Articles tagged with: chocolate


Juicy News from the Pie Contest, NM State Fair

Best of Show Pie, Fresh Raspberry & Chocolate, 2014

People – Pie Pals, specifically – have been asking, “What happened?!” 

Let’s get to the juicy details!

New challenges emerged this year.  There were 17 categories, up from the previous 16.  The Home Arts Division decided that they would eliminate “Dutch Apple” (it was rolled into the “Nontraditional Apple” category) and they added “No Sugar” and “Citrus.”  Hmmmph!  Here I thought I’d won all of the categories (which I had until they changed things) and could just bake for fun.

I worked and worked on creating a great sugar-free pie.  I’m not willing to use those weird artificial sweeteners that often have a bitter after taste, so I focused on more natural ways to make things sweet. First it was the “Nutty Buddy” Pie, based on frozen bananas whirled with unsweetened chocolate, frozen, and topped with chopped peanuts.  Analysis:  terrible texture (icy, frozen shards).  Then it was on to the “Sweet Potato Sweetie Pie,” which used apple juice boiled down to a thick syrup as the sweetener.  I was looking for a soft, custard-like texture and, instead, got what would gag a dog (if I had one).  As one of my favorite pie testers, Jon, said with such understatement, “This doesn’t measure up.”

Ha!  The final entry was an apple pie, double crust, sweetened with raisins and condensed apple cider.  It was quite lovely, thick with apples and raisins, and I really liked the flavor – probably because I’ve cut down on sugar so much in the last few years.  The judge, however, said she was a little confused by the flavor – maybe too much cinnamon?  And she didn’t get that the raisins had been soaked in rum. 

Sugar-free Apple Pie  So…it didn’t win a ribbon.  But you know what?  I enjoyed it for the next several days!

Meanwhile, they were judging the peach pie category which had an unusually large number of entries this year.  Guess who won?  A Pie Pal, Havens!    Here’s a picture of her gorgeous lattice-top peach pie, and you can find the recipe ("Stars & Moon Peach Pie) on

Blue Ribbon Peach Pie

Then they judged the nontraditional apple pies.  And guess who won again?  Pie Pal Havens!  I’ll ask her to post on the web site the recipe she used for her winning Dutch applie pie along with a picture.

Finally, they got around to judging the “Fruit Pie” category.  It catches everything that doesn’t fit in one of the other fruit groupings.  That’s where I entered my raspberry chocolate creation.  And I say creation because this is a recipe I made up 25 years ago.  That was the first blue ribbon pie I ever made! 

It’s a labor of love, for sure.  The crisp crust holds a thin layer of chocolate buttercream (like dark chocolate butter frosting), then there is a double layer of fresh raspberries covered by a lush, scarlet-red raspberry glaze.  Small chocolate cream swirls around the inside edge of the crust made it all come together. 

So the two judges tasted a sliver of the raspberry pie and also someone’s pineapple pie and all of the others in this category.  As usual, I watched to see if their expressions gave away their impressions.  They did not.  I tried to remember to breathe.  They lifted each of the slices to check the bottom and see if the crust was properly browned.  They pinched off bits of crust to check for flavor and flakiness.  They tasted the fillings each one more time. 

Finally it was time to announce the winners in this category.  One judge took the microphone and started, “Third place goes to…” while the other judge lifted my pie.  My heart sank.  “No, not that one!” the announcer corrected.  Whew.  They discussed and displayed the third place and second place winners.  And then judge #2 held up my pie while judge #1 pronounced it to be “perfection.”  Yay!  A blue ribbon in the “Fruit Pie” category!  I could breathe again.

Near the end of the pie contest, all of the blue ribbon pies (one from each of the 17 categories) compete against each other for “Best of Show.”  All 6 of the judges circle up and compare notes on their favorites among those 17 pies.  They go back and forth, a little more tasting, a lot of kibitzing, and finally one of them takes the mic again.  Guess what?  They agreed on the raspberry pie!! 

Raspberry Chocolate Pie

So, there you go.  Well, actually, there we went.  We, friends and I, took the remainder of that pie outside and ate it up.  We sat at a shady picnic table on a sunny September afternoon, forks, little plates and bottles of cold water at the ready.  We also ate up most of the peach pie and the Dutch apple and some of the sugar-free apple.  Does life get any better than moments like this? 

Special thanks to Havens, Jon, Patty and Carla for making the day even sweeter than the pie.

Cheers & love from Rebecca, your Pie Pal

P.S.  The recipe will be posted soon under Scarlet Raspberry Pie.






"Pie Story," by Sandy Bryan, "Best of Show" Winner 2013

How I Got Hooked on the Pie Contest


By Sandy Bryan

Guest Blogger, Pie Pals

The State Fair Pie Contest is one of the most fun things in my year.  I got started years ago (1986) after a visit to the Torrance County Fair, where I visited the exhibit building and saw the Pie Contest entries on display with their ribbons.  There were only a few pies, of course, and I was fascinated to realize that there was a pie contest, that regular people brought their pies and entered the contest, and that they were awarded ribbons. 

I remember thinking, I could do that!  I wondered, where and when is the Bernalillo County Fair?  Then I realized that in Albuquerque we have the New Mexico State Fair.  I was a little daunted, but I found out where and when to enter, then baked a blueberry pie sweetened with maple syrup, and off I went.  I won a blue ribbon, and I was hooked!

The next year I baked a cherry pie with cherry brandy for Pie Contest.  I won a blue ribbon and Best of Show!  Now I was really hooked!  Since then I have entered every year except one, when a family emergency took priority.  Some years I have come away with a second or third place ribbon, and a couple of years ago I came back empty-handed for the first time. I realized that probably needed to happen at least once and accepted it as a part of the life of a hard core pie baker.

After the blueberry pie and cherry pie successes, I moved to another pie I liked, perfected that pie, eventually won a ribbon for it, then moved on to another pie.  I say eventually, because in some cases I’ve won a ribbon the first time I entered a particular pie category, and sometimes I went back two or three or more times. 

I recall my quest for the blue ribbon for pecan pie.  After the first time I entered and failed to garner a ribbon, a friend remarked to me that her neighbor had been the judge, and he was a fan of a very sweet pecan pie.  Well that’s okay, I don’t do that.  I went back the next year, and there was a different judge, who raved about the beautiful whole pecans in the winning pie.  My pecans were chopped. The next year, the judge went on about the way chopping the pecans releases the volatile nut oils, enhancing the wonderful flavor of the pie.  What to do!  Meanwhile, my loyal friends who served as pie tasters were going through the agonies with me!  What to do to get that ribbon for pecan pie?  Finally, on about the fifth or sixth year, I had my partner, a former precision machinist, come to my kitchen and cut each pecan half crosswise into four perfect pieces, mixed my filling, put it in the pie shell, then covered the top in concentric circles of pecan halves.  Whoever’s judging, here’s your pie!  I finally got my blue ribbon and moved on.  Thank goodness!

All this is to illustrate the trials and tribulations of a pie contest.  You really challenge yourself to do your best.  Sometimes you get a ribbon, sometimes you don’t.  It sure is fun!  I’ve involved the people in my daily life, giving ongoing updates on my research and test pies, having pie tastings to get their input.  Sometimes I’ll make a batch of pie filling, divide it into several parts and add different ingredients to different samples, then bake into mini-pies for side-by-side testing.  That’s one way to figure out what tastes best. 

After winning several ribbons, I challenged myself to see if I could win blue ribbons in every category.  This has meant developing skills in baking pies I’d never particularly considered, and it has widened my pie baking knowledge considerably.  Without meaning to, I’ve become an accomplished baker, far beyond where I was at the beginning. 

This is exactly what pie contest should do for all of us.  All it takes is stepping out and entering your first pie, and the road opens up before you.  Whether you win or not, you learn.  The judges give their critiques and often point out how to remedy the problem, so you know what to do next time. 

Probably the main thing a competitor needs to know, and what people complain to me about when the subject of pie baking comes up, is how to make a good crust.  Do that, and you’re on your way.  There’s lots of information available on every aspect of pie baking, whether you’re looking at your cookbook collection or searching on line.  No reason not to learn it, and do it, and dazzle your friends and wow the judges!

As for this year’s contest, I entered the “Tart” category for the second time.  Last year I won second place for a dazzling coconut tart.  This year I brought a Chocolate Coconut Tart that was inspired by a conversation with a friend about German chocolate cake.  The tart consisted of a pre-baked classic tart crust with a cooked bittersweet chocolate custard. This was topped with coconut and chopped pecans which had been tossed with a bit of melted butter.  The whole thing went into the oven just long enough to toast the coconut and pecans, and it was off to Pie Contest.  I was hoping for a blue ribbon, of course, and I got it.  And, joy of joys, it also got Best of Show!  I am over the moon!

People who come to Pie Contest see their comrade/competitors year after year. It’s a great sense of camaraderie.  And we cheer new entries to the group.  I’ll be back next year, of course.  I hope to see you there!

Sandy has won 13 blue ribbons and four Best of Show rosettes over the years at the New Mexico State Fair Pie Contest.


Snails in Pastry? Yuk!

Best Laugh in Europe

Snails in Pastry?  Yuk!

French snails.  Known as “escargot,” they are a delicacy, rich and a bit squishy, served drenched in butter and garlic.

Approaching the pastry case in a bakery on the Left Bank of Paris, I offered my finest, “Bonjour!”  Ready to order something in my hopeful French, the young woman asked, “What would you like?”   Set aback by her English, I was flustered and studied the case with a frown.  How to choose only one of those delectable, luscious, yummy pastries?  Only one?

My eyes settled on a huge spiral of perfectly baked pastry, swirled with a bright green and dark brown filling.  “Escargot,” it was labeled.  My eyes popped and my stomach turned.  Oh no, I thought to myself, oh, no, that’s just wrong.

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” I ventured, hoping for reassurance that it wasn’t really snails.  “Oh, that,” she reassured me, “pistachios and chocolate.” 

And so it was, and I sighed with relief and started to laugh.  I laughed so hard I could barely speak to order one.  I laughed at myself for thinking the French would do such a thing, at myself for imagining snails in pastry, laughed at the green and brown filling that might have been. 

It was the finest pastry I had in France.  No, in all of France, Switzerland and Italy.

And what I really loved was the good hard giggle I gave myself.  What a lesson: an unexpected visual, an unexpected filling and flavor, all perfect, as French pastries are.  Just like life, when we’re open to the unexpected.


Oscars Dessert: "Life of Pi" Pie

Fun, Easy Dessert for Oscars Party

Oscars Dessert:


What would be the perfect pie for sharing at an Oscars party?  What would celebrate the stars, the golden statuettes, the talented filmmakers and crew members who make that magic happen?  What would celebrate a good story well told, a story that moves us more than just excites our nerves for 2 hours?

How about a Life of Pi Pie?  Irresistible.  It would have to feature stripes, like Richard Parker (the tiger).  Maybe be blue like the ocean and sky?  Maybe rich brown, like Pi’s dark eyes?  Yes, that’s it:  chocolate chess pie – rich, dark brown -- with orange stripes. 

What would the stripes be made of, to have them be orange like the stripes on the tiger?  We want to complement the pie and not make it overly sweet like a frosting would.  So, start with orange juice, stir in just a little creamy peanut butter to give it body.  Maybe a little powdered sugar, but not too much, just enough to make it the right texture for making stripes.  Add a tiny touch of yellow & red food coloring to brighten the color a bit. Below is a little recipe.

This is easy!  Bake and let the chocolate chess pie cool entirely, then drizzle wide bands of the orange mixture to create the “stripes.”  Let it chill.  Roar when you serve it.

There you go:  Life of Pi Pie.

Have fun, Rebecca

Life of Pi Pie

Chocolate Chess Pie, made ahead and cooled completely.ChocChessedrjd

For the “Richard Parker” tiger stripes – approximate proportions:

2 T.      orange juice

1/2 t.    creamy peanut butter

3/4 c.   powdered sugar

Tiny touches of yellow and red food coloring.

Mix the juice and peanut butter until smooth.  Stir in enough powdered sugar until the mix is about as thick as you would make the frosting for sugar cookies (thick enough to stay where you put it but will still drizzle off a spoon or pastry brush).  Using the tip of a toothpick dipped into food coloring, add just a touch of food colorings to brighten the color to orange. 

Make stripes using a spoon or pastry brush, and chill until they set.


Pie for Lovers

Ways to say "I love you!"

Pie for Lovers

Seduction can be simple.  As easy as pie, in fact. 

If you want to impress anyone, make a homemade pie.  If you want to get the attention of someone special, give him or her a Valentine’s pie.  Seduction is nearly guaranteed.

Americans do love their pie.  A survey[1] of Americans reveals that our favorites are apple, lemon meringue, pecan and pumpkin, with cherry, strawberry rhubarb and chocolate rounding out the pie chart. 

But, for Valentine’s Day, you’ll want to tailor your pie-giving to your talents and the recipient’s tastes.  Basic guidelines:  make it yourself, make it rich, and make it with love. 

Here are the 5 steps to wowing your way through Valentine’s Day:

1.      Without giving away your plans, find out what your lover loves:  Chocolate?  Lemon?   Pecans?  Raspberries?

2.     Make the crust if you can.  Buy a frozen one if you can’t.

3.     Make the pie early in the day (or the night before) so that it has time to cool and set.

4.     Pick a recipe at your level of experience that will still meet your partner’s fancy so that you won’t stress out:  easy, average or more challenging.  Find recipes at all levels and for all flavors at:

5.     Above all, don’t worry about how it looks.  The person receiving it will be so blown away that you might want to have a camera handy to catch his/her expression upon realizing you made this pie.


1.      For chocolate lovers:  "Over the Top" Chocolate Mousse Pie (challenging) or Chocolate Chess Pie (easy)

2.     For lemon lovers:  Lemon Chess Pie (easy)

3.     For nut lovers:  Pecan Pie (average)

4.     For fruit lovers:  Raspberry Rhubarb (average) or Easy as Apple Pie (um, easy)

When it comes to making pie, there are some tips and tricks that make it easier the first few times.  Check out the “Tips and Tricks” section of

Most people say the crust is the challenging part, and I would agree.  The main thing is to act with confidence and not let that crust manipulate you into defeat.  You are in charge.  True, a gentle touch is the best, but don’t give your power away, roll the dough too much or burst into tears.  Just roll it out gently, fix any cracks, loosen it with a big spatula, and roll it onto your rolling pin and then unroll it gently over the pie plate.  Lift it to let it fall down into the plate and then trim it with a dull knife against your finger.  You’ll be fine and so will the crust.

Oh, yes, the other big thing for a good crust is to make sure the crust is well-chilled before you put the filling into it and bake it.  It’s about the chemistry of when the fat melts, so just make sure the crust is well-chilled before baking.  Ta da.  There you go, you lover, you. 

This could be your most memorable Valentine’s ever.

Your Pie Pal,

Giving Pie Away

Honoring Local Heroes

Raspberry Rhubarb Pie

Shy at first, staff slowly gathered around the conference table with three round pies in the middle.  “You made these?”  they wondered.

“Yes, for you!”  I answered with a grin.  Their eyes got bigger.

The gift of pie:  made with love, with ingredients from my own mother’s garden (rhubarb, lemons), with the intention of honoring people who do the good work of strengthening our communities.  Often unsung, or at least not thanked directly, they are the people who staff the shelter for domestic violence or rape crisis center, who run the senior center, who work day in and day out for social justice, who do the inglorious work behind the scenes at a hundred non-profit agencies everywhere. Michelle Fuller w pie 1.23.13

January 23 was National Pie Day.  What a great holiday, huh?  What a great day to celebrate pie, and so we did.

The dozen women and two men who work the day shift at the shelter got to have their fill of three kinds of pie:  raspberry rhubarb, deep red beckoning through a lattice crust; apple, overflowing with fruit; and chocolate chess pie, a lush custard that was still a touch warm.  At the ACLU, the staff got to choose between lemon chess pie, that perfect blend of sweet and sour; and cherry, bright and engaging in both color and taste.  At the senior center, the lucky folks there got to enjoy slices of coconut custard, delicate and rich [the Grand Dame of pie]; and Dutch apple, a crumb topping the perfect foil for the soft, tart apples tucked inside.

Here’s a link to the story on the local pie-friendly TV station, KRQE.

And, here’s a special shout-out to two Pie Pals who did this generous work with me:  Sandy Bryan and Havens Levitt.  Both are regular contestants and winners at the NM State Fair Pie Contest.  Both are community-minded and have hearts the size of, well, a big ol’ pie.  Thank you, Havens and Sandy!

Wouldn’t it be fun to line up a whole bunch of pie bakers next year, each with pies ready to deliver to their favorite local heroes?  What if we did that in communities all over the world?

We’ve started a new tradition.  I can hardly wait for next year.

Rebecca Dakota

Pie Advocate

Pie Pal #1


Update: State Fair Pie Contest Results!

For the Fun of It

Update: State Fair Pie Contest Results!

Ever had a goal you've worked towards for yearsI’ve had this goal a long time:  winning a ribbon in every category of pie at the NM State Fair Pie contest.

There’s a fine line between nervous and excited.  It was 3:30 in the afternoon, and my heart had been pounding for hours.  My mouth was dry, dry, dry – in spite of drinking two liters of water -- and my knee was bouncing up and down, up and down. 

It was yesterday at the NM State Fair Pie Contest.  Judging had started almost 2 hours earlier and they had worked their way to the final two categories:  “Other Pies” and “Tart.”  I was entered in both.  Friends (Linda and Kristen) kept me grounded and reminded me to breathe.

The “Other Pies” category was competitive, with entries from some of the best bakers in the state.  I had entered a new creation, “Pie Pops,” and hoped the judges would welcome something outside the box.  These were individual slices of pie on popsicle sticks!  (More on that in an upcoming Deep Dish.)  When the judges announced that they took third place, I slumped in disappointment.  I’d put so much work into those!

Finally, two  judges pondered the tarts. Again, experience bakers had entered more tarts this year than ever before.  Back and forth they went, tasting, talking between themselves, tasting again.  They especially doted on a coconut creation – glossy and glorious – and a fresh blueberry tart.  Back and forth.  They tasted mine again, the Midnight Mandarin (dark chocolate mousse laced with candied orange zest & sea salt).  Would I finally win a blue ribbon in the tart category?  The one blue ribbon that’s been elusive out of the 16 categories at the pie contest?

The blueberry tart took third, the coconut took second, and yes! -- mine took the first place prize.  One of the judges declared it “a piece of exquisiteness” and a blue ribbon was draped on top.  Finally, mission accomplished! 

Then, to put my delight over the top, the Midnight Mandarin Tart was declared “Best of Show!”  I’ve been giddy with the joy of it ever since. 

Yes, pie is nearly trivial when embassies are burning, the Earth is warming and people are hungry.  But standing in the shade, sharing pie – apple, blueberry, chocolate, butterscotch, pecan and raspberry -- with other bakers and their friends after the contest, for a few minutes life was very good.  And that’s no small thing. rebeccabestofshow2012sm

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