A tale of pride, pageantry and pie
The time is 4:30, the day in Saturday. It’s freezing outside—a veritable winter’s day, only it’s early October and the leaves haven’t even begun to turn brown and crispy yet. Good thing it’s warm and cozy inside Enid’s on the corner of Manhattan and Driggs, as bodies bundled in coats and scarves bump up against each other, trying to steady the delicate pies perched in their hands: After all, Saturday was the 7th annual apple pie bake off, and this year it seems like everyone in Greenpoint wanted a piece.
Nearly 60 foodie hopefuls entered into the apple pie bakeoff in an attempt to prove their recipe for the good old American favorite superior to those of their hipster counterparts. While contestants and their friends crowded around the long rectangular tables, lined with apple pies of every variety, one very lucky newspaper editor settled into the judges’ corner alongside Brooklyn Kitchen’s Harry Roseblum, The Blue Stove’s Rachel McBride; Sweet Deliverance’s Kelly Geary; SuzieO of Py-O-My NYC, and last year’s reigning bakeoff champion Sam Rio. Upon checking in, we were each given a miniature notebook, an armband emblazoned with the word “JUDGE”, a recording sheet and a tumbler glass. And so it began.
Part 1: What Makes an Apple Pie?
In order to fairly judge an apple pie bakeoff, the six judges first had to decide: What makes an apple pie, an apple pie?
“I think a balance between the flavor of the apples and the flavor of the spices,” Rosenblum said as he leasurely paced back and forth, admiring the entries.
“The crust has to be a part of it too, and no leavening agents. I see a cake over there!” Rio said disapprovingly. And yes: It was in fact, a cheesecake, and was immediately disqualified, leaving 54 qualifying pies to be tried by six equally hungry—and discerning—judges. As we filed back to the judges table and took our seats, we were read our numbers—each judge received 8 to 10 pie selections to sample, and was expected to present his or her favorites to the group to sample. We were then each given a fork or two, and told to go at it. But first: The prettiest pie.
Part 2: The Prettiest Pie
The consensus was clear. There were countless pies of different varieties—traditional criss-cross tops, apple crumbles, creative etchings into the dough, rosemary and whipped cream as garnish—though one pie beat out the rest and took the title as prettiest pie, or best in show.
All six judges were torn between a flat top featuring thin slices of dough layered on top of each other in a “french fry-like” pattern, and the winning confection, an artful, heaped-top. Rio brought both specimens to the table and spun them slowly in one palm, examining the height, texture and evenness. Melissa Rabinowitz, a Williamsburg resident and first-time bake-off participant, took the cake.
“I didn’t use my favorite pie crust recipe this time, but instead used one I thought would stand up better to the cookie cutter I used to make my crust,” Rabinowitz said. “It took a long time to layer all of those pieces around the pie, but the big secret has to be my (top-secret) egg wash formula. Don’t worry, it’s all natural!”
Part 2: Tasting the Pies
I think I speak for everyone when I say that being presented with a fork and placed in front of 54 untouched pies and told to dig in is truly what dreams are made of. Though, my samplings proved to be…er…somewhat nightmarish. And while the prospect of having first dibs on a million pies was as exciting as anything, it is a nervewracking experience to be the only non-foodie on a foodie panel.
“Look, what it really comes down to is, I think,” Rosenblum said reassuringly. “Is this pie, or isn’t this pie, delicious?! That’s what it’s really about! Oh, and it has to have apples in it.” Sage advice, it turned out.
“I look for a flaky, but totally cooked crust and good seasoning on the fruit,” Geary said in response. “It shouldn’t be too sweet, but should always be evenly cooked.”
Turns out, the “evenly cooked” part appeared to be a fatal flaw in nearly all of the entries, though some turned out to be as delicious as they looked, and the decision was difficult once the top five pies appeared on the judges’ table for the final round of sampling. There was a mixture of buttery and flaky tops with heavily spiced centers; thin, crumbly crusts with a syrupy cardamom filling; diced apples and rosemary—the result of “rosemary simple syrup and an obscene amount of butter”—and more. And the winner was: Einat Imber, with a somewhat traditional apple pie—a bit over-spiced for my taste—but delicious nonetheless!
But still, one last category remained:
Part 4: Most Creative Pie
The judges were again in consensus with this one: Nick Suarez’s many layered sweet something was crowned Most Creative—though the concoction was so sweet the judges could barely eat it. It certainly was beautiful though!
“My pie was an untraditional take on the French version of apple pie known as a Tarte Tatin,” Suarez said. “It consisted of a triple layered apple Tarte Tatin, with crushed almond butter and whipped cream between the layers. It was absolutely decadent and delicious. The Tarte Tatin is essentially an upside down apple pie. Apples, butter and sugar are placed in a pan, with the crust placed on top and baked. After about an hour in the oven, the tarte is flipped on to a plate. The most important thing is to make sure the apples are dark and caramelized. That’s where the flavor is.”
On Saturday, Enid’s certainly was where the flavor was, and it’s safe to say that the flavor of the day was sweet, sweet, sweet.