“We’re having a crisis of crust,” says Tim Scott, seriously, when he talks about the impetus for becoming a champion pie baker.
The mental health therapist—and co-owner of NorthEast Counseling in Maplewood with his wife, Deb Kratz—has always been a baker, making his own bread daily in college and perfecting a bagel recipe. Years ago, he started tinkering with his mom’s pie recipe, hoping to nail a version that would taste as good as hers.
“I just couldn’t get the crust quite right,” he remembers. He and his mom started talking pies more often from a distance with her feedback given by phone from West Virginia or on holiday visits.
He learned about the importance of perfect baking ratios. He developed a loyalty to lard. He learned the importance of cold ingredients and handling them as sparingly as possible so as not to melt the fat. It wasn’t until summer 2016, after his mom had moved to the area, that the pie connoisseur entered a pie-baking competition, at Grandma’s Bakery in White Bear Lake during Manitou Days, “on a lark.” His peach pie won first place.
That summer, he brought pies to the Washington County Fair—winning the reserve champion title, and the Minnesota State Fair, where he got a lot of valuable feedback. He spent the next year baking at least a pie a week as he perfected his technique and became a bona fide part of the Minnesota competitive baking scene. For him, a deliciously flaky dessert is only one goal. Baking is also about relieving stress, bringing his family together and celebrating the great pie bakers that came before him. “Cooking, especially baking—and especially pie crust—is both art and science … finding a good pie is hard,” Scott says. “We’re losing a lot of good pie-makers in the world.”
Just a Little Slice
Grab a taste of a blue-ribbon pie, or get started on your own competitive career, with some of this summer’s pie-centric events:
Grandma’s Bakery Contest
During Manitou Days in White Bear Lake, bakers crowd around tables, biting their nails as judges taste-test their entries in front of onlookers. Scott estimates about 20 pies are entered annually in the hometown contest that started it all for him. “There’s more camaraderie, because everyone’s there for the judging!” he says. “Everyone’s asking questions and swapping ideas. It’s really fun.” Late June.
Braham PieDay Contest
This small-town event is a fundraiser, with about 1,000 non-contest pies sold by the slice. Deliver contest pies—which are also auctioned, minus a tasting slice—at the local Lutheran church. But beware: the competition is fierce. “There are some really good pie-makers there,” says Scott. [Scott won first place in this contest in the double-crust category in 2017.] First Friday in August.
Washington County Fair
Scott says that the county fair might be the best place to start competing, because there aren’t a ton of people, it’s local and the entry process is simple. His first summer as a competitive baker, Scott entered a peach pie that won a blue ribbon and the reserve champion title. Late July.
The Great Minnesota Get Together
Of course, there’s the piè(ce) de résistance: the Minnesota State Fair. “Drop-off day is organized chaos. All the food entries are on the same day, so the line wraps around the building,” Scott says. “Bread to muffins, cookies to pie. Everybody is bleary-eyed from getting up early to bake. [Most] people are joking and having fun, and trying to not show how nervous they are.”
Some people enter several categories and tote them, as fresh as possible, to the contest. Categories include pecan—a one-crust pie, to which Scott is adamantly opposed, berry, apple and peach. 12 days, ending Labor Day.
Scott admits that there are a million and one recipes out there, and that technique can make or break a pie. But if you’re just starting out, he swears by the Cooks Illustrated pie crust recipe, which has a secret ingredient: vodka. “It doesn’t overdevelop the gluten—the vodka evaporates and makes it easier to roll out the dough,” Scott says.