It’s July and in our Town it’s time for Alfred Festival Day. I was asked to enter the pie contest. I felt honored. As always, on the night before the big day and parade, the Town comes together for a Chili & Chowder Contest and a Pie Contest. The contests are a nice way to get donations for the festival day kick-off supper and a reason for the town to come together under the big tent set up in front of the Town Hall. The town folks and visitors pay to eat the chili, chowder and pies entered into the contests. The money goes to the local Lion’s Club. I am proud to say that our small Town is very community focused and still carries on this festival tradition.
Alfred, Maine – Town Hall
My feelings of being honored to enter the pie contest turned into horror and dread as I proceeded to try a new pie recipe. Here are some words of advice to future pie contestants – Do Not Use A New Recipe! That wise advice has been around a long time, and so have I; but, I did not listen to that little voice in my head and let my “I-can-do-it” spirit kick in.
The following is a cautionary tale for future contestants that may be considering any kind of cooking or baking contest. The recipe for Blueberry Slab Pie is included.
I really gave some thought to the pie I would make. As background information, several years ago I made a Swiss Cheese Zucchini Cashew Nut pie for the contest. It was the first time I had ever entered a pie contest. It was a savory pie, not sweet; and I thought it would not even get a mention. It won second or third place. I think it won that spot because it was a unique pie. But, I believe that the pie traditionalists were a bit confused by the presentation of a savory pie instead of sweet.
Swiss cheese zucchini cashew pie – nixed the savory idea.
As I focused on this contest, many factors ran through my mind…Such as, SAVORY vs SWEET…I nixed savory this time. Another factor…WEATHER. As any baker knows, heat and humidity would affect a meringue. I nixed doing my favorite, Lemon Meringue pie.
Lemon meringue pie – nixed the meringue idea.
See http://www.RespectYourFood.me post of May 22, 2013-Lemon Meringue Pie, Yes Please!
Next, I thought about….TIMING-I would have to make the pie crust dough the night before, since I work during the day and could not take off all day to bake and test the recipe. The crust had to hold up to any liquid or berries I might use. The pie was to be presented for judging at 4:30 p.m. Strawberry-rhubarb came to mind, but the rhubarb had gone by and I did not freeze any for future use.
See http://www.RespectYourFood.me post of May 23, 2012-Summer Starts, Pies and Tarts!
I also thought about….STABILITY. The pie would be sitting for a minimum of an hour, maybe more, while judging was taking place and before serving the public. Therefore, keeping a whipped cream stable or a pie chilled made for more complexity.
Considering all those factors, plus a few more, I decided on this new recipe of a Blueberry Slab Pie. I made two – one was a tester and one for the contest. I thought it sounded interesting to have butter and cream cheese in your pie crust. What was I thinking?
Here is the recipe – it is from Spoon-Fork-Bacon blog of 7-16-14. The pictures on that site looked great. I have tweaked the recipe with my notes. The end product looks like a huge pop-tart, if you do it right. Sliced diagonally and served with ice cream – it would be perfect for a cookout – not a contest.
Blueberry Slab Pie
Makes 1 – 12” x 12” folded rectangular pie
Ingredients for Cream Cheese Pie Dough
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
1/4 cup (2 ounces) cream cheese, cold and cut into small cubes
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1-2 teaspoons ice cold water
Note: The dough came together beautifully.
2 cups blueberries
1/4 cup superfine sugar (granulated is fine)
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Note: Adjust lemon juice to your taste.
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon white sanding sugar
1. Preheat oven to 400°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Prepare egg wash and set aside.
2. Dough: Place flour, salt, baking powder, butter, and cream cheese in a food processor and pulse until a fine meal forms. While pulsing, add water and vinegar and continue to pulse until dough forms. NOTE: Food processor not necessary-make dough as you would for a regular pie. Dump dough onto a clean surface and form into a disc. Tightly cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Lightly flour a clean surface and roll dough out into a 12”x12” square, about 1/8-1/4 inch thick.
4. Transfer dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
5. Filling: Place all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and toss together. NOTE: Lemon can be lessened and cinnamon increased – your preference.
6. To assemble: Fill one side of dough with filling, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edge. Lightly egg wash perimeter and fold the unfilled side over. Firmly press edges together with a fork and score the top of the pie to allow steam to escape while baking. Brush top with egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar.
7. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Allow pie to cool for 20-30 minutes before cutting and serving.
8. Cool completely and cut the rectangular slab diagonally for presentation. Serve with vanilla ice cream and a few fresh blueberries.
On with the madness….
Round vs Square?
As I launched into this project, my irrational line of thinking continued. I made my dough discs the night before and chilled them. Next morning, day of contest, I was up at 6 a.m. and took the discs out of the fridge. I had shaped them round – now the second guessing started…should I had made them into a square? I proceeded to gather my ingredients, whipped up the egg wash, zested the lemon over the berries and filled my time with other prep work while waiting for the dough to get to rolling temp. I was impatient…so I decided to put one of the discs in the microwave to just zap it for a few seconds – boy was that stupid! That only created another obstacle to overcome. So, I put the zapped one back in the fridge and started playing with the other disc. I knew already in my head that this was going to be a tough-go.
Really…Does this look square to you?
I could not get the dough to roll into a square – the one day that I wanted it to do only that, I ended up with a picture perfect round disc that I had to keep working at to try and get it into a square. I proceeded on as best I could. I filled the dough and kept questioning how this was going to turn out.
Okay, now what?
I got the tester in the oven and started on the next. Here is the baked tester- all the juices were running out of my weak corner of unsealed crust. It was weak because the dough was too wet to just pinch with the fork and make the pretty marks. There was too much egg wash and melted butter-cream cheese dough to make it work.
The Tester – Seriously?
I was really getting desperate and worried. Here I was in my nightie with my orthotic sneakers (bad feet situation) – no coffee – no breakfast – all the fans going….my hair looked like I’d been electrocuted and I was talking to myself. I’m so glad the propane delivery guy did not show up – I would have scared him into his grave! I asked myself, what else could possibly go wrong? Isn’t this a pretty mess I’ve gotten myself into? I put together the second square-ish pie and baked it off for the contest. I let it cool a bit and then put it in the fridge…why?- I do not know.
Finally, I went to the office taking the tester slab with me. I trusted my office colleagues to give me honest opinions – they liked it, especially with ice cream. My thoughts were – it’s too lemony and folks may be put off by the square shape and not consider it a pie. I left work early knowing that I had to get the contest pie back to room temp. Why had I stuck it in the fridge? I presented the pie on a square platter with a pretty pink label and requested that they cut it diagonally. I was entry #5-the odd ball..or square…in the group.
Results – 1st place winner was #8-Sister Marie’s Shaker Rhubarb by Scott DeWolfe; 2nd place was #1-Strawberry Cheesecake Pie by Pat Fuchs; and 3rd place winner was #11-Paula’s Apple Pie by Paula Ahern.
Here are the lessons I learned: Do not use a new recipe for a contest. Bake what you know how to bake. Do not zap a dough disc in the microwave! Do not be impatient. Do not give up. Stay calm and bake on. All-in-all it was fun and a very good learning experience.
There is always next year….if I get the call.