It’s official: piecaken is Thanksgiving’s reigning dessert.
On a recent segment of LIVE with Kelly and Michael, the chipper morning duo implied the piecaken is a new dessert discovery. In reality, though, this quirky Thanksgiving dessert dates as far back as 2010. And sure enough, search the hashtag #piecaken on social media and you’ll find photos of cakes sliced in half to reveal jammy red strawberry or golden apple pie fillings.
So, what is a pikecaken? Is it a cake? Is it a pie? Or is it both?
Simply put, piecaken is dessert’s answer to the turducken. And like its main course counterpart, similar factors help ensure that piecaken goes viral year after year. Like the turducken, the piecaken involves stuffing one thing (pie) into another thing (cake). Also like the turducken, the piecaken is fascinatingly excessive; you can have your cake—and your pie—and eat it, too. Finally, both dishes seem custom-made for Instagram‘s droves of #foodporn, which only seem to multiply during the holidays.
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Chef Shaquay Peacock, a former contestant on Chopped, explained the piecaken on her blog like this:
“Every now and then I browse the Internet searching for new and unique recipes. I was in a mode where all I could think of is baking pies. While searching for new pie ideas I came across something that I never heard or seen before. Piecaken—a genius idea and kudos to whomever thought of it. Piecaken is when a pie is baked within a cake. The outside it looks like a typical cake but when you slice a piece you get pie within it.”
Piecaken looks like a cake from the outside, but cutting a slice of it reveals the pie that was baked inside. As for the types of pie or cake best suited for a piecaken, the options are limitless. Chef Shaquay, for example, made a pumpkin pie baked into a spice cake, complete with a maple butter cream frosting. On LIVE with Kelly and Michael this week, Kelly Ripa feigned delight over a flyer advertising a $49 piecaken creation consisting of pecan pie and pumpkin pie in an apple upside-down cake layered together with a cinnamon buttercream. “It’s worth every penny,” Ripa deadpanned, before chewing on the flyer.
The mastermind behind the Kelly and Michael piecaken is Zac Young, the executive pastry chef at David Burke fabrick in New York City. In an interview with the Daily Dot over e-mail, Young explained how he brought the dessert to David Burke fabrick with the original idea to serve piecaken by the slice as a Thanksgiving special. Last week, Young posted a photo of his piecaken creation on David Burke fabrick’s Instagram account and the rest is viral dessert history.
Alas, as many dessert die-hards have pointed out on Twitter and Instagram following the airing of LIVE with Kelly and Michael, the piecaken is hardly a new dessert. In fact, it might even have a different name: the “cherpumple.”
Many credit Charles Phoenix, a coffee table book author and guest judge on Cake Wars: Christmas, as the original creator of the Franken-dessert. Phoenix credits himself with developing a recipe for the cherpumple (also called “the monster cake”), a three layer cake stuffed with cherry, apple, and pumpkin pie.
Phoenix explained the unlikely origin story for his Franken-dessert to the Daily Dot in an interview. He came up with the cherpumple in 2007, he said, so his family would waste fewer paper plates each Thanksgiving. Every year, Phoenix’s family served three pies—cherry, pumpkin and apple—as well as a spice cake that is a heirloom recipe. The end result? Piles and piles of paper plates.
He recalled walking into the kitchen one morning and seeing all the disposable plates stacked up in the trash can. “‘You guys, we need to save on paper plates! We’re not a green family,'” Phoenix recounted telling family members. His solution? Bake all the pies at once and add an extra layer of white cake.
“It kind of married our family heirloom cake with the pies,” said Phoenix. The so-called “King of Retro” posted a video of himself making the monster-pie cake on his website, which features several seasonally-appropriate cherpumple recipes, and in 2010, his creation graced the front page of The Wall Street Journal.
Phoenix has never tried a slice of piecaken from David Burke’s fabrick, or any of the other piecaken recipes that have cropped up on the Internet, including a blog devoted to piecaken recipes. Still, he is happy to spread the sweet, gooey love: His advice to piecaken and cherpumple bakers is to try making the Franken-creations at home initially, and not to be disappointed if your creations don’t turn out Instagram-worthy at first. One pro-tip: Bake the pies first.
“Your cherpumple could fall, fail or hemorrhage,” he warned. “Cherpumple slices don’t have to be perfect like your grandmother’s pie.”
Phoenix said that he doesn’t claim to be the first person to bake a pie in a cake, but he is likely the first person to have become Internet-famous for doing so back in 2007. So what does he think of social media’s ability to make desserts “viral”?
“We all know, there’s no explaining the way the Internet has changed the world,” Phoenix said. “You can just create your own network and things take off. The cherpumple became something. It became well, kind of legendary.”
Amrita Khalid is a technology and politics reporter who specializes in breaking down complex issues into practical, useful terms. A former contributor to CQ, a Congressional news and analysis site, she's currently a master's candidate in international relations at the University of Leeds.