Should KCRW's annual Good Food Pie Contest include a category for professional bakers?
Nicole Mournian, the general manager and baker at Gjelina Takeaway in Venice, Calif. thinks so. Mournian dominated KCRW's fourth annual pie contest last Saturday, taking first place for both the fruit and savory categories and winning Best Crust and Best In Show.
"I don't know if I'm going to enter next year because they don't have a professionals category," said Mournian in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. "In favor of good sportsmanship, I'd rather be a judge than enter again so as not to discourage the home bakers."
Indeed, of the 12 people who won awards this year, five are professional bakers, reports the Los Angeles Times. Last year's Best In Show and first place fruit category winner was Stephanie Shaiken, a pastry chef who owned a pie business called Crust.
Mournian, who has been working at Gjelina for over a year, began training for this year's pie contest last spring. She told the Times that she has been making eight pies a day for the past five months, and told HuffPost that Gjelina chef Travis Lett helped her narrow down her entry choices.
One of this year's entries, the Blackberry Huckleberry Ginger pie, is already on Gjelina's menu and is being touted by servers as an award-winning pie.
Check out photos of Mournian's baked goods and award-winning pies. Story and recipe continue below.
Nicole Mournian's Award-Winning Pies
Still, Mournian's professional experience isn't the only thing that gave her an edge in the pie contest. Last year, she entered three pies (Chocolate Pumpkin, Concord Grape and Nightshade Vegetables), and none of them placed.
"The thing about last year was that I was trying to come up with something new and exciting," explained Mournian. "But keeping it simple is the winning combination, I think -- just relying on the quality of the ingredients."
For example, Mournian attributes some of the success of her incredibly flaky crust to the French butter plugra, a luxury item that contains less water than other butters.
"The crust was at the forefront of everyone's comments," recalled Mournian. "A couple of the chefs asked me if it was filo crust because it was so flaky."
Mournian wants to start experimenting with lard crusts next. She said lard has "more desirable qualities" than vegetable shortening (another crust option for bakers), "even though it's so gross and fatty."
Also on her to-do list: Gjelina's holiday pies. Mournian is currently developing a pecan pie that contains no corn syrup, a traditional ingredient. Instead, she wants to use more natural sugars like molasses and honey. She's also finalizing an apple pie recipe and wavering between coconut and chocolate cream pies to offer at the restaurant.
"I can talk about nerdy pie stuff all day long," said Mournian. Below, she shares her recipe for the award-winning Blackberry Huckleberry Ginger pie.
Gjelina's Pie Crust (developed by Nicole Mournian)
I always weigh my ingredients, something I learned from two great pastry chefs (Gina Bledsoe of San Diego and Chef Miho Travi of Los Angeles) I worked for early on. It's essential for accuracy in this recipe.
400 g. cold unsalted butter. I prefer Strauss European Style or Plugra.
665 g. all purpose flour. King Arthur is my choice.
5 g. fine sea salt
5 oz. cold water
100 g. granulated sugar
1/2 oz white vinegar
- First make sure everything is cold. Mix the water, vinegar and sugar into a syrup and chill.
- Then, pulse the flour, salt and butter in a food processor until it is the size of medium peas. Dump this fatty flour out on a work surface, and gather it into a pile.
- Pour in half of the sugar syrup, and start mixing it all together gently; this is messy work. Squeeze the dough together and lightly rub the butter peas into the flour. Use the palm of your hand and press against the table gently and smear/rub the dough together.
- Sprinkle on more of the syrup, keep squeezing and rubbing. Try to work quickly so that the butter does not melt. This is the key to flakiness.
- When the dough comes together in a shaggy ball, I wrap the whole thing in plastic and let it chill in the fridge for an hour. This relaxes the gluten and brings the dough together.
- After that hour, I portion the dough into 14 oz. balls and roll them out, usually very thick, depending on the pie, roughly 1/4 of an inch.
- Lay the dough into your desired pie plate and chill it for half an hour while you mix your filling.
- I bake my pies in a convection oven, starting at 375 deg for the first 15 minutes and then lowering the temp to 325 deg to finish.
Blackberry Huckleberry Ginger Pie by Nicole Mournian
2 14 oz. portions of pie dough, well chilled (not frozen)
3 c. blackberries
3 c. huckleberries (or substitute blueberries if you'd like)
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. flour
Pinch of salt
1/4 c. of ginger syrup ( we make our own by boiling ginger root in simple syrup, but I know ready made is available at gourmet shops now. Look for it by the Italian soda syrups. You can substitute chopped candied ginger for a real kick)
1/4 c heavy cream reserved for the crust
- Mix all ingredients except for the cream together and place in your bottom crust. Paint the edges of the crust with the heavy cream.
- Lay the top crust on and use your palm to press the edges together to seal it. Fold the edges under to create a nice fat lip around the pie.
- Paint the crust with cream too, and if you'd like, sprinkle with 1 tbsp. of fine sugar.
- Crimp with your fingers or seal with a fork, your choice. Cut three to four slits in the top to let steam escape.
- Place the whole pie in the freezer for 10 minutes while you heat an oven to 375 degrees.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes and then turn the oven down to 325 for the last 30-45 minutes. You know it's done when it's golden brown and a little thickened juice comes out of the slits.
- Cool for at least two hours before cutting.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that plugra contains more water than other butters. We apologize for the error.