The three judges at the Sea Bright Farmers’ Market’s first apple pie bake-off: Eric from Estonia, Susan Ericson and Susie Markson. Below, the winning apple caramel tart. (Photos by John T. Ward and Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)
By SUSAN ERICSON
An invitation to judge the first annual apple pie bake-off at the Sea Bright Farmers’ market Thursday afternoon was too tasty an opportunity for this PieHole writer to turn down.
With a bakery background – I grew up in a Queens bakery – my opinions on apple pie are pretty specific. A good one needs a flaky crust, a non-mushy apple filling, and most important, fresh apple flavor.
Fall is apple season, of course, and you can find many varieties of apples at farm markets and pick-your-own orchards right now. The best for pie baking are the Granny Smiths and Honey Crisps. They hold up better through the baking process, with a tart and tangy flavor that plays well with the added sugar and spices.
My fellow judges at the bakeoff, held under gray autumn skies in the municipal parking lot, were Susie Markson from Sea Bright and “Eric from Estonia,” who works the Pickle Licious table at the market.
Originally scheduled for last week but postponed due to inclement weather, the contest drew only three entries. But they were surprisingly different from one another in style and ingredients. All three were well-baked and flavorful. So how does one pass judgement over pies when they all taste delicious?
It comes down to the specifics of presentation. Does the pie look appetizing? Yes, all three were given high scores for that, and rightfully so, as the audience of about a dozen was chomping at the bit to grab a taste when the judges were finished. It is said that we eat first with our eyes. This maxim played true at the bake-off.
It is a bit of a trick to add just the right amount of sugar, cinnamon, and spices to a pie to enhance the apple flavor, yes. Baking the apples into the pie, or cooking the apple mixture first then adding it to the pie shell to bake in the oven are decisions that come from experience, and every baker has his or her own methods.
After calculating points, the pie baked by Liz Murno, a founder of the Sea Bright Famers’ Market, was the winner. The presentation was beautiful, and the large apple chunks were tender but not overcooked. A submission by Danielle Furey, an artist from Highlands, also had a flaky crust and an inspired addition of tart cranberries, which gave the apples a delightful sweetness. Points were lost only because it did not stay together when served, but it was scrumptious nonetheless.
The third pie, submitted by Tony Victor of Pazzo restaurant in Red Bank, was a more traditional apple crumb pie. Again, luscious, but maybe a little mushy inside.
All in good fun, the pies were devoured by hungry enthusiasts and by-standers. Shouts of “where’s the ice cream?” and “This could use some whipped cream” were heard, but from the smiles on everyone’s faces, it was a good time had by all.