Allison Kave was inspired to start First Prize Pies after winning the Best Overall Pie award at the 1st Annual Brooklyn Pie Bake-Off in 2009. Her recipes are inventive riffs on classics (bourbon ginger pecan, apple cheddar, shoo-fly) and original creations based on her own favorite flavors (chocolate peanut butter pretzel, root beer cream). For details about her prize-winning bourbon ginger pecan pie, including the recipe, click here.
First Prize Pies are available to order online, by the slice every Saturday in New York City at Roni-Sue’s Chocolates in the Essex Street Market, on the dessert menu at Brooklyn’s Fatty ‘Cue, and starting in late April, every weekend at the Hester Street Fair on the Lower East Side.
Gina: Why do you love pie?
Allison: Above all, I love the process of making pie. There is something so meditative about working with dough—you can’t rush it, you have to have the right ingredients and temperatures, and the physicality of it is very soothing and satisfying. I also appreciate the sense of community that seems to happen around pie—it’s almost magical!
Gina: How many pie contests have you entered? Please tell me about your recent life-changing pie contest experience.
Allison: Just the one! Last year, my boyfriend Jay heard about the 1st Brooklyn Pie Bake-Off, which was a fundraiser for Bags for the People, and sent me an email that simply said ‘you should enter this—you will win.’ I certainly didn’t have such lofty expectations, but I thought it would be fun. In the end, I submitted one standby (bourbon ginger pecan) and one wild card (s’mores pie —which I had never made before). My standby won Best Overall Pie, and that really was the catalyst for my decision to go pro. Jay also decided to participate with his apple cider cream, and he won Best Sweet Pie! It was an amazing day.
Gina: Do you have any tips for aspiring pie contest contestants?
Allison: Don’t get caught up in the competition aspect—just have fun with it! It’s really an excuse for a community to get together, eat yummy treats, and get to know each other. In terms of your entry, make something you love, or something you’ve always wanted to try.
Gina: What criteria should pie judges consider? Is there a proper technique to tasting pie?
Allison: Pie is such a composite dessert—it’s all about the right balance of flavors and textures. How is the crust? It should be flaky and flavorful, and able to hold up to the filling, which should be juicy, gooey, and delicious, not soggy or runny. In terms of appearance, I tend to love really homey, rustic-looking pies. I don’t think a pie should look perfect.
Gina: What is your fondest pie memory?
Allison: It has to be the pie contest—it was just so much fun! My mom, brother, and so many friends came out to support, and it was an incredibly convivial experience.
Gina: What is your favorite kind of pie?
Allison: Right now, probably shoo-fly. I have an uncontrollable weakness for molasses.
Gina: What is the oddest pie you’ve made, seen, or heard about?
Allison: I tend to really like “odd” pies—I’ve been reading a lot about vinegar pie lately and I plan to try my hand at a variation on that.
Gina: What is the secret to a perfect crust?
Allison: Quality ingredients, kept cold, with a minimal amount of human intervention.
Gina: Do you think great bakers are born rather than made? Can anybody learn to make pie? What personality traits make for the best pie bakers?
Allison: I think anybody can learn to make pie—it’s about having the right attitude. Many people seem to be terrified of crust, but it’s not so scary! Just try your hand at it and approach it as a fun, relaxing experience as opposed to something you have to ‘get right.’ The irony here is that I am a total perfectionist, but I have taken a page from the great Julia Child and try not to throw kitchen tantrums anymore. It’s just dough! I think this post by Choire Sicha about making pie crust is hilarious and reassuring at the same time.
Gina: Why does pie matter today?
Allison: Pie matters today for the same reason it’s always mattered. It’s a beautiful way to capture seasonal flavors, it’s a dessert that requires its maker to be patient and aware, and it’s a way to bring people together to enjoy each others company over a plate of something sweet. These are all important qualities, and it makes me so happy to see that more and more people are embracing pie —whether as makers or eaters!