was so happy that none were overly thickened; I like a juicy pie. Here are the ribbons, ready to be handed out.
My favorite ended up winning! It was a Peach Nectarine Cherry Pie with Sugar Glazed Almonds. Man was it tasty! There was a bit of almond extract in the filling; not enough to taste but it enhanced the filling beautifully. The cherries were dried but nice and plumped up. The sugared almonds on top were such a lovely addition! The winner, Sandra Trifilo from Glenham, NY, could not have been sweeter. She received a $200 prize and a was interviewed by Pillsbury. Here is The Winning Pie! Here she is the Moment she learned that she won.
And here is her glorious pie. The crust was fabulously handled, the flavors were creative and excellent...it is even pretty when cut - not an easy thing to accomplish!Second place went to Arleen Harkins from Red Hook, NY with her Peachy Blackberry Pie; she won $100 and third place was given to Fran Conway of NYC who won $50 with her classic Apple Pie. Her crust was the best there that day. She got that crust as flaky and perfectly browned as one could hope for. Check it out:
Here are our three Finalists, left to right: Sandra Trifilo, Arleen and Fran.
I can't wait till next year! Start practicing now folks! See you there....the Fair, by the way, continues for another week.