A Humbling (Pie) Experience: Judging the Third Annual Pie Social
|David Duarte's pumpkin crème brûlée pie|
In general, the pies entered by the celebrity bakers were very impressive. There were quite a few fall flavors on the table, including three kinds of pumpkin. The most creative belongs in Gourmet Magazine's Thanksgiving issue: the pumpkin crème brûlée pie by Hyatt Regency's David Duarte (also a tough competitor in the Caramelpalooza). The gingerbread crust slightly overpowered the two layers of pumpkin (one pie filling, one crème brûlée) and the eggnog whipped cream, but that doesn't stop this pie from being one seriously incredible effort. Other pumpkin pies were by cake lady Tammie Coe, who made a simple yet stunning classic, and Honey Moon Sweets, who rounded out the pumpkin with maple and pecans (yum!).
By far my favorite of the traditional options was from Treehouse Bakery. You would never guess that the vegan bakeshop's apple cherry crumb was butter-free. It had robust flavors, lots of spice, and the right amount of apples and cherry to make both evident in the flavor profile. Anyone who likes fruit would be happy to wolf down a slice of that all-American pie. Monti Carlo, who made it to the top five in Fox TV's MasterChef and is now a local DJ for 103.9, brought another classic, but in miniature form. Her apple pie bites were certainly a safe choice, using easier techniques than a full-size pie requires. The caramel sauce was really tasty, but the small size didn't leave enough room for big, flavorful slices of apples. Another safe but delicious entrant was the bourbon pecan chocolate from Kristen Campbell of St. Francis. It was beautiful with three puffed-up autumn leaves resting on top of the pecans. The flavors were in perfect sync, and this is the kind of pie I would love to make (and eat all of) at home.
Lauren Saria Apple cherry pie from Treehouse Bakery
The best crust came from Winnona Herr of District American Kitchen and Wine Bar. Her butterscotch bananas foster was undoubtedly a hit, but I found the flavors a bit too muted and wished for more bang from the butterscotch. Although a worthy (and pretty) contender with flaky, tender crust, it got a bit lost in the mix of the other outstanding options. The same can be said of Slade Grove's limoncello custard with salted milk crust and Grand Marnier whipped cream. If served this on its own, I'd absolutely be in heaven (particularly since lemon desserts are a personal favorite) -- not to mention that it was the most impressive looking -- but it fell just shy of my top three. However, it has to be said that for its massive size, it had a light, refreshing flavor, and the orange zest and Grand Marnier made it a nice upgrade from a standard lemon. And, of course, I'd still like to eat more -- right now or any other day of the week.
Lauren Saria Slade Grove's limoncello custard pie
7520 S. Rural Road, Tempe, AZ