A good old-fashioned pie contest in the heart of sophisticated Beverly Hills? That's right; on Sunday, September 5, 2010 public radio station KCRW's Good Food held its second annual pie contest as a special feature of the first-ever Taste of Beverly Hills food and wine festival.
With 400 onlookers salivating over long rows of tables holding 122 pies baked in five different categories, the pie-obsessed host of Good Food, Evan Kleiman, emceed the proceedings, interviewing bakers and narrating an apron fashion show, featuring vintage, classic and original aprons.
And what could be more all-American than, say, apple pie? Well, how about a meat pie made by a Japanese student attending college in Long Beach, CA in order to learn English (and who was inspired by an Englishman who emigrated to Australia)! Yuichiro Sato won first place in the "savory" category and best in show with his meat pie recipe. "That's the humble origin of pie," announced Kleiman from the stage, "meat wrapped in crust." Sato made the pie 10 times before submitting his winner; he cites as his inspiration the Flying Pie Man; the winning recipe is posted here.
"This pie is inspired by the exploits of 'The Flying Pie Man,' an Englishman who emigrated to Australia in 1829. He was famous for his delectable meat pies which he sold to passengers riding on the Paramatta steamer. He would then run to Paramatta, meeting the same passengers as the arrived and sold them his unsold pies. The ferry riders were amazed and amused by his daring exploits. In this spirit, my pie is made to amaze you. This pie captures the essence of all great meat pies-a light flaky crust, crunchy, earthy vegetables, the intoxicating umami of porcini and other mushrooms, and of course, a juicy, beefy filling. As a nod to The Flying Pie Man's English roots, the bottom crust is a mash of Yukon Gold potatoes flecked with parsley. I hope you enjoy it!"
Pie seems to have curative power, as well. Gabriela Haslip, a 15-year old first-time pie baker, won second place for her chocolate cream pie. That's exciting enough, but here's her inspiring back story, from an email she sent to Good Food producer, Harriet Ells:
I am 15 years old and this was my first pie contest. It was so much fun. I want to be a baker when I grow up. This is really inspiring me to pursue my dreams. It is especially inspiring for me, since when I was 7 I had two strokes and was paralyzed on my right side. I had brain surgery three years ago. I was right handed so I learned to use my left hand. I have partial feeling in my right hand and I am now playing softball and baking! I love to bake. It is so relaxing and creative. My mother said it was a good lesson in reading, math and science. Winning a ribbon was a great feeling for me!!!!!
But in deference to the founding mother of Huffington Post, we are going to share with you the one recipe that we know she'd love: Christina Xenos, of Greek extraction, took the third place ribbon for her savory "Spanakopita: Greek Spinach Pie." She cut hers into multiple squares. Here's the recipe; see more pie contest pictures here.
Spanakopita a.k.a. Greek Spinach Pie
Makes one 9x13 pan pie (yields 12 pieces)
2 lbs fresh spinach/ or 3 12-oz bags (whichever is easiest to come by)
3 bunches scallions
3/4-lb (12 oz.) Feta cheese
8 oz. cream cheese
2 cups shredded Kefalotiri (Greek head cheese), or fresh shredded Romano cheese
assorted chopped fresh herbs (1/3 cup each of chopped dill, mint and flat leaf parsley)
2 tbs. Cream of Wheat or Farina
2 eggs beaten
1 egg yolk
1 1-lb box Phyllo Dough
1 to 1-1/2 sticks butter
2 tbs. Kalamata olive oil
black pepper (a few shakes)
Natural bristle pastry brush
9 x 13 pan
Note: The trick for good spanakopita is to make sure the filling is not too soggy. Having too much moisture can kill the pie.
In a large pan, wilt the spinach for about 4 minutes. Pour into a colander or, better yet, a salad spinner to drain any excess water.
Chop the scallions. In a large pan, saute them in 2 tbs. Kalamata olive oil for about 4 minutes. Add the spinach and combine. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add the cheese, herbs, black pepper, 2 beaten eggs, and Cream of Wheat. Mix well (I like to use my hands). The mix should be stable at this point. If it's watery add some more Cream of Wheat, and/or cheese. Set aside the filling.
Phyllo Crust/Assembling the pie
Melt 1 stick of butter in a pan.
Make sure the box of phyllo is at room temperature. When you're ready to use it, unwrap it so it is in one rectangular pile.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Dip your pastry brush in the melted butter and brush the pan with butter. Pick up one leaf of phyllo and lay it in the pan. Brush phyllo with butter. Repeat layering the phyllo buttering each individual leaf. Layer about 10-12 leaves on the bottom.
Add the filling on top of the phyllo leaves. Evenly distribute it across the pan. Then start making your top crust by adding a leaf of phyllo, buttering it and adding another on top. Repeat the process for about 15 leaves.
Make sure to butter your top piece of phyllo. Score the pie with your knife you should be able to divide the pie evenly into 12 square pieces.
After you've scored it, beat the egg yolk with 1/2 tbs. water. Brush it over the top of the pie.
Bake pie until top is brown, about 45 minutes, to an hour.
Photos: Courtesy Bryony Shearmur.
Sarah Spitz is the producer of Left, Right & Center on public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica -- where Arianna Huffington appears as a regular panelist each week.