Unconventional pie prevails in bake-off

September 10th, 2019 3:14 PM

Jennifer Smith-Garcia and Bella Garcia | Photo provided

By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

Mother-daughter duo Jennifer Smith-Garcia and Bella Garcia took home top honors at the Oak Park Farmers Market's 2019 Pie Bake-Off on Saturday Sept. 7.

Understanding the minimum entry age for the pie bake-off is 16, Smith-Garcia, entered under her own name and made a pact that she and her 11-year-old daughter Bella would make the perfect pie together.

"Baking is a hobby for me, but baking is a passion for Bella," said Jennifer, "and I have to give credit where credit is due."

The duo went to the market in search of apples for their pie, but Bella was unexpectedly taken with the bounty of Red Haven peaches from Hardin Farm. The young baker then found a bevy of fresh cayenne peppers at the Genesis Growers tent and selected some raspberry vinegar from Jim Vitalo of Herbally Yours to keep things even more interesting.

"My dad is always talking about new flavor combinations like apple and cheddar or blueberry and basil," said Bella, "and I thought peaches, peppers and vinegar would be something he would like."

Bella and her mom made four practice pies leading up to the bake-off. While Jennifer peeled, pitted and cut all the peaches, her daughter worked hard to create a balance between sweet and spice in the finished product and paid special attention to her bourbon caramel sauce. Bella considers the sauce the "something extra" that pushed their peach pie over the top.

Bella, a fifth-grader at St. Luke's, hopes to own a "restaurant with a bakery inside" one day and intends to put her prize-winning peach pie on the menu.

Bake-Off Results

1st Place:  Bella's Favorite Pie, made by Bella Garcia and Jennifer Smith-Garcia of Oak Park

 2nd Place: The Red (Apple) and the Black (Berry) Pie made by Emily Paster of River Forest

 3rd Place: Fruit Basket made by Alexandra Smith of Oak Park


Molly Svec, co-owner of Spilt Milk

Alexandra Rey-Talley, last year's winner

Michelle Mascaro, Happy Apple Pie Co. owner

Victor Lencioni, junior judge


  • Love the Journal?

    Become our partner in independent community journalism

    Thanks for turning to Wednesday Journal and We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

    On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

    No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

    Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

    Donate Now

  • Bella's Favorite Pie

     (makes one double crust pie)


    2 ½ Cups flour

    ½ teaspoon salt

    1 teaspoon sugar

    2 sticks of cold unsalted butter, cut up into small pieces

    Water (about 2 Tablespoons)

    Mix dry ingredients. Cut butter pieces into dry ingredients with a pastry knife (cutter). Should resemble coarse crumb. Gradually add the water, kneading with hands until a dough is formed. Divide into two balls, wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.


    8 Red Haven peaches*

    1 Cup granulated sugar

    ¼ Cup cornstarch

    1 Tablespoon raspberry vinegar*

    1 small Cayenne pepper, seeded and finely chopped*

    Pit, slice and peel peaches. In a large bowl add peaches, sugar and cornstarch; gently stir to coat. Add vinegar and pepper and gently stir.


    4 Tablespoons of butter

    4 Tablespoons of bourbon or whiskey

    ¼ Cup of brown sugar

    1 Cayenne pepper, seeded and chopped*

    Add butter, bourbon, and brown sugar to a small sauce pan. Warm over medium heat, stirring constantly. Add the pepper as sugar melts. Boil until a caramel sauce forms (approx. 10 minutes).

    To Assemble/Bake:

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

    Allow crust to come almost to room temperature. Roll out to about ¼-inch thickness. Place crust in bottom of pan and "pre-bake" for 10 minutes to prevent sogginess.

    Add filling and pour the caramel sauce over the filling. Top with the upper crust. You can egg wash the top (1 egg* and a couple of tablespoons of water scrambled together and brushed over the top) for shine if you wish.

    Bake for about 1 hour, using egg wash every 20 minutes. Be sure to place pie pan on a baking tray as juices tend to run over.


    *Indicates a Farmers Market ingredient.

  • Reader Comments
  • 1 Comment - Add Your Comment

    Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

    Comment Policy

  • Susan Montgomery from Chicago (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: September 17th, 2019 9:37 AM

    What a "sweet" story! As someone who also loved baking as a youngster, I'm delighted to see that Bella is already off to experimenting with various combinations of ingredients. I wish her many happy years of baking and, to her family, many happy years of sampling her creations!

  • Advertisements
  • Answer Book 2019
  • To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.