Want to know the secret to an amazing apple pie?
No soggy bottoms.
That’s the most important rule of baking, as far as I and my celebrity crush, “The Great British Bake Off” judge Paul Hollywood, are concerned. You can stuff your crust with fabulous fruit. You can create a beautiful braided edge. You can even decorate that dome with cute cut-outs of apple-eating unicorns. But don’t you dare — don’t you DARE! — let that lower layer of golden, flaky goodness turn to mush.
On Saturday, I filled my face (and my stomach) with slice after slice of apple pie made by the best amateur bakers in San Luis Obispo, southern Monterey and northern Santa Barbara counties. I could say I did it for the apron — which was free, by the way, and forest-green — but the real reason I served as a judge for the 33rd annual Ider’s Home Mom and Apple Pie Contest was to steal some pie-baking secrets.
2017 marked my third year judging the competition, which is only open to Central Coast moms. (Last year, I stuffed my face with more than 20 slices at the San Luis Obispo semi-finals, resulting in a world-class tummy ache. Never again.) This year’s finals were held, as usual, at the Home and Garden Expo of San Luis Obispo at the Alex Madonna Expo Center.
I sunk my plastic fork into pieces of 13 pies, selected from a total of 55 semi-finalists.
Together with my fellow judges, I carefully analyzed each slice for apple pie perfection. (Judges included Atascadero Deputy City Manager Terrie Banish, Simply Clear Marketing and Media President Lani Colhouer, KSBY News anchor Scott Daniels, past Mom and Apple Pie winner Susan Sheetz, and Shawn Traux, a radio DJ at 95.3 The Beach.)
Is the top crust a gorgeous golden-brown? Check.
Is the edge nicely finished? Check.
Is the filling tender, toothsome and evenly cooked? Check.
What about the flavor? Is it sweet? Satisfying? Singing with cinnamon? Check, check and check.
At the end, one pie emerged as the clear winner: the paragon of pastry baked by Michelle Cole of Atascadero. (We’re working on getting her award-winning recipe.)
Sure, her apple pie didn’t have much of an edge — sorry, Michelle, I had to dock you there — but the top-crust decoration, featuring a wheel with twisted spokes, was darling.
Her filling was firm and refreshingly fruity. And her bottom crust? Crispness personified.
As Paul Hollywood, that beautiful, bearded silverback gorilla, would say, “That’s a good bake.”
As grand-prize champion, Michelle won a KitchenAid convection oven valued at $2,649. (I wouldn’t mind having one of those bad boys in my kitchen.) Second-place winner Cathy Vierra of Atascadero took home a KitchenAid stand mixer, and third-place winner Delilah Curtis of San Luis Obispo got a KitchenAid food processor.
And me? I got to savor the best homemade pies in San Luis Obispo County while watching my waistline expand. (Let’s just say it’s a good thing my brand-new apron is adjustable.)