by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Whenever meeting new people and talking about life accomplishments, the one for me that always invites interest and a smile is the fact that I am an Illinois State Fair pie judge. Yes, I had to pay my dues, first judging Spam (turkey) and over the years working my way up to pies. The judging takes place in the Hobby, Arts & Crafts Building across from the Dairy Building, home of the butter cow.
For the past few years, I have had the honor along with Desiree Logsdon, BUNN senior vice president corporate citizenship, of judging the Blue Ribbon pie contest. The contestants actually bake their pies on stage prior to our judging. Some entries are very creative, and one of my favorites was the “Elvis Pie” from a number of years ago. My trivia question for you today is: what are the ingredients for an Elvis pie? See the answer at the end of this article.
The pie competitions are just a few of the many competitions taking place in the Hobby, Arts & Crafts Building, all coordinated by Superintendent Billye Griswold from White Hall. For Billye and her assistant and husband, John, planning and coordinating all the events is a year-round job, and they are now planning for 2019. John spoils us during the judging, cutting into each pie as skillfully as a surgeon and consistently presenting us a perfect slice. Billye taught Family and Consumer Science at Carrollton High School and started judging at the Fair in 1975.
Billye asked me to write that all the contests are for amateurs and they have categories for adults and juniors. She welcomes new contestants, and for 2019 they are adding a pizza category plus a contest for first time entrants. The Hobbies, Arts & Crafts Building is also where all the produce is on display (biggest pumpkins ever), textiles, antiques and live cooking demonstrations on stage. Thankfully, it is air conditioned.
With Thanksgiving less than two months away, when many people head into the kitchen to bake their once-a-year pies, it seems like a perfect time to share some pie-baking tips I have learned during my judging experience.
• To avoid the bottom crust sticking to the pie pan, you can brush the bottom of your pie plate with a light coat of melted butter. That will also help the bottom of the pie brown.
•Be careful not to have a soggy bottom of your pie. The only thing worse than a bottom crust that sticks is a soggy or undercooked bottom crust. It is tricky to get that right! If you are making a crust with a syrupy filling like pecan, consider blind-baking the crust for a few minutes before filling it. For fruit pies, you can sprinkle the bottom crust with a tablespoon of flour and a teaspoon of sugar prior to filling.
•You want the top crust of your pie to be golden brown, not pale golden and not burnt. To prevent burnt edges, watch your pie while it is baking and cover edges that are getting too dark with a pie shield or even just aluminum foil. To get that rich golden brown color, brush top crust with melted butter or egg wash.
•Take some time to make the crust look nice. To make a crimped edge, starting from the outside of the plate, pinch an inch of the crust between your thumb and forefinger and then using your other hand from the inside of the plate, press your index finger in between your thumb and index finger to make a “v.”
•We also carefully evaluate the fillings and definitely take off points for pies that seem not quite full. Fruit shrinks as it cooks and exudes moisture so it is important to pack fruit fillings, especially apples, tightly and almost over-fill them. Also, be sure to choose the right apples for baking, namely ones that are not too watery.
•You want a smooth filling that holds together, not a runny one. So, be sure to use a thickener for your pie filling whether it is simply some all-purpose flour — best for long-baked pies — cornstarch, gelatin (for chiffon pies) or tapioca.
For more information on entering a culinary competition, l suggest you go to the following site. https://www2.illinois.gov/statefair/competitions/premium-books/Pages/default.aspx Scroll down to “General 2018” and click on “General Premium Book.” The new books are generally available around March 1. Blue Ribbon entries must be turned in by June 15 and culinary entries by July 15. Copies of the 2018 culinary contest recipes are available in the Entry Office in the Emerson Building for $3.00 each (call 217-782-1524).
And now, the answer to that trivia question: Elvis Pie ingredients are chocolate, bacon, peanut butter, marshmallow and of course, banana, all personal favorites of the King.
“Thank you, thank you very much!”
This year’s first place Blue Ribbon pie winner was a Pecan Cream Cheese Pie prepared by Pamela Sage from Monmouth, Ill. It was delicious!
Pecan Cream Cheese Pie
2 Cup and 2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup shortening, cold
1/3 cup butter, cold
6-8 Tbsp cold water
1 8 oz. Package of cream cheese room temperature
3 eggs divided
¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
4 tsp vanilla, divided
½ cup light corn syrup
3 Tbsp butter, melted
¼ tsp salt
2 cup toasted pecan slices
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a medium bowl, cut the shortening and butter into the salt and flour until pea size balls form. Add water by Tbsp. until dough no longer falls apart. Roll onto a floured surface until attaining desired thickness. Place into a 9” pie pan and crimp sides. Using a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, 1 egg, ¼ cup sugar and 2 tsp vanilla together until smooth. Pour the cream cheese into the bottom of the pie crust, spread out evenly, and bake 15 minutes.
In another large bowl, add remaining 2 eggs and ½ cup sugar. Whisk together until well combined. Add the corn syrup, butter and the remaining 2 tsp of vanilla and salt to the bowl. Whisk until well blended together.
Sprinkle the toasted pecans evenly over the baked cream cheese layer in the pie plate. Slowly pour the corn syrup mixture over the pecans. Bake 35-40 minutes or until set in the middle. Cool completely. Refrigerate pie. Enjoy!
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts. Culinary Arts students run Bistro Verde in the LLCC Workforce Careers Center, now open Tuesday-Friday for take and go meals. Sit-down service will be offered in the spring semester.