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The Science of Pie 2014: Video Highlights

The Science of Pie 2014: Video Highlights

June 1, 2014

At the Science of Pie, the world’s first scientific bakeoff, the students of the Science & Food undergraduate course presented results from their final projects in poster format and their pies for taste testing. These pies had to be cooked in one hour and were the summation of all that the students had learned from their pie experiments in the class. Throughout the quarter, the students were challenged to perform a scientific investigation of apple pie and vary different features of the pie such as shape, butter size, and moisture.

The contest was judged by Lena Kwak (of Cup4Cup) and Dave Arnold (of Booker and Dax, the Museum of Food and Drink, and the Cooking Issues Podcast) who were our featured speakers for the 2014 Public Lecture Harnessing Creativity. They were joined by Nicole Rucker (Pastry Chef, Gjelina Take Away), Jonathan Gold (Food Critic, LA Times), Dr. Paul Barber (Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA), and Dr. Rachelle Crosbie-Watson (Associate Professor of Integrative Biology and Physiology, UCLA).

The judges had wise words for the students.

Lena Kwak described how she judged the pies.

“With each of the projects we saw today, there were a considerable amount of variables not considered, but the saving grace …was when I tasted their pies.”

Nicole Rucker talked about what makes an award wining pie

“Jonathan and I both know that from Judging Pie Contests, … that you can see a good pie from literally across the room.”

Dr. Paul Barber spoke to the balance of science and pie making:

“No matter how much scientific testing you do, there’s still just this underlying art to making a really good pie.”

Check out some our featured pies from the 2014 contest.

Honorable Mention Pie

Alexis Cary & Matthew Copperman (Team On the Road)

Perfectly Unsoggy Apple Pie

Best Scientific Pie

Christina Cheung, Tori Schmitt, and Elliot Cheung (Team Pretty Intense Pie Enthusiasts)

Beer Crust Apple Pie

Best Overall Pie & People’s Choice Pie

Alina Naqvi & Ashley Lipkins-Scott (Team Apple Queens)

Crumbalicious Apple Pie

Check out our written recap here !

See the whole Video!

Food Science Careers & Bad Apples

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Kirsten Schimoler at Ben & Jerry’s talks about food science as a career and scientists figure out how to keep produce healthier.
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5 Things About Apples

Our third and final lecture, Harnessing Creativity (and the Science of Pie), is coming up fast! At the event, students from the Science & Food undergraduate course will be serving up science and apple pies. To get ready, here are 5 fun facts related to apples:

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Liz Roth-JohnsonAbout the author: Liz Roth-Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate in Molecular Biology at UCLA. If she’s not in the lab, you can usually find her experimenting in the kitchen.

Read more by Liz Roth-Johnson


The Science of Pie: 2013 Event Recap

On Sunday we held our third and final 2013 Science and Food public lecture: The Science of Pie. Renowned pastry chef Christina Tosi joined us all the way from New York to explain her process for creating new desserts, and Los Angeles native and super-star baker Zoe Nathan shared her tips for baking the perfect apple pie. Guests indulged in delicious goodies from Zoe Nathan’s Huckleberry Café, Compost Cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar, and espresso brewed by four talented baristas.

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Zoe Nathan and Christina Tosi answer questions from the audience after their lectures.

And, of course, there was pie.

For weeks, students from the UCLA Science and Food course have been studying the apple pie and using scientific inquiry and experimentation to try to create the “ultimate” apple pie experience. Students examined everything from how different apple varieties behave in pie filling to how the size and shape of the pie affects baking. Several students also played with unconventional ingredients, including avocado oil, yogurt, chia seeds, and whiskey.

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Students prepare their apple pies the morning of the event.

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Students share their research projects and apple pies with the public.

The students presented their research projects and pies at Sunday’s event. While the public enjoyed sampling the scientific treats, the pies were scrutinized by an esteemed panel of judges made up of chefs (Christina Tosi and Zoe Nathan), food critics (Evan Kleiman and Jonathan Gold), and scientists (UCLA Professors Andrea Kasko and Sally Krasne). After tasting the pies a talking with the students, the public voted for their favorite pie and the judges settled on three additional stand-outs. The lucky winners all took home wonderful prizes from our friends at Breville.

Best Overall Pie
Alia Welsh (Team Sablé)
Apple pie with shortbread crust and streusel topping.
This solo effort explored the vast parameter space of pie, studying the effect of fat content and temperature on the texture of the shortbread crust, as well as the effect of pH on the browning of the streusel topping. The final winning pie had shortbread made with room temperature standard American butter.

Best Tasting Pie
Stephan Phan, Kevin Yang, Amirari Diego (Team Apples to Apples)
Deconstructed apple pie with pie crust crumbs and spherified apples.
Using the technique of spherification, this team applied their knowledge of diffusion and gelation to prepare “reconstituted” apples. They found that optimizing both the calcium chloride concentration and gelation time was key to making a delicious modernist apple pie.

Judge’s Favorite Pie
Qiaoyi Wu, Qinqin Chen, Michelle Cheng (Team Aπ3)
Pie crust made with different liquids, including vodka, beer, and sparkling water.
Seeking to perfect pie crust texture, team Aπ3 experimented with different liquids that may impede the formation of gluten protein networks. Gluten gives structure and stability to pie dough, but can also make pie dough dense and tough when over-developed. The team examined the porousness, density, and browning of pie crusts prepared with three different liquids compared to water and concluded that vodka creates the flakiest pie crust.

People’s Choice Award
Elan Kramer, Caleb Turner (Team “Insert Team Name Here”)
Frozen apple pie with peanut butter mousse.
This student duo thought outside the box with this creative apple and peanut butter pie. To create the ultimate peanut butter experience, the team experimented with the effect of egg white content on the texture and density of the peanut butter mousse.

The Science of Pie was the perfect end to a fantastic lecture series. We are so grateful to our amazing lecturers and all the people and sponsors who made the lectures possible. And although the 2014 lectures might seem impossibly far away, don’t worry—the Science & Food blog is not going anywhere! Keep an eye on out for more exciting food science posts, profiles, recipes, and maybe even a few videos through the rest of the year.


Liz Roth-JohnsonAbout the author: Liz Roth-Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate in Molecular Biology at UCLA. If she’s not in the lab, you can usually find her experimenting in the kitchen.

Read more by Liz Roth-Johnson