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Lisa Gunther Clark of Lawrenceburg said she was “tickled” last Tuesday as she watched a Kentucky state fair judge take a bite of her bourbon tollhouse pie, lift up Clark’s entry and give the pie a sniff.
Clark said she wanted to taste the bourbon in her prize-winning bourbon tollhouse dessert, so she included 3 teaspoons of a 100 proof “Very Old Barton” Kentucky straight whiskey.
Earlier this year, Clark said she tasted a tollhouse pie at a Lexington restaurant and created her own version at home, increasing the chocolate chips and adding bourbon. Clark said she “figured everything goes better with bourbon.”
It seems the judges agreed, saying it was the perfect combination of bourbon, vanilla, chocolate chips and nuts that made Clark’s pie the winner of the Pillsbury Pet-Ritz pie crust baking championship held at the Kentucky state fair last week.
Since moving to southern Anderson County from Lexington in 1985, Clark has participated in numerous Kentucky state fair cooking competitions.
Clark’s father, a University of Kentucky architecture professor, entertained colleagues while Clark was growing up. Clark learned how to cook from her mother, who helped her father entertain guests.
‘Mother threw wonderful, beautiful dinner parties, and that’s where I learned,” she said.
Clark has won four state fair blue ribbons, but this is the first for a special cooking competition, she said.
With general cooking competitions, the competitor prepares the dish and awaits the judges’ result. In the case of special competitions like the Pillsbury competition (where the only thing Clark was required to do was use the company’s frozen pie crust in her recipe), Clark got to watch the judges as they evaluated her pie-making skills.
Each judge gets one table, and picks two pies to move on to the “semi-finals,” where all four judges taste. Clark estimated that her bourbon tollhouse pie beat out about 35 other entries.
“Yes, it is nerve-wracking, but it’s fun,” Clark said of special cooking competitions like Pillsbury. “You get to see [judge’s] reactions. You never know what the judges are looking for.”
Her bourbon tollhouse pie wasn’t the only winner for Clark at this year’s state fair.
She won another blue ribbon for an oatmeal cookie in the general competition, and a fourth place ribbon for an amaretto cheesecake.
Clark said she was excited for a fourth cooking competition entry — a herb-rubbed pork tenderloin with an orange and bourbon glaze for the Evan Williams bourbon cooking competition.
She and her husband Daniel, however, hit bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-64 due to an accident, and Clark missed the competition.
“By that time, it was too late,” she said, adding it took 20 minutes to drive 2 miles.
The Clarks finally made it back to Lawrenceburg.
The pork tenderloin went to some friends. Clark and her husband went to La Isla Mexican restaurant.
At least she knows what entry she’ll use for the Evan Williams competition next year, Clark said with a laugh.
Clark said she likes to use a different pie recipe to enter at the state fair each year, although she’ll wait to give out the recipe until after the competition.
Her friends — specifically a group at Beaver Lake that meets every Wednesday for a potluck dinner and drinks — become “guinea pigs” for state fair entry ideas beginning in the early summer, Clark said.
They’ll be rewarded soon, however; Clark plans on making the prize-winning bourbon tollhouse pie for a future Beaver Lake get-together.
Lisa Gunther Clark’s
Bourbon Tollhouse Pie
“It’s like an ooey gooey chocolate chip cookie in a pie crust,” Clark said.
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons bourbon (100 proof)
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups chopped walnuts
1 Pet Ritz frozen pie crust
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Beat eggs together. Stir in sugar and flour until well blended. Stir in melted butter, vanilla and bourbon. Add chocolate chips and nuts. Pour into unbaked Pet Ritz pie crust. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes.