A Somerville resident recounts her experience entering a baking competition, where she made 10 pies to feed 300 people.
I blame Facebook. Less than two weeks ago a friend posted a link on my wall and commented “this sounds right up your alley.” She was referring to a posting she saw about two foodies from Brooklyn who are hosting a tour of cooking competitions this summer called the Food Experiment, and their next stop was Boston. The theme of Boston’s Food Experiment: pie. My friend knows me well.
At first I knew that I must attend such a glorious event. For a small price I could eat pie and drink beer until my belly was full. Then I got an even better idea. I thought to myself, “Why not compete?” A few clicks and one confirmation email later, it was official. I had just signed myself up for my very first baking competition. I needed to bake not only my best pie, but enough of it to feed 300 people.
Considering how many pies I would have to make (I had decided on 10 pies, estimating each pie would yield 30 bite-sized samples), I immediately decided against any pie that required refrigeration and since I lacked experience with savory pies, I ruled them out as well. I decided to stick with the familiar: fruit pies.
After careful consideration I decided to make blueberry pies. Each sample would be topped with a dot of lemon curd and whipped cream. It sounded like a winner to me! I had not made blueberry pie before, nor had I ever had to make food in such large quantities, but I had been bit by the competitive bug and I felt confident that my baking skills would produce a winner.
The day before the bake-off I assembled a small team of helpers and we began tackling the seemingly crazy challenge. We began by loading the refrigerator with mounds of pie crust. The labor was then divided up and while I rolled out pie crusts and cooked the blueberries, my friends prepared the rest of the filling. When one batch of pies was in the oven the process was repeated. The phrase “I’m never doing this again!” was said continuously repeated amidst blueberry stains and flying flour.
After hours of sweating in my tiny kitchen, the last batch of pies was finally in the oven. It was dark out and the kitchen was an absolute disaster but we were surrounded by what I hoped would be award-winning pies sitting on the kitchen table.
The next morning my stomach was full of butterflies as final supplies were gathered. I was grateful for my friend’s suggestion to buy pastry boxes from a local bakery so that I could safely transport my pies in sturdy boxes.
Upon arrival I tried to appear as confident as possible as we carried in my pies and began slicing up the bite size samples. Right away I noticed I had seriously under-estimated how many “bites” I would get from one pie. As I eyed the surrounding competition I felt a flutter of anxiety as I learned there were not one but TWO other blueberry pies at the event. I hoped that topping my samples with lemon curd and whipped cream would help us stand out.
As the doors opened and people began to arrive, I finally felt excited. My friends and I had worked hard to make a dessert we were truly proud of, and now we had the opportunity to share it with everyone else.
Time flew by as we spoke to people at our table and restocked our supply of pie samples. Before we knew it the time had come for the winner to be announced. The bakers were called up to the main stage and I quickly tried to get the bits of pie out of my hair. Knowing that the event was coming to an end shortly I started to realize how tired I was and how sore my feet were going to be.
In the end, I did not win any prizes for what I still believe to be amazing blueberry pies. It would be dishonest to say I didn’t feel any disappointment, but I was glad I had competed. Despite the stress of preparing for such an event I had fun participating. If you were to ask me today if I would sign up for another baking competition, I would say, “No.” But if you were to ask me in a week when I’ve caught up on sleep and I can stand to look at blueberries again, undoubtedly my answer would be, “Yes,” without the slightest hesitation.