Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Apple Pie - To Compete Or Not?

( my long-time crust recipe and our first test of the Apple Cheddar Crunch pie )

Mack’s Apples in Londonderry, NH has an annual apple pie-making competition, with 2011 being the 21st year. The last few years I have known about it but was out of town on the weekend of the event. This year I found I would be home and decided to throw my hat in the ring.

I’ve entered several recipe contests before, but never a live judged food competition. With plenty of wine competitions, and medals, behind me this seemed like a gap that I could fill starting with apple pie. But what makes a competition worthy and furthermore a competition winning pie?

I have a combination butter/shortening crust recipe that is my go-to for pies. My filling is 100% Cortland apples and heavy on the spices. Everyone seems to love them and in 2003 and 2004 I made over 200 apples pies by hand to fundraise for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. I guess you could say I have some experience making pies, but would that translate to a win?

I love my crust recipe but not being overconfident I felt I need to experiment with other recipes to be sure that I had something that would really stack up. Thankfully the Mack’s competition requires participants to submit their complete recipes and the winners are published for all to see. I went and picked up the 2009 and 2010 winning recipes to see what I could learn. I also scoured the web looking for other ideas with the intention of running some trials in my kitchen before deciding what to make for entry. Crusts made from 1005 Crisco dominate. I find this weird as I have never been terribly impressed with this type of crust. I find them to be less flaky and flavorful than those made with butters, lard or other ingredients. Taste being what it is I had to give it whirl and be objective about what I found.

We ended up with four crust recipes pitted against each other. The fillings were all the same. We had to use my long-time favorite which is 60% butter and 40% Crisco. We also choose 100% shortening (Crisco), a recipe with shortening, egg and vinegar and for the final crust, 100% lard. My mother said that her aunt Pat says you can’t make a good pie crust without at least a little lard. Seems like good advice to me.


( lard, anyone? )

Crust Recipes

Butter/Shortening Crust
(makes 1 double crust)
2 ½ cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
11 Tbsp butter
7 Tbsp shortening
8-10 Tbsp ice cold water

Allow the butter and shortening to soften slightly. Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Adding the butter and shortening in two waves, work it into the flour with a pastry blender. The final result will look like coarse crumbs. Add the ice water folding the crumbs together until it forms a ball. Lightly flour the ball and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour. When ready to make the pie the dough should be divided into two pieces and rolled out on a floured surface as needed. (The top picture shows an example of this crust.)


100% Shortening
(makes 1 double crust)

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup + 2Tbsp shortening
5 Tbsp ice cold water

The method is the same as the above recipe except that you are using 100% shortening.


Shortening, Vinegar & Egg Crust
(makes 1 double crust)

2 cups flour
1 cup shortening
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/2 beaten egg
1/2 Tbsp white vinegar
1/4 cup ice water

Allow the shortening to soften slightly. Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the shortening, working it into the flour with a pastry blender. Combine the wet ingredients and add to the flour mixture to form a ball. Lightly flour the ball and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour. When ready to make the pie the dough should be divided into two pieces and rolled out on a floured surface as needed.

( just a little bit of oil from the lard collecting in the foil! )

Lard Based Crust
(makes 1 double crust)

2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 c. lard
1/4 c. water

Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in lard with pastry blender until small pea size particles/coarse crumbs are obtained. Sprinkle with water a little at a time. Mix with fork until flour is moist. Press into a ball place in the refrigerator for 1 hour. When ready to make the pie the dough should be divided into two pieces and rolled out on a floured surface as needed.

After the experiments I decided that my non-traditional pie recipe would have an all-lard crust and my traditional would have a lard/butter crust. My exact competition recipes can be found below. The all shortening crusts were too dry for me and the lard crust just had that extra oomph in taste and texture that made me feel like it was the way to go.

( Apple Cheddar Crunch waiting to be judged )

Apple Cheddar Crunch Pie
(non-traditional)

Glazed Almonds (crunch)
½ cup sliced almonds
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
Pinch of salt
Splash of rye whiskey

Warm a large skillet over medium-high heat. Roast the almonds for a few minutes until they become fragrant. Shake them frequently. Roasting time is about 5 minutes. Remove them from the pan. Add the butter to the pan, allowing it to melt. Add the cinnamon, sugar, and salt. Mix well, breaking up any clumps of sugar and allowing it to melt a bit. Add the nuts back to the pan. Stirring frequently allow the nuts swim in the butter/sugar mix for 5 minutes. Splash the whiskey over them. Be careful not to splash the whiskey onto the burner or near open flame. Continue to stir for two minutes. Remove them from the heat. Allow them to cool. They will become slightly clumpy and very crunchy.

Pie Crust

2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
18 Tbsp lard
8-10 Tbsp ice cold water

Allow the chilled lard to soften slightly. Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Adding the lard in two waves, work it into the flour with a pastry blender. The final result will look like coarse crumbs. Add ice water folding the crumbs together until it forms a ball. Lightly flour the ball and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Pie Filling

7 large Cortland apples
1 Tbsp lemon/orange zest
1 Tbsp fresh lemon/orange juice
½ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp clove
6 oz thinly sliced sharp cheddar cheese
Glazed almonds (from recipe above)
1 egg
1 Tbsp Demerara sugar

Cut the dough ball from the crust recipe in half. Roll out the bottom crust and place in your pie plate. Spoon a small layer of the apple filling into the empty shell. Slice the cheese thin and evenly place over the apple filling. Spoon the remaining apple mixture into the shell leaving any liquid behind. Spread the nuts over the top of the filling. Roll out the top crust and place it over the filled shell. Trim the edges so that an even amount of overlap from both crusts is available. Overlap and pinch shut the crusts making sure the edges are inside the very outer edge of the pie plate. Brush the egg over the top of the crust, including the edges. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Cut four slits in the center of the top crust for venting. Bake in a 350 degree over four 1 hour or until the top is browned.

( my traditional pie hot out of the oven )

Traditional Apple Pie

Pie Crust

2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
11 Tbsp lard
7 Tbsp unsalted butter
8-10 Tbsp ice cold water

Allow the chilled lard and butter to soften slightly. Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Adding the lard/butter in two waves, work it into the flour with a pastry blender. The final result will look like coarse crumbs. Add ice water folding the crumbs together until it forms a ball. Lightly flour the ball and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Pie Filling

7 large Cortland apples
1 Tbsp lemon/orange zest
1 Tbsp fresh lemon/orange juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp clove
1 egg

Peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Combine the apples, zest, juice, sugar and spices in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Let stand 10 minutes.

Cut the dough ball from the crust recipe in half. Roll out the bottom crust and place in your pie plate. Spoon the apple mixture into the shell leaving any liquid behind. Roll out the top crust and place it over the filled shell. Trim the edges so that an even amount of overlap from both crusts is available. Overlap and pinch shut the crusts making sure the edges are inside the very outer edge of the pie plate. Brush the egg over the top of the crust, including the edges. Cut four slits in the center of the top crust for venting. Bake in a 350 degree over four 1 hour or until the top is browned.

( lots of pie! )

I didn’t place in the competition and on at least one account there was a good reason why. The crust of my traditional pie wasn’t cooked all the way through. I had to finish cooking the leftovers before I took it to a family party the night of the competition. It was consumed quickly and the feedback was great. I can least take comfort in the fact that I made some people happy with it. My non-traditional pie seems to have been robbed of a chance. It was executed perfectly and when I had a chance to taste it I could find no issues. It didn’t advance to the second round where at least one pie with a Pillsbury (store-bought) crust did, so I can only assume the judges weren’t as discerning as they could have been.

( my non-traditional pie is cut for tasting )

( what are they thinking as they try it? )

I have already been kicking around ideas for next year and I will definitely be back and ready to try it again!

( Denise LaRoche, non-traditional winner. We chatted before the judging. She shared secrets! )

( Deborah Pierce, traditional winner. I tried her winning pie and can learn from her tricks! )

( the winner in the traditional category. it looks simpler than it is )

The announcement of the winners and prizes can be found at the Mack’s Apples web site. It pays to know who your local news reporters are. A quick conversation with April from the Union Leader netted a great quote on the front page of the local edition on Monday January 31st!

Cheers!

Jason


Simple Midwestern Apple Pie

10 comments:

Tiffany said...

How interesting! What a great post!

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Carolyn said...

I am impressed that you tried so many different crusts. As a rule, I like also do a 60% butter 40% shortening crust, it gets the right combination of flakey and good taste. Sorry you didn't place. I am horrified that a Pillsbury crust would make it to the second round and yours wouldn't!!!

A Thought For Food said...

I would love a piece of your apple cheddar pie. That combination makes perfect sense (loved apple/cheddar sandwiches as a child) and I bet this just tasted amazing.

Kate said...

Mouth watering! Very helpful discussion on the crusts. have you ever tried the one with vodka? I make pies so rarely that I've not wanted to experiment. But, Cooks Illus seems to think it's the only way to go. Love the apple cheddar combo!!

Elizabeth said...

This is fantastic! I've been curious lately about the butter vs. lard question. I don't believe in shortening, even in pie crusts. I know it makes it flaky but it's absolutely tasteless, so I was glad to find it was your least favorite. I have never tried an apple cheddar pie, I really must get on that.

greg said...

Fantastic post. I admire you for entering. I probably never would have. I would also have advised you on 100% lard (not that I'm an expert) so I am pleased to know that my theory stood up to your taste tests. I hope you enter again next year and take home the ribbon. GREG

Sarah @ OC2Seattle said...

I can't believe you didn't place! You'll get em next year for sure ;) The non-traditional pie looks so good and reminds me of the pies made for the cheese-obsessed aunts in Pushing Daisies.

C&C Cakery said...

It's such a small world - I used to live in Londonderry and Mac's was one of my favourite stomping grounds (especially during summer - just for the ice cream!). I don't believe I was ever there for the apple pie contest, but I'm now jealous that I wasn't. You've got a great rundown of pies - especially for someone like me who's a total beginning. Thanks for sharing such a sweet story! I hope to see more L-Town stories from you!

Tastemonials said...

I can't believe they even allow a ready made crust! I'm sure yours was better.