Cook's Corner ~ State Fair apple pie champ says ‘cream cheese’ is her secret

Samantha Sortino’s employer may want to reconsider where she can best serve their customers.

The Murfreesboro mother of three was crowned the state’s best apple pie baker at the Tennessee State Fair Saturday (September 14).

A line-cook at the casual dining Red Robbin restaurant in Murfreesboro, Sortino submitted what the judges declared was the “best” entry in the State Fair’s Annual Apple Pie Contest.

Her winning pie took first place honors over more than three dozen registered entries, the largest field of competitors to register for the annually Kroger sponsored contest in recent years.

Her championship creation made with Granny Smith apples, she shared, was something that was the result of a partnership effort in the kitchen with her husband that was first introduced a half a dozen years ago.

The Sortinos were living in California at the time.

“We had no money. Actually, I think we had $9,” Aaron Sortino, Samantha’s husband said.

The couple said they saw where there was an apple pie contest being held in their community that offered prize money and they made the decision that they would take their last $9, go to a local dollar store, buy the necessary ingredients, and enter the contest.

“We worked on the pie together,” Samantha said, although she credited Aaron with the idea of adding whipped cream cheese to the filling, a process both said is what gave them the winning edge in the recent State Fair contest.

“I questioned putting cream cheese in an apple pie but he insisted,” Samantha confessed, adding that in their mind this is the “secret” that makes their recipe different.

Their pie won first place in California and six years later the same recipe won first place at the Tennessee State Fair.

Her winning entry at the State Fair besides a blue ribbon and a handsomely designed cutting board earned a cash prize of $500.

Carolin Kong and Don McGonagil, both of Nashville, placed second and third respectively in the contest.

This year’s State Fair Apple Pie Contest attracted entries from several Tennessee counties and from as far away as Jamestown in Fentress County.

Judges based their critique of each entry on a value scale of three considerations including general appearance and originality, 25 percent each, and flavor, 50 percent.

CARAMEL APPLE PIE RECIPE

Ingredients:

3-4 Granny Smith Apples

Pie crust:

2 ½ cup flour

2 sticks butter (cubed, and cold)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

6-8 tablespoon ice water

Whipped cream cheese:

8 ounces cream cheese ( room temperature)

2 tablespoon vanilla

Crumble:

2 cups oatmeal

1 ½ cup brown sugar

1 cup flour

2 tablespoon cinnamon

Caramel sauce:

1 cup sugar

½ cup water

½ cup cream

2 tablespoon butter (cold)