Friday, January 30, 2009

A Bake Off! - Elizabeth's attempt to make it into baking immortality (and how she was beaten by a box)

Gather around me, children, while I tell you the classic tale of when I entered the Akron First Ward Chili, Cornbread, and Pie Cook-Off.

It's a harrowing tale, full of toil and turmoil, and eventually revenge (I'm joking about the revenge) (....or am I?????)

It took place in November at the church building. Naturally I had to bring pies! It's the Year of Pie, after all!

During the weeks prior to the event, I dedicated much thought to my choices---thoughts along the lines of, "What are my best pies? What pies would the judges most want? No, who cares what the judges want, what pies would be most fun to make? Wait, cancel that.....what pies would the judges most want?" etc. I ended up making two pies: Apple Pie and Chocolate Cream Pie. (The reason for doing two pies was this: I decided apple was my best, but I don't like apple pie, and I wanted something for me too!)

Here are the pictures:

Neither pie turned out how I wanted it to, and the sad part is that I don't know why!

First, the apple pie: The crust was fab-u-lous, but the apples turned nearly to applesauce inside. Bizarre! I made it precisely according to the directions that I've used 4 times now, except that I didn't weigh the apples this time (my scale was out of batteries) and instead I counted the apples as described in the recipe. Is it possible that I put too few apples inside? It sure didn't seem like it. But the texture wasn't very good, so I must have made an error somewhere.

Second, the chocolate cream pie (the recipe follows): Very tasty, except for the whipped cream on top. This is the second time I have had a "bum" batch of whipping cream. I didn't even think that was possible! But twice now I have had cream that just doesn't whip properly (and I've made whipped cream hundreds of times). It turns clumpy and runny instead. I do everything the same, including having cold cream, utensils, and bowl, and it still doesn't turn out. I guess I'm periodically doing something wrong here too, but I don't know what it is. Argh.

Anyway, I showed up at the event with my family, excited to see all of the pies. THIS IS WHERE THE TALE GETS WILD AND CRAZY!

There were some great looking pies! I couldn't wait to try them. There was one particular apple pie that looked amazing and I was so excited for that cook! (Sure, I entered to win, but I also entered for the pie experience, it being Year of Pie and all. I wanted to learn from the other pie people!)

I did get to taste a few pies, but not a lot. The pies were the dessert that night for the many people who attended the event, so I couldn't very well take some of each.


The announcer gets up to tell everyone who won the pie contest. It is aptly named "The 'Your Grandma Would Be Proud' Award." I knew both my pies hadn't made their best showing, so I wasn't exactly feeling like I was in the running, but still! It's so exciting! We are all on the edge of our seats! We are all riveted! (For the purposes of my story, we are all riveted. RIVETED.) The announcer says the name. It's not me, but as the woman walks to the front, I'm clapping and grinning and thinking, "Oh, take the mic and tell the whole story! Tell why you made your pie, where you got the recipe (is there a long history to it? an heirloom recipe?), how long it took you to make it, and why you're so so SO glad your sweat and labor paid off!"

She takes the microphone! She's going to tell us about the recipe!!!

"It's so funny that I won. I just picked up a boxed mix at Aldi an hour before the cook-off and made it in 5 minutes."

5 MINUTES!!!!! No story, no toil, no heirloom, no "scratch," no nothin'. "Your Grandma Would Be Proud" Award? WHAT?? My jaw literally hung open. My husband turned to look at me, saw my stunned look, and we cracked up laughing. I kept saying, "I got beaten by a box! I got beaten by a box!" To be beaten by a formidable foe....there's honor in that! But a box???! We laughed all the way home. 5 minutes and a box beat 4 hours, 2 fabulous recipes, and one newly minted pie maker. ...Oh, and a seasoned baker --- that one great looking apple pie? Turns out it was the pie of my friend Kary, who is one of the best bakers I know! It just goes to show.......we need better judges. :) hahahaha!


Chocolate Cream Pie
Source: America's Test Kitchen

Makes on 9-inch pie, serving 8 to 10. Published May 1, 2001.

For the best chocolate flavor and texture, we recommend either Callebaut semisweet and unsweetened chocolates or Hershey's Special Dark and Hershey's unsweetened chocolates. Do not combine the yolks and sugar in advance of making the filling--the sugar will begin to denature the yolks, and the finished cream will be pitted.


Chocolate Cookie Crumb Crust
16 Oreo cookies (with filling), broken into rough pieces, about 2 1/2 cups
2 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled
Chocolate Cream Filling
2 1/2 cups half-and-half

pinch table salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 large egg yolks at room temperature, chalazae (protein strands attached to yolk) removed (see related Quick Tip)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 6 pieces
6 ounces semisweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate , finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped Cream Topping
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (cold)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. For the Crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. In bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, process cookies with 15 one-second pulses, then let machine run until crumbs are uniformly fine, about 15 seconds. (Alternatively, place cookies in large zipper-lock plastic bag and crush with rolling pin.) Transfer crumbs to medium bowl, drizzle with butter, and use fingers to combine until butter is evenly distributed.

  2. Pour crumbs into 9-inch Pyrex pie plate. Following illustration below, press crumbs evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie plate. Refrigerate lined pie plate 20 minutes to firm crumbs, then bake until crumbs are fragrant and set, about 10 minutes. Cool on wire rack while preparing filling.

  3. For the Filling: Bring half-and-half, salt, and about 3 tablespoons sugar to simmer in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon to dissolve sugar. Stir together remaining sugar and cornstarch in small bowl, then sprinkle over yolks and whisk, scraping down sides of bowl, if necessary, until mixture is glossy and sugar has begun to dissolve, about 1 minute. Whisk yolks thoroughly in medium bowl until slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. When half-and-half reaches full simmer, drizzle about 1/2 cup hot half-and-half over yolks, whisking constantly to temper; then whisk egg yolk mixture into simmering half-and-half (mixture should thicken in about 30 seconds). Return to simmer, whisking constantly, until 3 or 4 bubbles burst on the surface and mixture is thickened and glossy, about 15 seconds longer.

  4. Off heat, whisk in butter until incorporated; add chocolates and whisk until melted, scraping pan bottom with rubber spatula to fully incorporate. Stir in vanilla, then immediately pour filling into baked and cooled crust. Press plastic wrap directly on surface of filling and refrigerate pie until filling is cold and firm, about 3 hours.

  5. For the Topping: Just before serving, beat cream, sugar, and vanilla in bowl of standing mixer on low speed until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium; continue beating until beaters leave a trail, about 30 seconds more. Increase speed to high; continue beating until cream is smooth, thick, and nearly doubled in volume and forms soft peaks, about 20 seconds. Spread or pipe whipped cream over chilled pie filling. Cut pie into wedges and serve.


Elizabeth said...

It wasn't until after publishing this that I realized my "harrowing tale" is kind of like your "tale of woe,"

These are 3 sad posts in a row! We have to find happy stories to tell!

I Am An Automaton said...

That was hilarious! I really like that you two have been updating more often! Good stuff! More pictures of the family please!!!

ferskner said...

Oh my gosh, I ADORE this story. I remember when you called me and told me about it that night, and I felt so mad at that box lady but it was such a great story too! I LOVE GOOD STORIES!!!!

Maybe the semi-homemade cooking lady really does have something going for her...