How to Win a Pie Contest

Nicole Mournian swept last year's Good Food Pie Contest taking home four blue ribbons. She then went on to win another blue ribbon at the 2013 American Pie Competition in Orlando, Florida. This year, she returns to the Good Food Pie Contest as a judge. Think you can beat her four ribbons? Then check out these very helpful tips for how to make a better pie. And hear Nicole on Good Food this weekend.


Want ribbons like hers?
Want ribbons like hers?

This week on the show, Evan talks with Nicole Mournian, who swept last year’s Good Food Pie Contest winning four blue ribbons and then went on to win another blue ribbon at the 2013 American Pie Competition in Orlando, Florida. In the interview Nicole shares a few tips for newbie bakers, but also tells the story of her journey to Florida to compete in the national competition where Crisco is king and chocolate fondant pigs are not out of place atop pies:

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When she won the 2012 contest, Nicole was the General Manager of Gjelina Take Away. Now she is the Pastry Chef at both Gjelina and Gjelina Take Away in Venice where she bakes pies every day. This year she’ll be judging YOUR pies, so click here to enter and impress Nicole. If you feel confident wielding a rolling pin, try making Nicole’s Pork and Peas Pie that won both Best Crust and Best in Show last year.

Here are some of her tips for getting your feet wet in pie competition.

If you’re making a fruit pie, buy your fruit from a farmers market. It will cost more, but it’ll be worth it.

For beginners, nectarines are better than berries. Berries might burst apart and make your pie wet and runny.

Another thing about nectarines: They make better peach pies than peaches. You have to peel off the peaches’ fuzzy, tannic skins, which is annoying. You don’t have to peel nectarines to bake with them, and their acid content contributes to  a much richer flavor than the mellow sweetness of peaches.  

All-butter doughs are easier for beginners. And the caramelized milk proteins add a beautiful color.

Use your food processor to mix the dough, and then your hands. Make sure all your ingredients are super cold. Using the food processor, cut the butter into the flour until the pieces of butter look like small beads. Then put the dough into a bowl and use your hands to smash the butter more. Once it’s all mixed, make a well in your dough, and add a third of your liquid. Mix it in, fluff and the dough, and add another third of the liquid. Mix and fluff again, and pour the rest of the liquid on top. Make the dough into a log. Wrap it in plastic wrap and let it get cold in the fridge.

Don’t get stuck on baking a pretty pie. Nicole says that some of the best pies she’s eaten have been the ugliest. The best pies “speak to the person who made them. That’s beautiful in its own way”.

One point about appearance that does matter: don’t use white peaches or white nectarines. They turn grey when you bake them. And that’s just gross.

Consider baking a savory pie. The judges will be eating a lot of fruit.


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  • Laura

    I appreciate the tips. I have entered the pie contest every year since the beginning. Because of scheduling problems last year while I had intended to – I ultimately was unable to participate. However when I heard about the results I was glad I did not. How can any of the home cooks compete against professionals who can practice a pie everyday (and sell that pie to people)? I don’t have the time or $. I think it’s a fun event but there really should be separate categories for amateur and professional.

    • evankleiman

      When I made a pie a day in 2009 I brought them all to KCRW. I didn't sell any of them. All you need to do is set aside 1 week. Or 2-3 weekends and make a bunch of pies. It's all about getting the feel through repetition. I teach classes you know!

  • denise

    I agree with Laura. I have been to every pie contest and it seems the pros or bloggers always win most of the ribbons. Especially as evidenced last year with the top prizes going mostly to pro bakers. I don't have a problem with pros participating and winning, but it seems more fair to have a separate category for pros to keep the fun (and friendly competition) in the contest for amateurs. I got the impression that this was meant as a community event, not a self-promotion event.

    • Kelly

      They work hard, practice constantly and the finished product is good. Enough said.

    • I think this is a pretty good idea as well. I dislike calling this a 'sport', but most sports to separate pro and amateurs. This actually helps keep interest up on both sides!

    • evankleiman

      When Nicole entered the pie contest the first time in 2011, she lost. She was not a pro Pie Baker. Never made pies for sale. After she lost she was obsessed with teaching herself to make a better pie. she wanted to win. So she make many, many pies. This is exactly what I did during my 2009 pie a day summer. The only thing that makes you a great baker of pies is making many of them. Repetition breeds mastery. When she won, she still wasn't working as a pastry chef. She was the manager of Gjelina Take Away. She was lucky that they sold her practice pies.

      • Lisa

        I concur. I am a self-taught pie baker, and it was only through lots of trial and error. Eventually, i've honed my methods for all sorts of pies…enough to cope with the variables that fruit and weather can throw at you.