Cookbook author and cooking teacher Barbara Swell offers these tips for a successful pie contest:
Plan the contest at least a month in advance. Before the event, offer a crust workshop, because that’s the most important part of an expertly crafted pie.
Choose categories, so many people can be recognized for their efforts. The contest has first-pie-made, youth, fruit, chocolate, veggie, meat, heirloom, tart, cream, gluten-free, and nut divisions.
Pick a theme and offer prizes. Our contest is retro and bakers come dressed accordingly. The prizes—most donated by participants—include vintage aprons and bakeware, rolling pins, dishes, and cookbooks. We offer prizes for bakers as well as best costume, person who looks most like their pie, and best rolled crust.
Register the pies on the day of the party. Include the baker’s name, pie name, and category. Each baker is given a number that corresponds with the name card displayed with the pie, so the bakers remain anonymous. Group the pies on tables by category. Each pie has a knife and spoon so people can serve themselves a small taste. Pies are not cut until the hostess gives the signal.
Make everyone a judge. If your contest is large, have each participant choose a category to judge. Be sure to provide pencils and paper for voting, after which people may taste as many pies as they like. Provide an activity for the guests while votes are being tallied. We have live Appalachian string band music.
Keep things light and fun. From the start, we tell people our pie party isn’t fair. We have reserve prizes for people who don’t win a category, but are still proud of their creations.
Unbaked double pie crust
3 oz. bar high quality, bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbs. tapioca starch or corn starch
6 cups fresh blackberries or raspberries
3 Tbs. cream
Preheat oven to 425°F. Place bottom crust in a shallow, nine-inch pie pan, and then refrigerate both crusts. Melt chocolate in a double boiler and stir in cream. Cool to room temperature, then brush onto the bottom crust. Chill a few minutes while you prepare pie filling. Combine sugar with tapioca starch or corn starch and toss with berries. Fill pie dish with berry mixture and top with other crust. Crimp edges and cut a few vent holes. Place on rack in the bottom third of oven and reduce heat to 400°F. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375°F. Bake for 30 more minutes, or until filling bubbles and crust is medium-brown. (If you use corn starch, the pie must bubble for three minutes in the center before it’s done.) Protect crust with foil if it starts to brown too quickly. Let cool for at least four hours.
3 lbs. (about 10-12) mixed plums & peaches, pitted & sliced
1/2 lemon, zested & squeezed
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. tapioca starch
1/16 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/16 tsp. cinnamon
Unbaked double pie crust
1 Tbs. milk
1 Tbs. turbinado (or preferred coarse
Preheat oven to 425°F. Place half the plums and peaches in a heavy saucepan. Place remaining fruit in a bowl. Add lemon zest, brown sugar, salt, tapioca starch, nutmeg, and cinnamon to pan. Mix and let sit for about 10 minutes to draw out juices. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat until juices begin to thicken. Remove from heat and pour over uncooked fruit. Stir in lemon juice and set aside to cool.
Place one crust in a shallow, nine-inch glass pie dish, allowing pastry to hang over the edge. Pour in fruit filling. Cover with top crust. With kitchen scissors, neatly cut edge leaving one inch of overhang around rim. Carefully fold edge under and crimp to seal. Cut a half-inch circle in the middle of pie crust and several slits. (Re-roll scraps and cut out shapes to decorate the top.) Beat egg and milk together and brush over top, then sprinkle with sugar. Cook on a baking sheet for 15 minutes until top begins to golden, then reduce heat to 375°F and continue to bake about 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and the filling bubbles in the middle. Cool for one hour.
4 cups vegetables, chopped
(fingerling potatoes, delicata squash
& okra recommended)
2½ Tbs. peanut oil + more for vegetables
3 lbs. skinless chicken thighs
Salt & pepper, to taste
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1⅓ cup orange juice
1 lb. onions, sliced
4 oz. dried negro or ancho chiles
1/3 cup almonds, sliced
4 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 Tbs. cumin seeds
1 Tbs. coriander seeds
3 Tbs. raisins
Zest of medium orange
1 tsp. dried oregano
4 oz. dark chocolate
1 Tbs. honey
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup flour
Unbaked double pie crust
Okra, sliced, for garnish
Tomato or red bell pepper, sliced, for garnish
Fresh cilantro, chopped
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place vegetables in casserole dish. Drizzle with peanut oil and roast 15 to 20 minutes in oven. (Keep in mind some vegetables roast more quickly.)
Heat a tablespoon of peanut oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot over medium heat. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add chicken to pot; sauté about three minutes on each side until lightly browned, adding more peanut oil as needed. Remove chicken and let sit. Separate cooking juices and discard oil. Return chicken and juices to pot, then add broth and orange juice. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 25 minutes until chicken is just cooked through.
While chicken cooks, heat one and a half tablespoons of peanut oil in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until golden brown. Remove stems and seeds from dried chiles, and tear into one-inch pieces, then rinse. Add almonds, garlic, cumin, and coriander, and reduce heat slightly. Sauté until nuts and garlic begin to color, about two minutes. Stir in chiles and cook for about two minutes until they begin to soften.
Transfer chicken to large bowl and coarsely shred it, removing bones. Pour broth mixture into saucepan with onion mixture. Stir in raisins, orange zest, and oregano. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and stir in chocolate, honey, and cinnamon. Let stand until chocolate melts and sauce mixture cools slightly, about 15 minutes.
Working in small batches, transfer sauce mixture to blender and puree, blending in up to a half cup of flour to thicken molé sauce. Return to reserved pot, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 425°F. Place unbaked crust in lightly buttered, 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Add a layer of molé, then chicken. Follow with another layer of molé, then vegetables, and repeat layering until the pie is full, topping it with molé sauce. Cover with crust. Crimp edges, and trim excess dough. Cut slits in top. Garnish with okra and tomato or bell pepper slices. Bake for 45 minutes, until the crust is golden and filling bubbles. If necessary, cover edge with foil to prevent burning. Remove from oven and allow to cool for one hour. Serve topped with crumbled goat cheese and cilantro.
5 lemongrass stalks
2½ cups milk
4-6 jalapeños, diced
4 hot banana peppers, diced
2-4 serrano peppers, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 cowhorn pepper, diced
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs, beaten
2 egg whites
Unbaked pie crust
2 habanero peppers, minced
6 Thai chili peppers, minced
4 tabasco peppers, minced
3 red jalapeño peppers, minced
1 cayenne pepper, minced
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2½ cups sugar
3 Tbs. Sure-jell pectin
Preheat oven to 400°F. Crush lemongrass stalks slightly with side of knife. In a pot, bring milk and lemongrass to a boil. Turn off heat and allow lemongrass to steep. When cool, strain cream into a bowl. In a pan over low heat, sauté peppers in butter, adding small amounts of water as needed until peppers are soft but not brown. In a bowl, whisk cream, peppers, sugar, salt, and eggs. Place crust in a nine-inch pan and brush with egg whites. Pour in pepper custard and place on bottom rack of oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375°F, move pie up one rack and bake about 20 minutes, until set and crust is light brown.
In a pot, boil peppers with vinegar and two cups of sugar for five minutes. Mix pectin with a half cup of sugar and stir into pepper mixture. Boil another minute, until thickened. Allow to cool, and pour a quarter of sauce over custard. (Extra pepper sauce pairs well with cheddar biscuits, ice cream, or goat cheese and crackers.) Refrigerate pie until chilled.
Unbaked pie crust
7 cups (about 3 lbs.) sweet & tart apples, peeled & sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbs. flour
3 Tbs. bourbon
12 slices lean bacon
Place pie crust in nine-inch pie pan, crimp edges to decorate, and chill in refrigerator. In a bowl, toss apples with sugar. In a large pan over medium heat, cook apples for about five minutes until just barely soft and beginning to release juices. Remove apples with slotted spoon. Add bourbon to juices and continue cooking. Reduce juice to about a third cup, then toss with apples. Sprinkle flour over apple mixture, stir, and set aside. In frying pan, cook bacon strips until some of the fat is released, but don’t brown. Keep strips flat and drain on paper towels.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Fill crust with apples, and then weave bacon strips like a lattice crust. Cut strips at the inside rim of pie crust. Bake for 15 minutes. If the crust or bacon begins to brown, loosely cover with foil. Reduce heat to 375°F and continue baking for 30 minutes, until filling bubbles.
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. white sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cold butter
2 Tbs. milk
10 oz. white chocolate chips, melted & cooled
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 cups summer berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries & strawberries)
3 Tbs. apple jelly
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place ingredients in a food processor and pulse to blend. Form a ball, wrap with plastic, and chill for at least one hour. Roll on a floured surface to form a disk and place in nine-inch pie pan. Crimp edges. Bake for 15 minutes or until light brown.
In a small mixing bowl, beat chocolate and cream. Add cream cheese and beat until smooth. Spread over crust. Top with berries. Microwave apple jelly until just melted. Brush on fruit. Refrigerate 30 minutes or until ready to serve.
(yields 2 nine- or 10-inch crusts)
2⅔ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/16 tsp. baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Squirt fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup ice water
In a bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Cut half of butter into flour with your fingers or a food processor until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in remaining butter with pastry cutter until it is the size of peas. (In food processor, pulse 10 times.) Squirt lemon juice into water and add to flour gradually, tossing quickly with a fork until a bit of pastry holds together when squeezed in your hand. Form two patties. Do not overwork dough. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, but preferably overnight.
1 lb. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
6 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/3 cup & 1 Tbs. milk
2 lb. cooked lean pork, diced
3 cooked bacon strips, diced
1½ tsp. fresh sage, minced
1½ tsp. fresh lemon thyme, minced
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
Cayenne pepper, to taste
1 tsp. anchovy paste
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1½ cups chicken stock
1/2 oz. plain gelatin
Sift flour and salt into a medium bowl. Add egg yolk to middle of mixture and set aside. In a small saucepan, bring butter and milk to a boil. Pour hot milk mixture into flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir ingredients to form a ball. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for about five minutes to create a smooth ball. Wrap with plastic and allow dough to rest for about 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400ºF. In bowl, mix together all filling ingredients and set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out two thirds of dough to make a circle slightly larger than an eight-inch springform baking pan. Lay pan on dough and cut around bottom. Line pan with parchment paper, and press dough into the bottom. Reroll the trimmed pieces of pastry into a rectangle. Cut lengthwise and use each strip to line the sides of pan. Press dough to connect sides and bottom crust. Trim top edge. Add filling and gently level. For the top, roll remaining pastry into a circle. Place pan on top, and cut around it. Reserve scraps for decoration. Place crust on top and gently press over filling. Crimp edges. Cut a one-inch hole in center of crust. Roll out pastry scraps and cut leaf shapes to decorate crust. Brush pie with half of beaten egg. Bake 15 minutes. Remove and brush with remaining egg wash. Bake for one hour and 45 minutes, until crust is shiny and brown. Set on cooling rack.
Pour a quarter cup of chicken stock into bowl and sprinkle in gelatin. Allow to sit for five minutes. In a small pan, bring remaining stock to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in gelatin mixture. Allow to cool. Slowly pour gelatin broth into hole in pie crust. Cool in refrigerator to set up gelatin. Serve with English mustard.
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, softened
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup Muenster cheese, grated
Parsley, chopped, to taste
1 egg yolk
In a bowl, blend ingredients and form into walnut-size balls. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. On a lightly floured cutting board, roll each ball into an oval shape.
Preheat oven to 375ºF. In a bowl, beat egg and mix in cheese and parsley. Place one to two teaspoons filling in each oval crust. Fold, crimp edges, and brush tops with egg yolk. Bake on a sheet pan for 15 to 20 minutes, or until brown.