Published: Granite Bay Gazette Vol. 19, Issue 2. Friday, Oct. 23, 2015.
Category: Leadership and Team Building
Reason for publication: I brainstormed with my friend and fellow Gazette writer Blake Panter a pie bake-off in the spirit of the holidays. Blake and I both baked pies at our separate households using the same recipe and ingredients supplied by myself and allowed our friends to judge the pies. Both of us wrote about the experience post-bake-off.
Our first issue of The Gazette comes out, and Blake and I begin to brainstorm new story ideas when we find ourselves laughing, and then seriously considering the idea of a bake-off. This bake-off manifested into a real story, and this is the story of how this bake-off almost ruined our friendship.
Pie is definitely my least favorite dessert. However, I do bake around three to four pies a year – two or three for Thanksgiving, and one on my own time when I think I may actually like pie, but am assured I do not.
I learned to bake pie in culinary class freshman year. Since then, I have picked up tips from many cooking shows, mostly from the British Baking Show (my favorite of all baking shows), but also from the pros (aka bakers from my Temple).
Through these efforts, I have decided that the key aspect to baking a good pie is baking a good crust. And not one of those Pinterest-y two-ingredient ones (and don’t even mention frozen or prebaked crust), but a real, butter, water, flour and salt crust.
To make a good crust, the word that will determine if you fail or succeed is: cold. If your water isn’t ice cold and if your butter hasn’t just been taken out of the fridge you will fail. Heck, throw your dry ingredients in the fridge if you want.
After you sculpt your crust, throw it back in the fridge and bake with pie weights (or dry beans or rice). Once it’s done baking, don’t let it sit too long, like my friend Blake, the runner-up.
Blake’s pie looked beautiful, his professionally intertwined lattice topping looked even better than mine, but his ultimate failure became evident after we retraced his baking steps.
I knew his future was doomed when his knife hesitated to cut into his rock-like crust, and this is how he failed: after Blake (a non-experienced pie baker) created a beautiful crust, he removed it in the oven and let it sit while he made his filling, then he poured his filling back into the crust and re-baked it, creating a sort of biscotti-like crunch.
I achieved success because I knew very well that to succeed in the kitchen, one must be a multitasker. Blake, the inexperienced baker he is, sealed his defeat before he even thought about what he was doing.
From the beginning I knew I had to win this competition, but strictly on the basis of the sole finished product. For one horrifying moment during the bake, I burned my cherry filling while focusing on the crust, but I managed to redeem the taste by adding extra almond extract and lemon juice to cancel out any hints of burnt flavor.
I’ll admit, when Blake revealed his pie I felt tinges of anger and jealousy – Blake may be an academic wizard, but I’m the wizard in the kitchen. I felt relief when we couldn’t cut through his pie, but I feel I won because I proved my abilities.
The moral of the story is: your crust should be cold pre-rolled and warm in the pan. If your crust feels cold in the tin/pan before you’ve placed your filling in, you may as well start over. If you can’t seem to make your pie crust-oven relationship work, you may try no-bake pies – but that’s a whole different ex-pie-rience.
Here is a photo of my finished pie.
At last, the pie baking competition of the century approaches. In one corner, weighing in with 0 pies experience, is me. In the other corner, weighing in with countless years of expertise and a couple of handy tricks up her sleeve, is Hannah. The mission was simple: bake a pie using the same recipe to win over the judges’ hearts. The actual execution, however, was far from easy as pie.
If I were forced to describe this competition in one word, it would have to be “sabotage.” Hannah, sweet and unsuspecting as she may seem, makes a fierce and unforgiving pie baking competitor. She caught me right in my naïveté, and exploited me where I was weakest.
Here’s the evidence to my cons-pie-racy:
Proof #1: Incomplete recipe
Hannah approaches me, wide eyed and happy as ever with a bag of ingredients and a so-called complete recipe on how to bake the pie. I feel thankful, content and rather ready to bake. I get home, lay out the ingredients and begin to bake. About halfway through making the filling, I notice something strange. The recipe cut off mid sentence: “bring the mixture to a boil for…” Then nothing. Flabbergasted, I immediately text Hannah in urgency asking what the recipe said to do next. At this point, I still think it was just an accident. “Hey Hannah, what do I do now cuz I think the recipe cuts off.” Silence. Not even a murmur. With my adversary for time encroaching like death, I am forced to improvise. Of course, Hannah replies about 15 minutes later with a well thought out excuse, and by that time, my filling was just about an enormous disaster. Coincidence? I think not.
Proof #2: Lemon Juice
So we are taste-testing our pies, and Hannah, wincing as she tries my filling, asks me if I added lemon juice to the filling. Rather confused, I ask what she’s talking about. She just assumed that I would know that lemon juice would magically make the filling not taste like complete crap. Again, she pleads innocence, but I think otherwise.
Now, as flawless as my baking may have seemed, I did make few mistakes. Apparently, I forgot to use an egg (I still don’t know where that thing was supposed to end up). I also baked the pie for way too long, and, all in all, the judges’ plates revealed a unanimous decision. My pie was hardly touched, while Hannah’s was gobbled up with ferocity. None except Caro said she liked mine, mostly because she just likes any pie she can get her hands on.
Hannah may have been number one in the pie baking competition, but I was number one in everyone’s hearts. The underdog always wins. Hannah and I plan on doing this same thing again with a different dessert, so until next time, when I will win.