Chew On This

How else do you celebrate Pi Day? With a pie contest

aweigl@newsobserver.comMarch 19, 2013 

Sheryl Lucas, Senior Applications Developer, was the overall winner for her French Strawberry Pie.

COURTESY OF SAS

The one place in the Triangle where folks are most likely to take National Pi Day seriously is SAS.

The Cary-based software company teems with mathematicians. Who else would want to celebrate the never-ending numeral that is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter? But they know how to celebrate Pi Day in a way that speaks to me and fellow non-mathematical types: They organized a pie contest.

SAS asked me to judge the competition Thursday. Almost two dozen employees baked pies to compete in one of three categories: fruit, nut and cream. There was an apricot and pineapple pie with a pretty lattice crust, a honey-flavored cream pie decorated with a honeycomb pattern, a take on an Indian yogurt pie called a Mishti and even a lemon meringue pie with the Pi numerals etched into the crust’s circular edge.

There was also a delicious Southern Hospitality pie featuring a creamy filling topped with chocolate, caramel, pecans and coconut. If there had been such a category, that pie should have won for “Best Use of Cool Whip.”

My fellow judges were Daniel Benjamin, executive pastry chef at Herons, the restaurant at the Umstead Hotel and Spa; Julie Stewart, food service manager at SAS; and Domino Ireland, a SAS employee and a competitive cook whose creations I have judged on previous occasions.

We divided into teams and each pair of judges evaluated half the pies, awarding 1 to 5 points for the filling, crust and overall taste. After the scores were tallied, there was a winner in each category and one overall winner. The top prize winner was a French Strawberry Pie made by Sheryl Lucas of Clayton. The pie had an impeccably crimped deep-dish crust filled with a cream cheese layer, topped with ripe strawberries and brushed with a strawberry glaze.

Lucas clipped the recipe decades ago from a newspaper. It has become a family favorite. Lucas said the pie just came together beautifully for the contest.

“It was the best effort for that pie that I’ve ever done,” she said. “It came out perfect. The crust came out perfect. The glaze came out perfect.”

She credits the personal pie crust lesson she got from a friend about a year and a half ago and a friend’s loan of a plastic mat on which to roll the crust. About the latter, she said, “I think that made all the difference.”

With strawberry season only a month away, I’m glad Lucas was willing to share her recipe. I know it will now be my go-to strawberry pie recipe, and it could become yours as well.

To see printable version of recipe, click on link below:

French Strawberry Pie

Homemade Pie Dough

French Strawberry Pie From Sheryl Lucas of Clayton 3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided 1/2 cup whipping cream 1 homemade pie crust, baked and cooled (see recipe) 1 quart strawberries, rinsed, stems removed 1 tablespoon lemon juice 3 tablespoons cornstarch

COMBINE cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl. Whip cream in a standing mixture or with handheld mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture and spread evenly on bottom of pie crust. Stand up strawberries on top of cream cheese layer until it is covered with berries. Mash remaining strawberries in a medium bowl with a fork or potato masher to make 1 1/2 cups strawberry puree. Add lemon juice, 1 1/4 cups sugar and cornstarch. Cook glaze in microwave for 5 or 6 minutes on high until thick, stirring every 2 minutes. Let cool and pour over strawberries. Chill until ready to eat. Yield: 8 slices

Homemade Pie Dough 3 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup butter-flavored Crisco 7 tablespoons cold water, divided

PREHEAT the oven to 450 degrees.

MIX flour and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in shortening with a pastry cutter until the ingredients resemble wet sand. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons cold water over the flour mixture. Toss with a fork until the water is incorporated and flour mixture begins to clump. Sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons water over the dough and toss to combine. Knead the dough just long enough to incorporate all of the flour mixture. Use hands to mound the dough together and divide the dough into two balls. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 15 minutes.

TRANSFER one ball of chilled dough to a flour-dusted countertop, pastry cloth or plastic pastry mat. Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out to a size that is slightly larger than a deep dish 9-inch pie plate. Transfer the pie crust to the pie plate and crimp the edges. Prick bottom and sides of the dough. Line the dough with a double thickness of foil. Place in oven and bake for 6 to 8 minutes until golden. Cool on a wire rack. You can freeze the remaining ball of dough. Yield: 2 crusts

Weigl: 919-829-4848 or aweigl@newsobserver.com

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