Apples, flour, butter, and lots of practice

Battle of the Pies winner shares recipe - and encouraging words

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BENNINGTON — Launched in 2018 as a culinary addition to the Bennington Battle Day weekend calendar, the Battle of the Pies is an open invitation to bakers to put their apple pie-making skills to the test. The rules are straightforward: Each pie has to be made in a 9-inch pan, and must have two crusts. No pre-made crusts or pie mixes are allowed, and apples have to be the main ingredient, though other fruits or ingredients are allowed.

Nine pies were entered in this year's contest, held on Aug. 17, and submitted to a panel of three judges. (Full disclosure: I was one of the judges, but not to worry — the other two, Chief Jim White of the Bennington Fire Department and Jennifer Krijnen of Bakkerij Krijnen, had talent enough to make up for my weak baking resume.) When the forks were set down and the points tallied, Melissa Frechette's entry stood in the top spot. Second and third places went to Joanne Parrick and Linda Masten.

Starting with a recipe from the King Arthur Flour Baking Companion — "I want to make sure I give them credit for this!" she said —Frechette has made modifications of her own. "It was something I've played with over the years, just to try to get the flavor and the consistency right." Was she pleased with how it turned out? "Obviously,

I was very happy with it!" she said with a laugh. "I was very happy with being able to have those flavors pop out, and that aroma."

She agreed with the contest organizers that apple pie is the perfect choice for Vermont's state holiday, and not just because it's the official state pie. "It's such a great comfort food that you can eat year-round," she said.

Frechette has a considerable baking background, having studied culinary arts at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and the New England Culinary Institute, at both its Montpelier and Essex campuses. She worked at restaurants in southern Berkshire County before taking her current job in the information technology department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.

Novice or expert, she said, "people should not be afraid to try their hand at making pies. Anyone can make a good apple pie." Her advice? "Take your time and practice," she said, and don't be discouraged by occasional failures. "I still have times when my crusts come out terrible!" she said.

Frechette is planning to defend her apple-pie crown at the 2020 Battle of the Pies, tentatively set for Saturday, Aug. 15, and hopes there will be many contenders. "It's a fun way to meet different bakers, and see how everyone does their recipes," she said. The contest is sponsored by the Bennington Fire Department and the Ormsby Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, with support from the Bennington Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Mulled apple cider pie

By Melissa Frechette

Pie crust

2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur Flour brand)

1 stick unsalted butter

cup lard (or shortening)

1 teaspoon salt

- cup cold water

Filling

5-6 medium sized Gala apples; peeled, cored, and chopped

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1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon all spice

1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)

teaspoon ground clove

teaspoon cardamom

teaspoon orange extract

pinch of salt

1 tablespoon tapioca

For assembling:

1 tablespoon butter, cut into cubes

1 egg

cup of milk

granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (Fahrenheit)

Sift the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in the lard and butter and mix by hand until the dough resembles small peas. Slowly add the water a couple of tablespoons at a time just until the dough comes together. Turn it out onto the counter and give it a couple kneads, then form it into a ball. Split the ball in half and flatten each half slightly. Wrap in food wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

In a cooking pot, add the apples, sugar, spices, vanilla and extract and cook on medium-low heat until apples start to turn soft. Strain the apples and reserve the liquid, returning the liquid to the pot. With the heat on low, add the tapioca and cook the liquid until bubbly and slightly thickened. Slowly mix the liquid back in with the apples until desired consistency (you do not need to use all of the liquid).

To assemble the pie, roll out one half of the dough, until it's a couple of inches larger than the pie plate. Put the dough into the plate and gently press to form it. Trim off excess dough, but still leave a slight overhang of dough. Roll out the second half so it is ready to put on top of the pie. Add the filling and then dot the top with the cubed butter. Mix the egg and milk together in a small bowl to make an egg wash and brush the top edge of the bottom crust with the wash (this will help seal the bottom and top crust together). Now add the top crust, press together with the bottom crust to seal it, and trim off any excess (I like to leave about a 1-inch border). Add desired pattern around your border and make slits in the top of the pie to allow excess steam to escape. Brush the top of the crust with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake on bottom rack in oven for 15 minutes. Turn heat down to 350 degrees and bake for another 20-30 minutes until crust is golden brown and you can see some juices bubbling. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Sprinkle with additional sugar if desired. Cool for at least 30-45 minutes before serving.


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