Pie Social 2013: A Judge's Recap

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Judging is hard. I'm not belly-aching about all the pie I had to eat or the cool apron and taffy I got at Saturday's Pie Social. However, assigning a value to someone else's work can be intimidating. Our job is to judge the pie, which is the culmination of their creativity, knowledge, and hard work baked up in what is hopefully a delicious pie. Not a task for the faint of heart or a person on a diet. Five of us got to work judging the 2013 Pie Social celebrity pies.

Here's my recap. I learned which chef made which pie only after the blind judging, by the way.

See Also: The Winners of Pie Social 2013 Are . . .

Liberty Market - LaDawn Driscoll - Bluebarb Pie LaDawn's crust was amazing, flaky, and buttery, everything that I want in a crust. Plus it was perfectly baked, without any soggy bottom that can sometimes happen in a fruit pie. I loved the combination of blueberry and rhubarb, plus it was a nicely sweetened pie. I unfortunately didn't pick up much of the lavender flavor or any honey notes that were mentioned to be in the pie. Still, I could have easily eaten a massive piece, if not half the pan.

Phoenix Public Market - Katherine Dwight - Apple Crumble Pie Topped with Vanilla Ice Cream and Apple Chip I loved the presentation -- an individually sized mini-pie cupping spiced apples and chunks of crumble sprinkles, topped with vanilla ice cream, and garnished with an apple chip. The flaky phyllo style crust/cup was a great container for the rest of the dessert. The apples were a little too soft for me, but the flavor and sweetness were perfect. The crumble added a little crunch to the whole thing, finishing with the garnish of an apple chip that completed the dessert.

Bragg's Factory Diner - Dana Stern - Apple Rosemary Vegan PieI'm a butter girl, so when I came across a vegan pie in the lineup, I did hesitate. The sweetness of the pie was great, and I loved the combination of the rosemary and apples. The rosemary could have been chopped a bit more finely, as it was a bit too chunky and you would all of a sudden get a large hit of rosemary after eating perfectly cooked apples. The crust was tasty, though more on the crumbly side, rather than flaky. I enjoyed my first vegan pie. Thanks, Dana.

Baked Goods by Suzanne - Suzanne Gwyn - Coconut PieI love coconut. I'm the one picking the Mounds and Almond Joy bars out of my niece's trick-or-treat pail when we are "checking" her candy each year. This pie was multi-layered, so let me lay it out for you first -- pressed coconut crust | layer of chocolate | vanilla-esque pudding | whipped cream | perfectly toasted coconut. I love the idea of the pressed coconut crust; however, I really think it would have added flavor to have that coconut toasted as well. As a lover of coconut, I really wanted to get a coconut flavor from this pie, and it wasn't there. It needed a little more oomph of coconut, and I would have eaten the entire thing.

Cowboy Ciao - Country Velador - Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie Dear Country, Can I please live in your pie crust? Love, Rachel. Seriously, this pie was heaven. It was rich, and I was able to eat only a sliver, but everything was so well balanced. The crust was a beautiful jumble of chocolate, oats, peanuts, and maybe fairy dust or crushed up unicorns. It was then filled with peanut butter custard and topped with a shiny sexy ganache top. It was simple, well executed, and balanced in flavor.

Ollie Vaughn's - Lindsey Magee - Pumpkin Icebox PieI loved the presentation of this pie -- beautiful golden gingersnap crumble crust encompassing a shiny pumpkin mousse/custard filling with whipped cream rosettes and a sprinkle of pistachios. The gingersnap crust was hearty and had a chewiness that made for great texture. The pumpkin filling needed to be a touch sweeter and I wanted a little more fall spice in the mix.

Jewel's Bakery and Café - Julie Moreno - Strawberry Basil Balsamic Pie Even though we are out of strawberry season, this pie was quite delicious. The crust was more on the crumbly side, and less flaky. I loved the creamy layer that was under the strawberries (I want to say it was mascarpone). On a whole, this pie was well balanced in flavor, and I would definitely order up a piece.

Vonciel's Pies - Karen Olson - Hipster Apple Pie With mustaches adorning it, this pie was adorable. The fireball whiskey was a great touch, though the filling needed to be a bit sweeter to balance out the booze. I thought the crust was buttery but needed more time in the oven.

Tracy Dempsey Originals - Tracy Dempsey - Apple Padilla De Oxian Chile with Goats Milk Caramel Dipping Sauce I love the lard! Lard in a crust is the pie gods smiling on the eater. You could taste the lard in the crust, which was perfect in color, flavor, and texture. The apples and chile combination were sweet, and the little heat at the end was flawless. The only bummer was the goats milk caramel, which was gritty. It smelled amazing, but the grittiness held me back from licking it out of the container.

Gertrude's - Marisa Lown - Apple 5-Spice & Brown Butter Pie with Stout Caramel Whipped Cream and Apple Cider Caramel SauceStout caramel whipped cream: delicious. I could have eaten a tub of just that. The apples were perfectly cooked, and the five-spice and brown butter came through beautifully. The crust could have been baked a touch longer, and I could have used a little heavier drizzle of the cider caramel sauce. All in all, a very well balanced take on an apple pie.

Treehouse Bakery - Amanda Sizemore and Corianne Nelson - Chiles, Chocolate and Spices PieWhoa! Spicy chocolate explosion with warmth afterward. The crust was lovely and understated with a small diamond cutout pattern around the perimeter. It was flaky and crisp, which was a nice complement to the richness of the gooey filling. I loved this pie. It was very rich and had to be eaten in small slices, but I just adored the punch of heat afterward.

Crepe Bar - Jeff Kraus - Sweet Potato Pie a la Mode (and a chemistry lesson)The funky and fun pie arrived on a custom-made pie box with a chemistry experiment. You took a small shot that was the "a la mode" portion (a creamy, coffee-colored liquid) then added another coffee-colored liquid that came in a dropper plus a small pebble of dry ice and stirred till it didn't bubble any longer. You then took a bite of pie and a sip of the "a la mode." Jeff's pie was more on the savory side. The crust was perfect, golden, flaky. I got salty and smoky notes from the pie, which held chunks of sweet potato, and creamy coffee from the "a la mode" which involved coffee and chemistry. Super-funky and I loved the drama of the presentation. It was probably not something I would sit down and order a slice of on a random Tuesday because I was craving pie, but I loved the fun and excitement of trying something new and a little out there.

AZ Food Crafters - Eddie Castillo - Tangerine Cranberry Walnut Chess PieI enjoyed this pie because it reminded me of a family favorite, Mincemeat Pie. Eddie's hand pie had a perfect crust that was golden, baked well, and flaky. Inside, was a rich gooey filling that was floral, sweet and meaty in its own right from the walnuts. I oved the uniqueness of this lovely pie.

Thank you again to all our pie makers for getting creative and floury for such a fun community event. Your beautiful pies were an honor to judge, and I think you all did a fantastic job of feeding our community your lovely creations.

View all of the celebrity pies, bakers and judges in our Judging the Celebrity Pies slideshow.

Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.

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