Pie Social 2014 Roundup: Thoughts From the Judges' Table

If you weren't at this past weekend's Pie Social, you missed out on a terrific time. The "What Should Go Here?" lot on Roosevelt Row was filled to bursting with happy pie makers and pie eaters.

See what you missed -- in our slideshow.

I was there on a special mission. I wasn't there just to eat pie. I was there to judge pie.

See Also: Pie Social 2014: The Winners!

One of the best parts of judging for the Pie Social is that you get to sample every single pie that the celebrity bakers bring. However, there is a little risk involved, as you sample every pie that the celebrity bakers bring. If there's an ingredient I don't enjoy, then I have to suck it up and be completely objective in my judging.

My Favorites

My personal favorite was the Best in Show, Crêpe Bar's "Jallab" pie. The crust was impossibly light and flaky. During tasting, we didn't know the ingredients (after judging, I went to check out the offerings and found out it was a date pie with Meyer lemon and rose licorice), but I knew the filling was lush and supple, with complex flavors that all worked together in a a very harmonious manner.

One of the other more noteworthy pies turned out to be your People's Choice winner, the coconut cream pie from Grassroots Kitchen & Tap. This was the yin to Crêpe Bar's yang: It was one of my favorite things food-wise, something simple done exceedingly well. They didn't try to tart it up with any extraneous ingredients. It was a classic pie, and it was more or less perfect.

My other favorite didn't get any awards, but still made me want to go visit the restaurant: pecan sweet potato habanero whiskey pie from Urban Beans. It sounds overly complicated on paper. In the wrong hands, it would end up being a hot mess indeed. Instead, it was a classic style pie with some novel twists; it tasted like an ordinary pecan pie at first, but then the habanero and whiskey notes kicked in and transformed it into something novel and exciting.

Joining the Fun Next Year Remember the event is outside in full sun. Bring a hat. I wish I did. Maybe bring a tall container of iced coffee, too. There was bottled water at the event, but pie and coffee are a natural pair. And come hungry! While you don't have to stuff your face like we judges did, there will be lots of different pies you will want to sample. Team up with a couple of friends and split your servings so you can sample as many different pies as possible.

If You Want to Win While the celebrity bakers all looked like they had a great time feeding the teeming throngs of people massive amounts of pie, there's something even more fun than that. And that something is winning. There were a few pies that, while good, didn't quite make the cut for one reason or another.

The biggest thing to remember is that judges taste the pies blind. We don't know if your pie is vegan, or gluten-free. We also don't know about any special ingredients. See that picture at the beginning of the article? All the information I have about that pie is that it is Pie Number Three in the judging. The pie can't be just "great for vegan pie", it has to be an all around great pie.

In the quest to make a pie stand out, some of the pies threw in everything but the kitchen sink. This can pay off, but it's risky. If you get the right balance, then you get the spine-tingling tight, complex harmonies, something like a really good Beach Boys song. It's all too easy to go too far and end up with a mishmash of ingredients, a bland chorus of voices with no distinct voice at all. Less is more here.

I hope I get to see all of you at next year's Pie Social, whether you're baking pies or just showing up to stuff your pie hole. And who knows, maybe you'll join me at the judges' table thanks to a winning Pie-ku.

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