Warwick bakers know how to make apple pie.
Both the first and second place winners in the North Central Chamber of Commerce’s (NCCC) 26th annual Pie Baking Contest held last weekend in Johnston are Warwick residents.
Stephanie Dancause placed first in the contest. And for the 9th year, Jo-Ann Desmarais was runner-up.
“What’s wrong with me?” Desmarias said after landing another runner-up baking venture. “Oh well, I finished third once.”
And like Dancause, who is a visiting assistant professor and teaches medicinal chemistry at the University of Rhode Island, Desmarais has a special story of how she came to enter the NCCC’s annual Apple Pie Baking Contest.
“It was 13 years ago,” Desmarais said, “and my mother was recovering from three strokes. She was in a wheelchair, but I took her everywhere on weekends. So, I decided to bake an apple pie then take mom to the Apple Fest the next day. And that’s when I finished in second place.”
But the number 13 has been lucky for Desmarais.
“Thirteen is actually my lucky number,” she said. “Years ago, I played some numbers and when my husband looked at the ticket, he yelled, ‘You won!’”
To which Desmarais exclaimed, “I didn’t!”
She won $5,000. But that was more than 10 years ago.
This time around, Desmarais entered two apple pies while hoping to change her luck.
Desmarais said this year she made her crumb topping with coconut, which landed her the runner-up slot. As for the other pie, “it’s whatever I feel like doing.”
Desmarais said she likes to play with different recipes until she finds the one she likes.
“This time I used a butter piecrust with lemon zest, vanilla and, of course, flour and sugar. It was delicious,” she said.
When asked if she was disappointed she has never finished first, Desmarais said, “No! It’s just the fun of it. I love my family; we do it together. I just love it … we all get together and eat together. This is family fun at its very best!”
Dancause, a Pittsburgh native who has lived in Warwick since 2002 with her husband Bruce, said, “I was quite surprised I won. I wasn’t expecting to win. I think my husband was more surprised.”
Dancause’s entrance into the 26th annual Apple Pie Baking Contest was unique.
“We went apple picking at Barden Family Orchard with our son Louis, who is 3,” Dancause said. “We saw a sign on the road advertising the Apple Fest and my husband decided I was going to enter. It was fun. Our friend Sean Callahan also entered a pie.”
Dancause shared her apple pie filling recipe, which she said used apples her family picked at Barden’s, including Cortland, Gala, Liberty and McIntosh.
“The pie crust is a special family recipe so I can’t divulge the secrets,” Dancause said. “But I will give you a hint: It is whole grain-based.”
Her award-winning apple pie filling includes: 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg and seven cups 1/4-inch peeled apples. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss in apples and mix to coat. Spoon immediately into crust. Cover with top crust. Brush with egg wash. Cook at 425 degrees Fahrenheit until juices begin to bubble, approximately 40 to 50 minutes.
Michelle Major Bucci took home third place in the contest that was judged by NBC10 personality Mario Hilario, Channel 10 television Chef Frank Terranova of “Cooking with Class” and Mitch Stamp, an executive chef in the Pastry Division of Johnson & Wales University.
“I’m so happy for her,” Desmarais said of Dancause, “and now I’ll have to see about winning next year. But it’s all good; this is a wonderful event for everyone!”