It's called a blind test because when food judges taste entries, they don't want to know who made what.
Evidently, pies made by Marianne Schaefer, of Millstadt, are hard to pass by. For the third year in a row she took top honors during the Pie Contest held at The Pie Pantry in downtown Belleville. The evident is sponsored annually by the restaurant to celebrate National Pie Day.
She likes fruit pies. Last year she won with a rhubarb pie, the year before that it was lemon. Prior to that, she took a second place with a coconut-cream pie.
I got a lot of help judging this year, with BND magazine editor (and former food editor) Maureen Houston not only taste-testing, but taking photos. Also carrying forks, paper and pen were Leisa Brockman, of the Culinary Arts program at Southwestern Illinois College, her sister, Amy Brockman, who is a professional baker, and freelance food and travel writer Suzanne Corbett.
Here are the top three winning recipes.
Marianne Schaefer said she found this recipe at Pillsbury.com. It won the Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust Pie Baking Championship at the Iowa State Fair in 2009.
Marianne said her pie crusts are always made from scratch and the ones in this cherry pie were absolutely perfect.
Her ceramic pie bird did a good job, too, of venting steam so the bottom crust was perfectly done and not the least bit soggy.
The judges couldn't help but be drawn to this pie. The fluting was neat and the crust really did sparkle from the light dusting of granulated sugar.
Sparkling Cherry Pie
4 cups fresh or frozen (thawed) pitted sour red cherries
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Double pie crusts
1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix first six ingredients. Let stand 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make pie crusts using a 9-inch glass pie plate.
Pour cherry mixture into crust-lined plate; dot with butter.
Top with second crust and flute. Cut slits in several places. Brush top crust with milk; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar.
3. Bake 20 minutes; cover crust edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning. Reduce heat to 350 degrees; bake 40 minutes longer, or until golden brown and bubbly. Cool at least 2 hours before serving.
Joyce Dintelmann, of Belleville, said her second-place pie was a happy victim of happenstance: "About two weeks ago I made the pie -- I've had the recipe a long time. But I ran out of dark corn syrup, so I substituted honey." Both the pecans and the honey, she said, are locally grown.
The added honey gave the pie a subtle difference in flavor that had the judges going back for a second sample.
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
1 cup pecans
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line pie shell with pecans.
Beat eggs and add sugar and salt. Mix.
Add corn syrup, honey, vanilla and mix.
Add melted butter; stir well.
Pour over pecans. Bake 45 to 50 minutes.
Tim Padgett, of Belleville, made the third-place pie, another version of pecan. He made a beautiful-looking pie with lots of flavor and crunchy chopped pecans throughout the pie.
Tim toasted the nuts, which the judges thought gave the pie an added depth of flavor.
Caramel Pecan Pie
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup butter, cubed
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups chopped pecans, toasted
1 unbaked deep-dish pastry shell (9 inches)
Pecan halves, optional
In a small heavy sauce pan, combine the caramels, water and butter. Cook and stir over low heat until caramels are melted. Remove form the heat and set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt until smooth. Gradually add caramel mixture. Stir in the chopped pecans. Pour into pastry shell. If desired, arrange pecan halves over filling.
Bake at 350 degrees 35 to 40 minutes, or until set. Cook on a wire rack. Refrigerate leftovers.
Toasting nuts: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts in a single layer in a shallow baking pan and toast 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted; stirring occasionally.
Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, email@example.com; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.