I first went to the Kingfield Farmers Market in search of the Chef Shack‘s mini donuts a few months ago and fell in love with this cute, little neighborhood market and the plethora of tasty things available in the one small parking lot. I found out last Wednesday via the Facebooks that there would be an apple bake-off taking place at the market on Sunday open to the public. I took up the call and put my pie wheels in motion.
My first big worry was apples. I prefer Haralson apples for almost all baked apple applications but Haralson’s are a late season apple and with apple just starting to appear at farmers markets, I knew I wouldn’t be able to find any Haralson’s in time. Wednesday happens to be the day that there is a small market on the University of Minnesota campus (where I just started this fall on a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering). The major apple seller at the market, Bill from Straight River Farm, assured me that Zestars, a newer University of Minnesota developed apple, were great eating and pie apples. I trusted him, asked for as many seconds (the ugly apples) as he brought, and added a few more to make two full bags of apples. I processed the apples Thursday night, filling three big containers with apple slices.
Friday I made crust. I use a half butter, half lard pie crust recipe. I prefer to use Hope Creamery unsalted butter from Hope, MN for everything ever but especially in pie crust. I switched from using shortening to lard early in my pie baking adventures because of the unsettling feeling I get from the unnaturalness of chemically mutilated shortening. Unfortunately, most commercially available lard also suffers from a significant amount of chemical mutilation so I use lard that I render myself from Tollefson Family Pork. Tollefson Family Pork produces some of the best pork I have ever tasted and so naturally, the lard produces amazing food as well.
Pie assembly and baking happened Saturday. For the bake-off I need to bring enough of my entry to be cut into 60 bit sized pieces. Since a taste of pie must include a nice ratio of crust and filling and 9″ pies do not lend themselves to being cut into several small pieces, I doubled my pie recipe and split it between three 7″ pies. Saturday morning I rolled out all the pie crusts and ground the cinnamon sticks. Though I prefer fresh ground cinnamon, this is usually first ingredient I start compromising on when I am in a rush or on a budget or feeling lazy, but there is nothing like fresh cinnamon. I fortunately had whole cinnamon sticks on hand and they filled the whole house with a warm, fragrant, delicious smell. All pies are best eaten within 24 hours of being baked. There is this magic time when the pie has had just enough time to cool so the filling sets up but no longer, when life changing pie eating experiences happen. I assembled and baked the pies late Saturday night to get as close to this magic time as possible.
All three little pies turned out beautiful, and I was very happy with the results as I fell into bed late Saturday night. I suffer from a bit of performance anxiety when it comes to sharing my baked goods so I naturally worried that the filling wouldn’t set or the bottom crust would be soggy or the apples wouldn’t be right, but the pies were so pretty that I couldn’t even worry. I was up early Sunday to make a batch of Sassy Pies to test on the friends and family I had invited to the bake-off as well as the Tollefson Family Pork guys, who regularly receive samples of my baked goods. After packing up the Sassy pies and my three apple pies in my Great Grandma Katie’s picnic basket, I was off to the market.
There were six entries in the bake-off and I was really impressed with the diversity of the entries. There were: apple muffins, apple crumble, apple sour cream spice cake, apple bundt cake, French apple tart, and my apple pies. Entries started arriving around 10 AM and the public started buying plates containing a small piece of each entry around 10:30 AM. It was an exciting morning. I shared a plate with Dr. Sam and Pretty Boy. I liked the French apple tart; Dr. Sam liked my pie and the French apple tart; Pretty Boy liked the bundt cake. Betty Deville made an appearance and really didn’t like the French apple tart; she liked the ones with crust. It was interesting to see how different everyone’s tastes are. I prefer less sweet, more tart apple desserts and if there is any crust, I want it really crunchy, but I know there is a lot of variability in individual preference and it makes it hard to tailor a recipe to be universally appealing.
It was a gloriously hot and sunny day (likely one of our last here in Minnesota), so I sat with Pretty Boy sipping an absolutely delicious iced coffee from Cafe Palmira, waiting for the results. There were two categories: critic’s choice and public’s choice, and I was told they usually ran out of food around 12 pm and would have the results then.
I am overjoyed to say I won both the critic’s choice and public’s choice categories! Sharing food for me is a major way I express love, so when people eat my expression of love and really enjoy it, I feel the love right back. And now I can call my apple pie: “Kingfield Farmers Market Bake-Off Winning Apple Pie.” Thanks to the market for organizing the event, all the local producers whose high quality products resulted in my high quality pie, and to my friends and family for showing they love me back by eating the never ending procession of food I send their way.
Here is my apple pie recipe modified from the Joy of Cooking (in parenthesis are the local establishments that the ingredient came from):
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed and chilled (Hope Creamery)
1/2 cup lard (Tollefson Family Pork)
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
2/3 to 3/4 cup ice water
Place flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Pulse until combined. Add lard and pulse several times, until combined. Add butter and pulse until just combined. Dump out mixture into a large mixing bowl and using a pastry blender, cut water into the mixture until just combined. Form into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm.
6 cups pealed and sliced apples, preferably Haralson but Zestar or other tart, crunchy varieties work as well (Zestars from Straight River Farm)
1/2 cup white sugar
3 tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 tbsp fresh ground cinnamon (Penzeys Spices)
pinch of salt
3 tbsp butter, cubed
Roll out pie crusts to fit a 9″ pie pan. Mix all filling ingredients except butter and let stand, mixing regularly, for 15 minutes. Place one pie crust in bottom of the pie pan, pour filling on top, dot with butter, place second pie crust on top, and seal decoratively. Cut steam vents and bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 to 45 minutes, until filling is bubbling and crust is browned.