A Pie Inside a Cake Inside a Dream: A Quest for Piecakens in Dallas
Knife's Thanksgiving-themed piecaken features a pumpkin pie surrounded by cranberry gel, brown butter sponge cake and cranberry buttercream.
Piecaken exploded onto the Internet this holiday season, and since then, I've been trying to get someone in Dallas to make one. My attempts at pressuring restaurateurs into creating one of these dessert bastards were met with many "We're super busy already"s and "That would take so much time — we just can't make it happen right now"s. Which I totally understood.
When you're talking about baking two pies and then putting each pie inside a cake pan with cake batter in it and baking the whole thing again, you're talking about a bigass, time-suck cake-nstein. And before you even get to baking, you've gotta figure out what ingredients you're shoving into your piecaken: Will you go the traditional route of pumpkin pie and cranberry, to pull on those holiday heart strings? Or will you, instead, choose to blaze a whole new trail of piecaken-ing that creates a piecaken awakening, making you the piecaken-ing piecakawakening-er?
The piecaken as we currently know it is actually a letdown of a name: The dessert is traditionally a layer cake with pies inside it, and as far as I could see on the Internet, it is sorely lacking any form of "-en." It's playing off of the "turducken" naming strategy, which is great, but if you're going to do that, you've gotta have something for the "-en." When I finally found two Dallas takers for this challenge, I begged them to find the "-en" or "-in" or "-on" that this dessert so desperately needs. Spoiler alert: They delivered.
Behold: the Piecakens of Dallas.
The Traditional Thanksgiving Piecaken
Eric Cobb, the pastry chef at Knife, was coerced by John Tesar to take on the challenge. As Cobb puts it, "Tesar saw your post on Facebook asking if there was anyone willing to take on the piecaken challenge. He popped his head into the kitchen and asked me, 'Hey, can you make a piecaken?' I said, 'A what?' He said, 'Imagine a pie in a cake.' I said, 'Oh. I'm not sure that's even possible. But, yeah. We can figure it out.'"
Cobb did two rounds of piecaken-ing. The second, he says, is "much more dialed-in." For the first round, his pies were good, but he put them inside the cake pan without trimming any of the crust. Apparently, this led to "too much crust." And as he watched the piecake bake, he kept waiting and waiting for the middle of the cake to bake, but it just wouldn't. He bakes for an hour and a half, and then removes the top middle portion of the cake layer in order to not overcook the rest of the glorious monstrosity. And the cranberry jam is now a cranberry gel, "so it doesn't drag through all the layers anymore."
The Thanksgiving Piecaken that Cobb served up is a beautiful beast of a dessert — layers of brown butter sponge cake with pumpkin pie. In between each layer you've got cranberry gel, and the icing and filling are cranberry buttercream. "So, where's the -en?" I asked, forking another forkful of awesome into my face. "It's in the fillin'! That's the -in of our piecaken," Cobb replied. High fives and chest bumps to the Knife crew for their piecakin. It was a beaut.
Chef John Tesar, left, with pastry chef Eric Cobb, shows off Knife's piecaken offerings. To order this $85 treat, you'll have to message Tesar on Facebook.
The Non-Traditional Piecaken
Next up in the piecakening is Joe Baker, a pastry chef whose pastries, cakes and other desserts can be purchased at Coppell Farmers Market, Royal Blue Grocer and online. I met Baker at his home, where his piecaken was on display on the dining room table. The light in there was nice, but when Kathy Tran (the Dallas Observer's photographer for this piece) saw the grand piano in the adjoining room, she asked, "Hey, can we put the piecaken on the grand piano?"
My eyeballs gasped.
There was an immediate disturbance in the There-Are-Things-That-Are-Right-And-There-Are-Things-That-Are-Wrong Force. I knew it was an abomination to see a piecaken slowly make its way to the top of a baby grand, but I couldn't stop it from happening. And as Tran took photo after photo of that piecaken on top of the piano, I knew we were crossing a line here. But, also, when you think about it, it's exactly the kind of thing you expect a piecaken to do, right? A piecaken doesn't just come over to your house — it drinks all your whiskey, eats all your fancy cheeses and charcuterie and then pukes in the bathroom sink before it leaves. It's piecaken.
Baker's piecaken is a take on the Elvis sandwich. It's a peanut butter pie and a banana cream pie inside a bacon cake, with peanut butter buttercream for the icing and filling. The bits of bacon on the top are both real and fake bacon bits, because why not? Baker says he had a million different ideas when he started creating this piecaken, and he doesn't think it's a dessert that should be relegated to traditional holiday flavors. He spoke of a Fourth of July piecaken that I already want in my face. "Blueberry pie, cherry pie and funfetti cake with a sparkler on top," he said. If that's not America, I'm not sure what is, you guys.
Pastry chef Joe Baker's piecaken is a take on the Elvis sandwich, with a peanut butter pie and banana cream pie inside a bacon (yes, bacon) cake with peanut butter buttercream icing and filling. Bits of bacon both real and not real adorn the exterior. Baker's Elvis piecaken will be available at Royal Blue Grocery.
If you're done reading about piecakens and you'd like to actually eat one yourself, I'm happy to report that both of these piecakens are available for purchase.
Cobb's Thanksgiving piecaken will be available at Knife through special order — it's special because you have to message John Tesar on Facebook in order to get it. That's like, double-plus-secret-off-menu. And it's going to set you back $85. But they'll let you customize it if you want, with different flavors.
Baker's Elvis Piecaken (or piecakon, really, because BACON) will be available for $50 at Royal Blue Grocery this week and is available for special order on his website.
Go forth and piecaken, Dallas. PIECAKEN FOR PREZ!!
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