Raisin to top of list in contest

The Chocolate Raisin Walnut Pie, by Andrea Spring of Bradenton, Fla., took home the Best of Show in the professional division at the 16th annual American Pie Council and Crisco National Pie Championships. This was the first year the raisin category was av

Well, well, well, a raisin finally won Best of Show.

Andrea Spring, a restaurateur in Bradenton, Fla., and her Chocolate Raisin Walnut Pie took top honors in the professional division of the 16th annual 2010 National Pie Championships. The contest, sponsored by the American Pie Council and Crisco, was April 23-25 in Florida.

Think people aren't making pies anymore? There were a record 917 entries in four categories in the competition. But only 12 professional bakers gambled on raisin pies.

"When I saw that raisin was a new category in the professional division, I really wanted to tackle that because I like the challenge of the new and unusual," said Spring, who owns the Sign of the Mermaid Restaurant. "I love raisins, but I considered that a 'straight-out' raisin pie may not appeal to the masses. The first time I made the pie, I knew the flavors were perfect for the contest. Pairing it with favorites like milk chocolate and walnuts enhances the raisins and creates a very appealing pie."

Find the list of winners and recipes at www.piecouncil.org.

Chocolate Raisin Walnut Pie

Serves 8

For crust:

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons shortening

1/4 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons milk

2 tablespoons hot water

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon cornstarch

For filling:

1 cup California raisins

3 eggs

2/3 cup granulated white sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup melted butter

1 cup dark corn syrup

3/4 cup milk chocolate chips

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

For crust: In small bowl, combine shortening, vinegar and milk. Add hot water; mix well. In medium bowl, mix together flour, salt and cornstarch. Add shortening mixture. Mix until dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let stand in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

For filling: Roll out dough to fit 10-inch pie pan. Arrange in pie pan and crimp edges. Sprinkle and spread raisins evenly over bottom.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In large bowl, mix eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, butter and corn syrup until well-blended. Add chocolate chips and walnuts; mix well. Carefully pour over raisins in pie crust.

Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake until center of pie is set; about 30 minutes.

Local favorites

Zonda Crabtree of Reevesville asked for help finding a recipe her mother once had. It was for an eggplant casserole made with hamburger, tomatoes, cheese and seasonings. Zonda thought the recipe was given to her mother by Willie, who may have been connected to the old LaBrasca's restaurant in Charleston.

Suzanne Bolton of Mount Pleasant got in touch. She's the granddaughter of owners George and Effie LaBrasca and daughter of Rose LaBrasca Bolton, who also helped run the restaurant.

Suzanne says there was no Willie at the restaurant but she kindly shared her mother's recipe for an eggplant dish. The base recipe is a vegetarian dish so Suzanne included variations (see cook's notes) to show different ways it can be prepared. Veggie or with meat, serve as an entree with salad or crusty bread.

Rosie's Eggplant and Tomato "Stuff"

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed in 1-inch pieces

1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes, diced (use tomatoes and juice)

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, mix onions, garlic, olive oil and eggplant. Cook over medium-high heat until onions and eggplant are sweated and tender, about 15 minutes. Stir often. Add tomatoes, sugar and Italian seasoning. Continue to cook on medium-high until tomatoes are heated and mixture is simmering. Add salt and pepper to taste, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for approximately 30 minutes or until thickened and reduced.

Cook's notes

--Add up to 1 pound of ground beef or bulk Italian sausage or a combination for a tasty meat sauce for pasta or as a layer in lasagna.

--Use half the amount of canned tomatoes and add a jar of your favorite pasta sauce.

--Suzanne's favorite: Reduce well, cool and puree to use as a pizza sauce.

"I had a wonderful lunch at the St. Philip's Tea Room on Church Street," writes Marian Mentavlos of Charleston. "For dessert I had the coconut cake, which was the best coconut cake I have ever had. The coconut was in the cake, not in the icing, and the cake was extremely moist -- almost like it had pudding in it. It was delicious. The icing was a cream cheese icing. Is there any way you can help me to find that recipe?"

Kaye Bull of Mount Pleasant answered the call.

"The enclosed recipe is the one I made for the Tea Room but I am not sure this is the one requested. ... I have made this several times and it always gets rave reviews (actually every recipe I have tried by Ina Garten is very, very good!)."

Coconut Cake

10-12 servings

For the cake:

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans

2 cups sugar

5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup milk

4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted

6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them with parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter and vanilla and almond extracts on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!).

To assemble, place one layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.

Anne Hicks of Summerville writes, "I've never tried to make this recipe with the coconut flakes in the cake batter, but I don't see why it wouldn't work. Everyone I've ever made this cake for, loves it!"

Coconut Cake

For cake

1 box white cake mix

2 eggs

1 (15-ounce) can Cream of Coconut (see cook's note)

1 (3-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

For topping

1 standard container nondairy whipped topping, such as Cool Whip

1 1/2 cups coconut flakes

Cook's note: Cream of Coconut is sometimes found in the drink mixers section of a grocery store if it can't be found in the baking section.

Prepare the cake per package directions EXCEPT where the eggs are concerned. For this recipe, 2 WHOLE EGGS are needed, regardless of what the cake box calls for. Bake per package directions in a 9x13-inch pan. While the cake is baking, combine Cream of Coconut and sweetened condensed milk. When cake is done and still hot, punch a lot of good-sized holes in it. (I use the handle of a wooden spoon.) Pour the coconut/milk mixture all over the cake, particularly in the holes. Cool the cake thoroughly. Refrigerate it as long as you want since this cake is best served cold.

When ready to serve the cold cake, mix Cool Whip with the coconut flakes and "frost" the cake with it. (Never try to "frost" a hot or even warm cake with the Cool Whip icing since Cool Whip will melt on a warm cake.)

Who's got the recipe?

--Sammie Gourdine of St. Stephen seeks recipes for chopped barbecue and hush puppies.

--Kathy Rosselot saw the lemon cake recipes last week and called to see if anyone had one similar to what is served at Olive Garden.

--Still looking: From Bennie H. Ordel of Walterboro, who ate at the St. Philip's Tea Room, "They served pie made from macadamia nuts with a caramel filling. It was delicious. Do you think it is possible that someone might share this recipe? This is one of those desserts that you dream about at night."

--Last call: A reader is looking for a recipe published years ago in The Post and Courier. The base was a yellow cake mix with lime juice and possibly sour cream added. The finish was a glaze made with lime juice, sugar, etc.

Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Reach Teresa Taylor at 937-4886 or food@postandcourier.com.