Fort Worth

Youth show’s grand champion pie baker shares her secrets for a perfect crust

McKinley Brandt, 14, of North Richland Hills baked the Grand Champion apple pie at the Tarrant County Junior Livestock Show on Friday.
McKinley Brandt, 14, of North Richland Hills baked the Grand Champion apple pie at the Tarrant County Junior Livestock Show on Friday. Star-Telegram

Don’t try to tell McKinley Brandt, 14, that a purchased pie crust is just as good as scratch.

“Obviously, [a scratch crust] tastes better,” she said as she held her grand-prize-winning pecan-topped apple pie for a photo Friday at the Tarrant County Junior Livestock Show’s Youth Fair baking competition.

The 65-year-old show for 4-H and FFA students ages 8 to 19 drew 536 competitors exhibiting 1,179 livestock and youth fair entries this year.

McKinley and her family live in North Richland Hills. She won once before with the same recipe, and she has also entered banana muffins and an all-pecan pie in the 4-H competition.

“It’s just more fun to make the crust yourself rather than buying it at a store,” said the Smithfield Middle School student, who has been baking for four years.

“A lot of people say the crust is the hard part, but if you learn the right way, it’s not hard,” McKinley said. “The secret is a little bit of salt in the pie crust, and not putting in too much water and making it sticky.”

She admitted that she added too much water Thursday and had to start over and make another crust when her hands got all doughy.

Kelley Butler, youth fair director, is a pastry chef herself, for a Dallas restaurant. She agrees that a good pie crust is the foundation of a great dessert.

“You find a good recipe for one, and you stick with it because it’s flaky,” she said.

Some don’t. One table of shame at the youth fair is at the back of the baked-goods exhibit — the place where disqualified entries are dumped by judges. The usual reason? Underbaked fillings and yes, sticky, doughy centers.

An unbaked center did in an otherwise beautiful poppyseed-topped pretzel bread, and two other cakes with squishy centers; there was also a cake with nothing wrong except a forbidden cream-cheese frosting.

McKinley said she learned how to make the apple-pecan filling from her mother and the crust from her dad’s friends.

Those would be twin brothers Jerry and Terry Bagley of Krum — a destination that has nothing to do with the texture of the crust.

“They taught her how to make the pie crust and a coconut cream pie,” said McKinley’s mom, Carol Brandt. “From then on, she has made all the crusts and never looked back.”

Brandt said her daughter’s can-do attitude has made the difference.

“She’s not afraid, and she doesn’t mind messing up,” Brandt said.

Her own hint, regarding the filling, is to buy organic Granny Smith apples whenever possible.

McKinley’s brother Colton Brandt, 16, is into athletics at Birdville High School. Their father, Scott Brandt, works for Worthington National Bank.

“I think baking is a lost art for kids today,” said Scott Brandt.

Meanwhile, the youth fair crafts ran the gamut of old-school to cutting-edge, combining entries of print aprons decorated with bias tape and ric rac, to Seth Chapman’s first-place steel tongue drum, made from a propane tank. The member of Fort Worth’s Straight Shooters 4-H Club used a tuning app from his smartphone to finish the melodic project.

“It’s keeping crafts alive that our grandmas did,” Butler said as she showed off a folded quilt and the apron group. “You just don’t see as many seamstresses around today as you used to.”

Students in the fair enter plants, baked goods, breeding rabbits, ag science projects made of wood and metal, drawings and paintings, and crocheted items.

Then there was A.J. Greenwood’s Techno Man figure, with a chicken wire exoskeleton and interior “organs” made of a gaming console, electric cords and other bits of technology. A.J., 11, is a member of Kennedale 4-H.

The 50-plus entries in the photography show were all digital compositions, except for three taken with film cameras.

“We’re just trying to keep Western heritage alive,” said Scott Brandt. “It isn’t easy.”

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @shirljinkins

If you go

Tarrant County Junior Livestock Show and Youth Fair

▪ Will Rogers Memorial Center Swine Barn

▪ Youth Fair exhibits open during show hours

▪ Horse Show, Show Arena, 8 a.m.

▪ Parade of Champions, awards, scholarship presentations, Show Arena, noon

▪ Premium Sale, 1 p.m.