Subscribe Via Email

Like reading this blog? You can get the complete text of the latest articles at Within My Means in your email inbox each morning by entering your email address below, then verifying the subscription. Your address will only be used for mailing you the blog, and each one will include a link so you can unsubscribe at any time.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

September 6, 2010

KCRW's Good Food Pie Contest 2010

(I loved the t-shirts designed for this years' event)

KCRW's 2nd Annual Good Food Pie Contest was back this Labor Day weekend! I participated in the first competition last year with my grandma's Impossible Pie recipe. Having used up the family recipe, this year I had to get more inventive with my entry.

I ended up creating a Peanut Butter Custard with an Apricot Glaze and Spiced Nut Topping, on a Graham Cracker Crust.

The competition was as stiff as ever, and there were lots of changes from last year, both good and bad. The event was moved to be held in conjunction with Taste of Beverly Hills, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. When I heard this, I thought the Taste event would be happening while we had the pie contest, but KCRW was actually utilizing the space before the other event opened for the evening.

One area that was greatly improved was the streamlined check-in process. They'd taken notes from last year, and had lots more volunteers able to handle the crowd at a special pull-in lot with storage racks for the pies.

(my pie in the back, all checked in and
ready to be taken off to judging)

They also added an apron fashion show, which was a lot of fun. Here I am with Evan Kleiman, telling her about my grandma's 1930s apron that I wore that day in her honor.

I made a slide show of all the apron models on flickr. I couldn't figure out how to embed it in this post, so I made a separate post on the blog just for the slide show, or you can click on the link above.

I was disappointed that the judging took place outside of the contestants' presence. Even though I didn't expect to place, it meant a lot to me to see the judges' reaction last year when they tried my pie--after all, it was a big effort to create my entry. For all I know, this year it didn't even get tasted by one of them.

And I didn't get a picture of my pie before it was cut, because they didn't tell me they'd be slicing into my pie. Last year each contestant plated their own entry, so the whole presentation became ceremonial. I was deflated when I entered the contest this year and saw the jagged hole in my pie. We had been told there would be refrigeration for the pies this year between check-in and the competition, but that clearly didn't happen, based on how many of the pies had slid into the cutout piece.

The mall where the competition was held last year not only provided neat birds' eye viewing from the second level, but also gave attendees a place to go during the long hours between check-in and the judging--the main destination being the food court or other restaurants. This year's event had plenty of pie to eat, but not even a water in site to drink. Because the location was all set up for the Taste of Beverly Hills, event organizers didn't want to let anyone in until the pie competition actually started, so there was not even a place to sit in the intervening time.

Lastly, the open tasting portion of the pie contest had turned into quite a mob scene last year, so this year contestants were asked to remain with their pie and serve anyone who wanted to try it. That meant if you'd competed you were not allowed to try anyone else's pies. As I didn't expect to win the competition, my main reason for participating was to meet other people and get inspiration from their creations. It was totally contradictory to miss out on the tasting part of the event! Had I been informed of this change in advance, I would have made an effort to bring along a friend or family member who was willing to serve my pie while I mingled. But all of these changes were sprung upon us without informing the contestants in advance.

Then, after holding participants off from entering until 4P, the tasting was begun almost as soon as the event started. I didn't have long enough to browse before the tasting began. I didn't even make it around the tables once to look at the pies before we were supposed to man our own separate stations! Seeing others' entries is the favorite part of the event for me, and there's no way everyone can try each pie, so the majority are gone before you even get to them. If you haven't seen them before the tasting starts, you're often out of luck.

The parking was also a mess, and expensive. The posted address on the structure did not match what was in the email. And the shuttle took at least 45 minutes to arrive. All in all, I'd rather have the event at a mall farther out on the 101 than try to squeeze it into a larger event like the Taste of LA.

There were lots of people who entered in the Savory or Interpretive categories, after seeing the low entrants in those categories last year having a better chance of winning. I think the contest organizers should decide if those entries are valid--like the squash pie with graham cracker crust that was entered in the interpretive category this year. To me, that's a pretty traditional pie, and fits in several other categories, while "interpretive" should be reserved for pies that don't fit any other category. It would be a lot of fun to see a category next year for restricted diets, like gluten-free, sugar-free or vegan.

I'd been looking forward to seeing my friend and fellow contestant, Marni, of Happy Go Marni. And I met several new friends and bloggers this year too! That's definitely the biggest reward of participating in special events like this. Thanks again to my friend Dave D. for rooting me on and taking lots of pictures! It was nice to have a cheering section. I think next year I'll have stiffer personal competition if my friends Angela and Eric follow through with signing up.

Here are the interesting combinations that inspired me at this year's contest....

This pie had a halvah crust, studded with sesame seeds, and a thick marzipan filling. Its unusual shape set it apart as well.

I loved the beautiful cross-sectioned figs on this pie, as well as the combination of goat cheese, fig, and rosemary.

The savory pies really caught my eye this year. This one tasted strongly of sun dried tomatoes.

Cajeta is an ingredient that was not familiar to me. Turns out it's a Mexican confection of thickened syrup usually made of sweetened caramelized milk.

This Mac & Cheese pie was in line just ahead of me at check-in. I wanted to scarf it down for lunch! A perfect entry for the interpretive category.

Exquisite presentation was everywhere.

(my pie before adding the nut topping)

(my pie post-judging)

Peanut Butter Custard with Apricot Glaze and Spiced Nut Topping
(custard recipe adapted from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Desserts)

3 large egg yolks
3 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp margarine or butter
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 jar (about 6 oz.) Apricot spreadable fruit or jam
1 bag slivered almonds
1/4 cup nut spice mix

1 pie crust (I prefer graham cracker), purchased or homemade
  • In two quart saucepan, with fork or wire whisk, beat egg yolks, milk, sugar, cornstarch, and salt until blended; add butter. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens and coats a spoon well, about 15 minutes; boil 1 minute.
  • Remove saucepan from heat; with whisk, stir in peanut butter and vanilla. Pour peanut-butter filling into pie crust. Cover and refrigerate pie until set.
  • Put 1/2 jar apricot jam in bowl and microwave for small batches, 20 seconds at a time, until runny but not boiling hot. This should take less than 30 seconds. Pour over pie and smooth out with spatula; refrigerate till cooled.
  • Put slivered almonds into ziploc baggie with 1/4 cup nut spice mix and 2 or 3 Tbsp water. Shake bag until mix is dissolved into liquid and nuts are coated well. Pour into greased pan and bake at 350 till dry and roasted, checking frequently, about ten minutes. Allow nuts to cool.
  • Top pie with spiced slivered almonds.

If you love pie as much as I do, check out Good Food's Pie-a-Day Blog. Or go to the Good Food page to download and listen to the show.

Have you participated in any kind of bake-off, recipe, or foodie event? I'd love to hear your story in a blog comment!

***Update: I received this note from the contest organizer by email this week:

Hi Ellen,

I want to thank you for being so honest about our pie contest in your blog post. I'm sorry the event didn't live up to your expectations.

I wanted to clarify one thing - the judges tasted every single pie. There were several reasons why we did the bulk of the judging away from the eyes of the contestants. Mostly it was more convenient given the number of pies and the space we were given. Also, having the judges taste separately really allowed them honest deliberation. We received many complaints last year that people were offended by the judges reactions to their pies. Unfortunately, that happens. Having the judges separate allowed them to taste all the pies, comfortably (especially a very pregnant Zoe Nathan), and it allowed them to have an open dialogue about the pies.

I hope you understand.

Thanks again for your honest post.


Harriet Ells
Supervising Producer, Good Food
KCRW - 89.9,

***I have to say, I still hold to my opinion: it's a contest. If you can't take constructive criticism, you shouldn't be competing. I'd love to have my moment of reaction from a judge, for better or worse. But, that's my opinion and I understand that the radio station and organizers have to deal with 200 opinions after the fact, so I do see where they went in structuring the competition in private this year. I still hope they change it for next year.


  1. Cute pix, Ellen! Wow, some of those pies look amazing, but it sounds like a fiasco. Hopefully next year they'll blend the best parts of last year and this year because I sure would want to see and taste the other entries!

    Thanks for the detailed post.

  2. I agree that the whole thing was a little confusing. Fun, but confusing. It would have been great to have a little time to talk to the other pie makers and try a little slice before the rush of people. I took pictures of a few pies and when I went back to try them they were gone.
    Loved your apron!


Related Posts with Thumbnails

My Etsy Store

My Zazzle Products

My YouTube Player