Manatee restaurateur eyes World Food Championships next

vmannix@bradenton.comJune 20, 2013 

ANNA MARIA -- What has chocolate chips, honey roasted peanuts and Ritz crackers over peanut butter, whipped cream and cream cheese?

Andrea Spring's killer peanut butter cracker pie is what.

Her tasty creation won "Best in Show" for the professional division at the recent Annual American Pie Council/Crisco National Pie Championships in Orlando.

It was the third time in seven years the Anna Maria restaurateur has won the prestigious honor -- a first in the competition's professional division -- as well as the $5,000 check that goes with it.

"Twice just wasn't enough for me," said Spring, who owns Sign of the Mermaid with husband, Ed. "I wanted to win a third time and that I did is an incredible feeling. Wow!"

She also qualified for November's World Food Championships in Las Vegas.

There were 747 entrants in the national pie competition that determines North America's best professional, commercial and amateur bakers of all ages, skill levels and training.

"There were a lot of people entered this year," Spring said. "A lot of people with talent."

Yet they all know about her.

"Andrea is the one to beat," said Linda Hoskins, American Pie Council executive director in Lake Forest, Ill.

"Maybe you're lucky to win once, but to do it two, three times? That's really good.

"The winner combines a certain amount of traditional baking with innovative ideas, twists in flavors and appearance just enough to catch the judge's attention."

Spring's coconut cashew apricot pie won the innovation category, one of seven pies she entered overall.

"This one was a harder to put together and I thought it was better, more elegant than the other pie that won," she said. "All the judges must've been men, because men just love peanut butter pie."

That baked meringue crust might've had a little something to do with it, too. It's where the chocolate chips, honey roasted peanuts and Ritz crackers went.

"It's different -- dense, chewy and crunchy," Spring said.

Then there's the yummy filling -- peanut butter, whipped cream and cream cheese.

"Calories? I don't even bother trying to figure that out," she joked. "I'd need a calculator."

Spring found the original recipe in an old Georgia cookbook.

"The pie was a baked meringue with ground peanuts and saltines garnished simply with whipped cream," she said. "I thought it was the coolest idea and I could do something more with it."

Spring has done it before.

Her previous professional division winners were:

• Chocolate walnut raisin pie for 2010's best in show.

• Hula hula pineapple cream pie in 2010's innovation category.

• Gold Coast Key lime pie for 2007's best in show.

• Chocolate espresso explosion pie in 2007's innovation category.

How many pies has Spring entered?

"More than I can count," she joked.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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