Updated: Jun 18

The past few years, I have had the pleasure of being a guest pie contest judge at the Maker's Street Pie Social & Contest in Lindsborg, KS. Can you think of a better invitation? The picture above is the array of pie contestants for 2021. There are many delicious pie offerings in this table full of pie, but look for the hand pointing in the picture to see the 1st Place winner, Sour Apple Caramel Pie baked by an artist friend, Michael Bray.

Mr. Bray worked for the famous glassblowing artist, Dale Chihuly, for 25+ years and traveled the world installing his famous glass sculptures in gardens and at architectural landmarks. Mike has settled in Lindsborg and in his retirement he is looking for creative outlets. When we first met, I challenged him to bake a pie for the upcoming contest (he had never attempted to bake a pie before). He blew the judges away by making Mark Twain's favorite Huckleberry Pie, ordering the huckleberries from Oregon, shipped in frozen. His entry took first place in Fruit Pies.

People that enter this contest are serious about their pies, and we will all agree that pies do deserve great respect. Failing to bake a beautiful and delicious pie is quite a humbling experience. We all think... it should be so simple! Believe me, I know the feeling, having messed up on so many occasions. We are all human.

Here on the left is a picture of Michael weaving a very, teeny, tiny lattice top with pie crust (just for practice). Note the concentration. I had just offered a Blueberry Pie demonstration for a hungry group of people during my artist residency. I made the pie, baked it, and then we all had to taste test...

Let me describe to you a little bit of how the process works for judging a pie. My friend and the director of the Red Barn Studio in Lindsborg, KS, Marsha Howe and I put our heads together to design the contest. We wanted to make sure every pie was judged equally and fairly with a numbering system.

Each judge is given a slip of paper for each individual numbered pie to mark down their score. At the end of the pie judging/tasting, numbers are tabulated and winners are announced. An overall winner is presented, regardless of category, based on best taste and presentation. There are usually 2 other judges beside me at the tasting table, we play my Spotify playlist (songs about pies) and try our hardest to judge each pie by a bunch of categories numbered from 1-5 (5 being the highest). See a portion of the official score card for the pie baking contest below, with Marsha cutting and serving a slice of Strawberry Peach Pie to the pie contest judges.

Marsha cuts one slice out of each pie and the judges have to score it on presentation and if it holds together nicely on a plate, like this slice of Sweet Cherry Pie above. We also judge on the flavor of the crust, if it is nice and flaky, and is cooked properly. Of course we try the filling, as well as the crust and judge that for taste and if it is cooked properly. The fruit pies have an extra category of 'proper spill-over', which refers to the vents cut into the upper crust and how the fruit bubbles up through them, just before the pie is properly baked. That is a term that only pie-nerds, like myself, and home economics teachers know about.

Here is a photo of the pie judges for our very first contest, judging the winning entry by Merle Larson, a Key Lime Pie. It was deemed perfect by all the judges and won Merle some great notoriety in the town. He shared his recipe with me and I published it (with his permission) in my PIE AS ART, Volume 1 cookbook as Merle's Key Lime Pie. It is super easy and super tasty!

This is the panel of pie contest judges from the second contest, a retired home economics teacher, a pie artist/cookbook author, and a guy that really likes pies, Brad Howe. We are sporting new aprons made by a local pie enthusiast and seamstress, except for Brad who is holding up his consolation prize for helping to judge.

The next pie contest is coming up next month on Friday, July 8, 2022. I am so excited to see what shows up for us to sample. And, secretly, I want to enter one of my pies in the contest, but cannot because of conflict of interest. Darn.

I have a little bit of a sore spot when it comes to entering pie contests after failing miserably, the one time that I entered a 4th of July pie contest with a Rhubarb Pie. Silly me, I forgot to thaw out the rhubarb before adding to the pie to bake. My result was a very pretty pie soup with a lattice woven top. You can see an illustration of that pie in my cookbook, because I used it for the Rhubarb Pie recipe, after perfecting the recipe next time. Test-baking recipes takes time if you don't get it right the first time, but is a great way to make sure your recipe you publish in a cookbook is perfect.

It was definitely one of the most difficult perspective drawings that I have attempted so far. The pie was decorated with a lattice top, resting inside of a Longenberger pie basket. I determined after my failed pie soup that I did not need awards to enjoy pies, and if they come out as soup, I can enjoy them over a scoop of ice cream with delight. A failure is a great learning tool in the business of baking and writing cookbooks.

Now, here is a photo of a pretty perfect Rhubarb Pie. I have gotten the hang of it now after my pie contest failure. I absolutely love the color that rhubarb makes when baked and the spill-over on this pie is also picture perfect. See practice does make perfect.

Hope to see some of you in Lindsborg next month. And, I dare you to enter the pie contest! Come on, you know you want to...

Pie love you,


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Key Lime Pie
Fresh whipped cream added to a chilled Key Lime Pie

Can you feel it? The world is starting to open up again, people are gathering in small groups, restaurants are filling up to capacity, parks are teeming with families playing and little league practices... dare I say we are getting back to normal? The pandemic year of 2020 was a time of creativity and production for the Pie Baker Lady, while quarantined at home. During this time, I especially focused on test-baking a variety of creamy, dreamy pies to be included in my next cookbook, Pie as Art, Volume 2.

A focus for my next cookbook is simple recipes that are accessible for all levels of pie bakers. Custard and cream pies fit that description very well. Most have only a handful of ingredients, they are single crust pies, and some even have a press-in graham cracker crust (for those with a fear of making a basic pie crust). Honestly, the most difficult thing about baking this type of pie is managing your time. Cream pies need time to set up before slicing, whether that be by sitting in a fridge overnight or resting on a counter until reaching room temperature.

My most recent test-bake was a simple, Custard Pie. To my surprise, whenever I ask people to name off their favorite pie, Custard is always a popular choice. I had never actually tasted custard pie before I test baked an old recipe shared by a friend. Although, I am very familiar with the Custard Pie, because they sold plenty of it at my pie cutting job at Tippins. I did not ever try it because I always favored the fruit and nut pies.

The pie filling is mainly milk, sugar, and egg with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top, baked into a basic pie crust. Some sage advice... when pre-baking the pie crust, do not poke crust all over with holes, use pie weights or beans instead to keep the crust in the pan laying flat, or the milk will just seep through. Guess how I discovered this little nugget? I actually had to make my pre-baked crust twice, because the custard mixture soaked right through the pre-baked crust on the first try! Ugh! Live and learn...

Custard pie test baked in 2020

This is a pie that wants to be served chilled and to get a nice slice that holds together like the piece above, you will need to refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Overnight is preferred.

A close cousin to the custard pie is Coconut Custard Pie. This recipe made it into the first cookbook. Here is the excerpt from the Pie as Art, Volume 1 recipe...

"A delicious recipe passed down from a Sunday school teacher at First Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC, to my friend Lynn Duke Urda. She recalls trying a slice of Travis Stewart's coconut custard pie at a church potluck while pregnant with her first child, Adrienne. Lynn said that pie was about the best thing she had ever tasted! Thankfully, Mrs. Stewart was happy to share her recipe with Lynn, who passed it on to me. As you see in the illustration, you can dress up this pie with strawberries when serving"

Coconut Custard Pie
Illustration for Coconut Custard Pie, Pie as Art, Volume 1

I had an especially fun time illustrating this acrylic painting! Since the antique plate was decorated with a strawberry & strawberry flower pattern, I decided to run with that theme and add a pretty sliced strawberry to the top of the piece before taking the photo that I would illustrate from.

This version of custard pie has a great chewy texture, almost like eating a coconut macaroon cookie inside a pie crust. And you do not have to worry about pre-baking the crust. The recipe calls for you to pour the filling directly into an unbaked pie crust.

Another great version of custard pie is called Buttermilk Pie. It is a old-fashioned pie that has its roots in southern baking and is simply smooth and delicious! We love the taste of buttermilk at our house in everything from biscuits to pancakes to Buttermilk Sheet Cake. With 2 adult children in the house and 1 teenage boy, we go through lots of 2% milk. But we always have a half gallon of buttermilk in the fridge for Mom's baking projects!

Here is the excerpt from Pie as Art, Volume 1 recipe for Buttermilk Pie...

"The illustration for buttermilk pie has a soft spot for me, illustrated at my artist-in-residence stay at the Red Barn Studios in Lindsborg, Kansas. I painted this piece outdoors on an easel by myself on a beautiful cool, sunny morning with only the sounds of birds singing to keep me company. It was a heavenly day! I felt especially inspired by the dramatic lighting and arrangement of brightly colored raspberries and blueberries on the bright yellow slice of silky pie captured in my photograph."

See photo below that shows my easel (see photo of test baked slice taped to the top) and the finished painting that was used in the cookbook. The picture is taken inside the Red Barn Studio that is provided for artists awarded an Artist in Residency. After doing the test bake for this pie, I had some berries to decorate with... took a handful and tossed them on top. Fresh fruit has always been an inspirational subject for me. I was very pleased how the raspberries and blueberries turned out in this acrylic painting... juicy and mouthwatering on that dreamy, yellow Buttermilk Pie!

Buttermilk Pie Illustration
Buttermilk Pie illustration completed at Red Barn Studio in 2019

Next, I embarked on another beloved pie from the South called Chess Pie. It is a super, simple pie that has an unusual name with a variety of origins. It also has simple ingredients that you can find in your kitchen/larder.

Supposedly, the high sugar content in this particular pie recipe will keep for a couple days at room temperature without spoiling. Now, I am not so sure that I believe in that theory especially since I serve my pies to so many guests. I do not want to make anyone sick, so I keep my chess pie refrigerated. If you have heard of a pie chest, this was a piece of furniture kept near or in the kitchen that had several upper shelves that were used to store pies. Most have cabinet doors with a metal inlay that has a decorative pattern made of holes circulating air, but keeping the pies safe from bugs. So, one of the theories of the name origin is that Chest Pie was shortened to Chess Pie.

Another theory explains that by adding chestnut flour or finely ground chestnuts to the pie, is why it is referred to as Chess Pie, shortened from Chestnut Pie. But, my favorite theory of all is the one where someone asks, 'What kind of pie is that?" and the baker answers in a southern accent, "It's jes' pie" which morphed into Chess Pie.

The versions that I test baked for Pie as Art, Volume 2 have flavor added to make them a little more interesting that 'just pie'. See below for my versions of Chocolate Chess pie and Lemon Chess Pie. I used a similar pie crust pattern with each. The chocolate version tastes like a rich brownie inside a crispy pie crust. The lemon version tastes more like a rich lemon bar inside a crispy crust. Both are delicious.

Chocolate Chess Pie
Chocolate Chess Pie test bake
Lemon Chess Pie
Lemon Chess Pie test bake
Chocolate Chess tastes just like a brownie

The last creamy, dreamy pie that I would like to add to this essay is the ever popular, Key Lime Pie. Through my pie journey, I learned that the key lime originates in Malaysia! I have always associated key limes with Florida. Of course Floridians have made the simple pie famous and you can find a pretty consistently good slice at almost every restaurant in the state! As you can see below, you cannot get a simpler recipe for constructing a pie. This particular recipe is from my friend, Merle Larsen, who I met during one of my artist residencies at the Red Barn Studio in Lindsborg, KS. At the time he was the president of the Raymer Society board of trustees... and a more renaissance man you will not find.

The Best of Show Pie recipe 2018

The world lost Merle to a short illness with Covid-19 this past year. If you are the praying sort, please lift up his family as they grieve their loss and have his funeral service tomorrow. All of us that knew him are still reeling at the news of his death.

I gave tribute to him in my first Volume of Pie as Art, naming the recipe after him. He had no hesitation as I asked for him to share his best of show recipe for Key Lime Pie that won the whole pie contest! I caught him in line at a local coffee shop and he rattled it off to me as I wrote it down with a sharpie on a scrap of paper. I've still hung on to the recipe, thinking fondly of Merle every time I see it.

Remember to live life to the fullest and don't pass up that second piece of pie... life is too short. And, please have fun baking some creamy, dreamy pies this summer. I know that I will!

Pie love you,


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One of my favorite lines from a musical, The Sound of Music, is 'These are a few of my favorite things'. The children are all scared by a loud thunder storm and pile into Maria's room for her mothering comfort. They all brainstorm about things that make them happy like Apple Strudel, whiskers on kittens, etc.

I have compiled below a list of my favorite things, related to making pies! I hope you will read on and discover a new pie making tool that makes your pies a little more predictable when putting them together for your loved ones. Feel free to 'whistle a happy tune' while reading...

I guess it would be good to start out with my favorite pie pans. I have tried all sorts and keep coming back to the same ones for a consistently cooked bottom crust (nothing worse than a mushy, uncooked bottom crust!)

Pie pans made out of ceramic are the clear winners for me. My favorite pan and the one I reach for most often is made in Burgundy, France. An Emile Henry 9-inch, ceramic, deep-dish pan is a superior and old stand by for many pie bakers. Keep in mind that all recipes will not have enough filling for a deep-dish pie, since they are deceivingly larger. Especially, when regarding a fruit pie recipe, you will need 6 cups of fruit to properly fill a deep-dish. If you try to use it for a 4 cup fruit recipe, the outside crust edge will be too tall and your presentation on the plate will suffer as the back crust topples over from the weight of being too heavy & tall.

The red dish above is the Emile Henry deep-dish, purchased at Williams Sonoma. The patterned dish is a regular sized 9-inch ceramic dish with adorable decorations purchased in the home section at TJ Maxx. The pie server is one I purchased from a flea market in the mountain town of Dillard, GA. With the sharp edge serving as the cutter, you do not need a separate knife to slice the pie.

Find following a couple of photo examples of slices of pie, so you can compare a deep-dish with a regular 9-inch dish. For future reference, I like a deep-dish pan for a 6 cup fruit pie recipe, a pie with a meringue or a whipped cream topping, and a crumble top. Additionally, if you don't want to leak all over the oven, a quiche is safest in a deep-dish pan, as well.

Lemon Meringue Pie baked in a deep-dish pie pan

A regular 9-inch pie dish is perfect for those Thanksgiving favorites, Pecan pie, Pumpkin Pie and any fruit pie that lists 4 cups of fruit in the recipe. See below...

Pecan Pie baked in a regular 9-inch ceramic pie dish

A funny story about my favorite rolling pin is that we go Wayyyy back! When I took a wood workshop at Kansas State in the mid-80's, I really got into working on the lathe. We had a dizzying array of wood varietals stored in a shed attached to the wood working class. I picked out about 5 different species of wood and made all of them into candlesticks. During that process I found out that I was super allergic to a wood imported from Africa called Bubinga. I loved the purplish color (being a good K-stater), but my allergies could not handle that one. I chose a more domestic wood species, Hickory, for my next project, which was a rolling pin. I loved the idea of making practical items that I could use the rest of my life.

I didn't have lots of time to work on making pies during my studies in the Architectural School at KSU, but I loved the idea of baking lots of them after I graduated. In high school, I was baking for our family all the time!

After shaping the hickory wood on the lathe into the rolling pin, it was sanded to death and then treated with a tung oil. Since hickory wood has very large open grains, I wanted to make sure the wood patterns didn't show up when rolling out a pastry. And, it was a success.

Here is a picture of my hand-made rolling pin created in wood shop class at Kansas State University around 1986. This rolling pin has been used on countless pie crusts and zillions of sugar cookies since then! I always hand wash the rolling pin and it has stayed in perfect condition for 30 years!

Other bakers prefer marble rolling pins. Marble stays cool, which is perfect for pastry and it has a little more weight to it, so rolling becomes effortless. I do feel like you can accidentally roll the pastry out too thin with a marble pin. My old standby wood pin has a lot more control on the thickness of the pastry or cookie dough.

Speaking of marble, I received a marble slab from Williams Sonoma a couple of years back for a Christmas present and it has really improved the rolling experience.

I highly recommend this pie tool for beautiful pastry, especially if you are going to do cut-outs, braid the pastry or do anything else special to your top pie crust. See below for a pie crust rolled out on the marble slab.

Of course if you have a Corian, Granite or other hard surface kitchen counter, it will behave in the same way as the marble slab. It is a game-changer for me because I bake in a kitchen with laminate countertops.

A pastry blender is an essential tool for combining your fat, salt & flour for a proper pie crust. Pick one that feels good in your hand. This is one from Good Grips.

The fluted pastry cutter has multiple uses for pie makers. It can make beautiful wavy edges on a lattice top pie. A simple little touch like that makes for a real show-stopping pie. But, I also have used the circle shape as a stamp around the edge of a pie or all over the pie crust top (see Apple Pie illustration below).

My husband (egged-on by my friend, Mel) gave me this super micro-plane zester for a Mother's Day gift one year. Everyone should have one of these tools in their kitchen! I consider it a pie tool, because I like to add lime zest to my Key Lime Pie and the Lemon Tart also uses plenty of zest. This tool will save you lots of time and is a toss into the dishwasher item, too!

This photo shows a Blueberry Pie under construction, using the fluted pastry cutter.

This Apple Pie illustration shows stamping with the fluted pastry cutter on the upper crust

As you branch out with your decoration on pie crusts (and I sincerely hope that you will), the opportunity comes up to personalize your pies for special people, spelling out their name on the top crust. Or even just a word expressing your current feeling... like we had some of our favorite people over for a dinner party and I made a large 3 berry cobbler with a top crust. Serving as my vents for the big pie was the single word, FRIENDS.

I have started collecting cut-outs to use with my pies and have found these two tins at a garage sale. I've also used pie crust cut-outs laid out directly on top of the filling to make for a fun, custom pie. The heart shapes cross-over uses into our batches of sugar cookies around valentine's Day or look great on a Valentine's Day Pie, using the heart openings as vents.

It seems that individual pies have become a new favorite for entertaining. The cool part is that each person gets their own pie. Also, for those crust lovers out there... you get extra crust in this mini pie. This is a new pie pan for me that I got from a Pampered Chef party. I just adore it... and plan to whip up lots of mini-pies in the near future. I have done some mini apple pies, see below. Why do miniature things look so adorable?

Who knew there were so many Pie tools? I guess you ask a Pie Baker Lady (pie-nerd) and you will get an avalanche of kitchen gadgets related to baking a pie. Keep reading for more great ideas!

For partially-baking or pre-baking a pie crust, you will need some type of weight to put on top of the crust once it is inside the pie dish. There are a number of ways to do this method.

There are pie-weights (not shown) where you line the pastry with aluminum foil and then add the weights to keep the crust flat. I opt for not purchasing another kitchen implement (super small kitchen) and I use the same concept, but with beans or lentils, which are already in my pantry.

My favorite option by far are the silicone pie weights. They look cool, too... kind of like flowers. The inside is a non-stick metal with perforations that allow for even baking. The flower-like red edges are silicone edge flaps. Each one shown, one from Williams Sonoma and one is a Cuisinart brand has a handle or knob in the center to easily lift the pie weight out when it is finished pre-baking. That is lots easier than dealing with a pie pan full of beans or little pea sized pie weights.

The last wooden object shown is used for evenly distributing the pie crust into the pie dish right after it is laid into the pan, especially in the corners. I find this tool indispensable when making the mini pies. Not sure how you would do it without this tool.

A common problem with beginner pie-bakers is getting the outside edges too browned or burnt. This mistake can easily be avoided by using a variety of pie crust edge protectors.

My favorite and the most accessible method is aluminum foil. I like to make a 2-3-inch foil edge that tents over the outside edges of the pie crust to protect it from browning too fast!

Other methods include an aluminum pie crust shield or a silicone pie shield. They perform in a similar manner, although the silicone edge is long and awkward and if not very careful can be dredged through the top of the pie when removed. I find the aluminum one to be good in a pinch, but tends to make a browner edge than I prefer.

Here is what the silicone pie edge looks like.

It is adjustable, which is handy.

However you bake your pies, remember to surround yourself with all the fun tools of the trade. Thanksgiving being right around the corner gives you a good excuse to hit your favorite kitchen gadget store and stock up on the best pie tools, so your pies will be perfect for your guests.

And don't forget, my cookbooks are available at my website. Order yours today to get in time for Thanksgiving!

Remember that life is what you bake of it!

Pie love you,

The Pie Baker Lady

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