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October 15, 2011

The sun rises over a new era at Volante's, history in the making.

There was a demonstration today. A gathering. People from all walks of life met in their community, in this case the local agriculture marketplace. The group swelled to unprecedented numbers while  unaware shoppers remarked at the gathering. “Who were they? Why are they all here? Why are they blocking my way to the Macoun apples?”

The gathering crowd. Awaiting results and tabulated scores, the throngs are soon to be sated.

The answer was complicated, or rather not at all. They met in these uncertain times to find comfort in something. To rally together against big bakers and supermarket uniformity. They knew  stability lay in the most traditional of comforts.

Apple Pie. And the official 2011 Volante Farms Apple Pie Baking Contest.

And what could be more American than the race, the competition to produce the very best. Twenty-one of the area’s prospective up-and-coming bakers met around our dessert table to find out what they shared in common, and what set them apart.

The Judges encircle the 21 pies.

They shared one thing, apples. From there the differences began to emerge. Crumb tops, lattice tops, double and bottom crust, and more than 10 varieties of apples between them. Still they met under our big tent and commiserated.

Then they presented themselves to us, their public and a panel of their peers in culinary tradition, the judges. Our judges this year represented an array of experience across the pie sphere. Andrea from Ever-So-Humble Pies brought her keen taste for classic and many thousands of perfect pies under her watchful eye. Linda from T’Art, an upstart on the local scene has a different take on an apple’s place in pastry. Ivan from Needham’s Stone Hearth Pizza thrills at the excitement and knows a thing or two about turning out a “pie”. Robert of Spiga Restaurant delivers refined criticism to match his palate and heightens the bar for all the contestants.

Steve tried out his new hot topping heater for his new ice cream stand by making up some tasty caramel apples this afternoon. Sugar highs and crashes were abundant.

The judges first applied a critical eye for the visual inspection. Both to enjoy the various presentations and understand the array of tastes before them. With so many options a measured taste would be necessary, and a few bottles of water would help.

Then they dug in, circling the table, being careful not to dismiss too quickly or celebrate too easily. 30 minutes later, scorecards and comment sheets turned into to the accounting department, they were free to return to the crowd and anticipate the results.

This is what today felt like. More weather like this please.

During tabulation the atmosphere continued to be festive. The group converged on Steve Volante and his caramel apple stand. In the spirit of the moment Steve spent the afternoon handing out free Liberty apples drowning in caramel and rolled in autumn sprinkles. While hands got stuck in hair and blood sugar spiked, the general mood was calm and reflective.

From so many different pies a few commonalities did appear. While the judges loved many of the pies, they were clearly drawn to pies of a certain type.

Is there anything more meta, than a Pie Pie Chart? This is the distribution of apple varietals among today's entrants.

The highest scoring pies all contained at least Northern Spy apples. Interestingly they also were double (both top and bottom) traditional crust pies. Even the decor of the pies was strikingly similar, with cutouts and applied hearts or leaves.  It would seem the judges were happy to lean toward a pie’s pie on a spectacular fall day like this one. On the other hand I have also just noticed that two of the top three pies had vodka in the crust, so there’s that.

And of course, no Pie Contest would be complete without opening the table to the audience. Again, the perfect model of community, the many onlookers and supporters helped 'clean' the pie plates of their remaining pie. The usual frenzy ensued.

While there must be a winner, all of our entrants received some fantastic gifts for taking part in today’s event. Volante’s handed out shopping bags and discount coupons, T’Art had gift bags for our winners, and Andrea brought copies of “The Lost Art of Pie Making: made easy” for every contestant.

Emily Williams took home the trophy and hundreds of dollars in prizes for her first place Northern Spy Apple Pie.

So without further ado. How much more could there be? Thanks for putting up with this so far. The winners of Volante Farms Apple Pie Contest:

UPDATE: To my horror I transcribed the winners incorrectly at first. Apologies for inadvertently causing any further traumas. And congratulations to all the winners.

First Place:

Northern Spy Apple Pie with Crystallized Ginger
Emily Williams


3 pounds Northern Spy Apples- peeled, cored, sliced into 1/2″ slices
2/3 cup sugar- vary for sweetness/tartness of apple
1/4 cup flour
3T crystallized ginger, minced
2 T bourbon
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cardamom

1 T butter, cut into small pieces
milk, for brushing on crust
sugar for crust top

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Gently toss all filling ingredients together in large bowl.

Roll out one dough disk for bottom crust and another for top. Place bottom crust into pie plate, mound filling into plate. Dot filling with butter. Place top crust on top of filling and crimp edges. Brush top with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Cut 5 or 6 slashes in top to allow steam to escape.

Bake for 60-70 minutes. Apples should be tender, if crust browns before apples are done, place foil over edges of crust.

PIe crust

2 1/2 cups flour
2 T Sugar
1 tsp salt
12 T unsalted butter, chilled, cubed
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, frozen, cubed
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

Mix half the flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, a couple pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until dough comes together in clumps, about 15 seconds. Scrape down bowl. Add remaining flour and pulse until distributed and dough mass is broken up, about 5 pulses.

Dump into large bowl and sprinkle mixture with water and vodka. Using a rubber spatula fold/press liquid into dough. Dough will be sticky. Divide into two disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour or overnight.

The recipe below has an identical crust, except that it calls for 2 1/2 sticks of cold butter cut into 1/4 inch slices instead of the butter and shortening combo of this recipe.

Second Place

Concord, Golden Delicious, and Northern Spy Apple Pie

Ashley Hughson

1 stick unsalted butter
1 stick salted butter
2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1 T sugar
1/2 cup ice water

about 3 pounds apples: 4 Concord, 3 Golden Delicious, 1 Northern Spy
juice of half lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1 T cornstarch
1 egg yolk
1 tsp  cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
dash of nutmeg
2 T unsalted butter
2 T heavy cream


1. Combine flour and sugar in food processor, pulse 10 times.
2. cut butter into small pieces. Add to flour mix and mix for 10 seconds til it looks like coarse meal.
3. Slowly add ice water while mixing until dough comes together. May not need all water. Mix no longer than 30 seconds.
4. turn dough onto floured surface. Divide in two wrap in plastic, flatten into disks and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

1. Roll out dough for both crusts. Put crust in pie plate and cut edges to leave 1/2 inch overhang. chill both top and bottom in fridge for 30 minutes.
2. Peel and slice apples to 1/4 in.  Place in bowl and add lemon juice.
3. mix sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cornstarch. Add to apples and mix.
4. Pour mixture into bottom crust and press down to compact. Dot with small pieces of butter.
5. Whisk egg yolk and cream to make a wash. brush edges of crust and place top crust over apples. Trim crust so 1 inch overhangs. Fold under and crimp edges.
6. Brush entire crust with egg wash. Sprinkle generously with sugar. Cut a few vents in crust, chill in freezer for 15 minutes.
7. bake at 425 for 25 minutes. Turn heat down to 350 and bake an additional 40-45 minutes.
8. let pie cool at least 3 hours. Enjoy!

Third Place

Northern Spy and Baldwin Apple Pie with a Vodka Crust

Gail Benedetti

Peel and core 4 large Northern Spy and 4-5 Baldwin apples. Slice 1/4 in thick to have a generous 6 cups of apples. Sprinkle with lemon juice and add tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar. Toss gently.

Let apples sit 30-60 minutes. Drain juice from apples and reduce over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes until lightly caramelized.

Gently place bottom pie dough into pie plate, do not stretch, but lift and place.

Pat apples dry and place in pie crust. Dot with 2 T butter. Drizzle reduced juices over apples. Cover with top crust and leave 1/2 inch overhang. Fold top crusts edge under bottom crust and crimp edges. Slit top of pie. Brush crust with 1 T melted butter and sprinkle with granulated white sugar.

Place pie on bottom rack and cook at 400 degrees for 60-75 minutes until apples are tender. Allow 1-2 hours to cool before slicing.

Other Notable Prize Winners:

Best Presentation, Maria Engel's McIntosh, Pear, and Cherry Pie


Most Creative Presentation: Nicole VonRekowsky, Blushing Golden Apple Pie

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Barry permalink
    October 15, 2011 10:38 pm

    My wife, Ashley Hughson, entered her very first pie contest today at Volante Farm. Several test pies were baked in preparation. Myself, my daughter and son have nearly become apples in the process of tasting each test pie (to be clear, I am not complaining – love autumn and love apples). As the judges deliberated, I was thinking of the many things I might say to comfort my wife when she did not win a prize (she is ridiculously competitive). With much fanfare, the winners were announced. To our delight, Ashley was awarded second place! The spectators devoured her pie, and we came home proud of her accomplishment. Tonight, Ashley searched the blogosphere, looking for critiques from the great culinary publications, but alas, the only coverage appeared on the Volante Farm blog. With horror, Ashley discovered that she was listed as 3rd place winner. After Prozac and a bottle of a fine red wine, she has recovered from the shock. 2nd place -Ashley “Martha Stewart” Hughson. Just wait till next year…

  2. October 16, 2011 7:26 am

    what a well written article..and a very fun even. thank you for having me!

  3. Susan Biagini permalink
    October 16, 2011 3:22 pm

    Love the post!!! (and to have the recipes)


  1. Announcing the Apple Pie Baking Contest 2012 « Volante Farms

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