By comparison, the Hatfields v. the McCoys was child’s play. Democrats v. Republicans? A mere disagreement.
The divide that I explored this week is one that is so fundamental to our identities that it threatens to shake the foundations of the universe itself.
I’m talking, of course, about cake v. pie.
Don’t laugh. Dessert can spark a revolution. After all, didn’t Marie Antoinette antagonize the peasants of France into revolting by uttering the phrase, “Let them eat cake?” How might history have been different if she had offered them a nice slice of apple pie a la mode? (OK, so I know that Marie never really said this, but go along with it). More recently, bakers have been sued for refusing to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples. Would it be OK if we asked for pie?
I decided to wade into these treacherous waters this week when I posed a question to my Facebook friends. My query went something like this: Imagine you are attending an elaborate celebration. It is time for dessert, and you are offered a choice of cake or pie. Which do you choose and why?
I quivered as I typed those words. Who knew what sort of can of worms I was opening up? We all know what happened to Marie Antoinette. Might a similar fate lay in store for me?
Overall, my friends proved to be quite civilized, though animated in their discussions. While some expressed a love of both cake and pie, most were clear in their preferences.
So, what else did I learn? Let me break it down into categories.
No. 1: Texture
There was a clear divide over love or disdain for a dessert’s texture. Pie lovers praised the varying textures of pie over cake. They sang hymns to the delicate marriage between a flaky crust and its sweet filling. Most argued that their preference was a fruit or nut filling, probably because it offered the greatest contrast with the crust. Some pie lovers went farther. One colleague argued, unlike pie, “all cakes taste the same.” Another said, “Cake is just bread, and the frosting merely butter.” Ouch.
Cake lovers were no less passionate about their disdain for texture in their dessert. One former student argued that she hated pie crust, and that alone was enough for her to swear off pie. Others waxed poetically about the soft crumb of cake, arguing that pie was merely a war of texture between crust and filling.
No. 2: Occasion
Pie and cake lovers also differed on which dessert made an occasion more special. Some cake lovers said that they really only ate pie around the holidays. For them, “pie” consisted only of pumpkin and maybe apple. They argued that, because of this, cake was more special. It represented birthdays and anniversaries and just about every celebration in between.
One cake lover went so far as to describe a specific layer cake with that stripe of icing down the center. We bonded — if that’s possible over Facebook — when I revealed that, when I was a child, I couldn’t figure out how they got that strip of icing in there. It was magic, and thus, for me, so was cake.
Pie lovers, on the other hand, said that pie was the special dessert precisely because they associated it with the holidays. A couple of my friends even went so far as to say that, to them, pie meant love while cake equated to “meh.”
No. 3: Frosting
After texture, I’d say “frosting” proved to be the second thing that most divided pie lovers from cake folks. Not surprisingly, cake folks love frosting. No, really. They love, love, love frosting. One even said that all she needed was a big tub of ganache to be happy. Another was more measured saying that while she loved frosting, she didn’t want it to overwhelm the cake.
Pie lovers had no opinion on frosting. As I pointed out to a few, pie doesn’t come with frosting unless you count whipped cream.
No. 4: Rationalization
It wouldn’t be America without at least a few rationalizations. Overall, pie lovers were better at their rationalizations than the cake crowd. My favorite was the belief that, because pie contained fruit that it must be healthy. One of my friends even went so far as to describe it as “breakfast food.” I had to concur. After all, is there really any difference between toast and jam and a big slice of apple pie? Throw in a dollop of whipped cream, and you’ve got three major food groups right there.
Cake lovers, to their credit, were far more honest. Cake was meant for dessert and nothing more.
Conclusions: I received almost 80 votes (and far more comments) in my quest to determine which was better, cake or pie. Not surprisingly (to me, anyway), pie came out on top: 46 to 31 with two votes for cheesecake (which I had to discard after agreeing that cheesecake was actually a pie pretending to be a cake).
But whether you preach pie or crave cake, I think we can all agree on one thing: Both are better than no dessert at all.
I am going to be honest. Strawberry-rhubarb pie is not my favorite. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good, and this recipe from the website Beyond the Butter is very good. However, when push comes to shove, I prefer cherry or apple pie. In the winter months, I like chocolate or lemon meringue.
However, given that it’s now spring I wanted to take advantage of that fact and make something seasonal. OK, so strawberries aren’t really seasonal yet. But we’re close.
What I really like about this pie is how easy it is to throw together. Seriously, the hardest part of making the filling is to chop the rhubarb and the strawberries. After that, it’s a snap.
For the crust:
- 2 ½ cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ cup vegetable shortening
- 10 tablespoons butter, cold and cut into small cubes
- 6 to 10 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
- 3 cups rhubarb, trimmed and cut into small pieces
- 3 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced into small pieces
- ½ cup brown sugar, lightly packed
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 egg white (for brushing over the top crust)
To make the crust:
- Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender followed by the butter. You are done when most of the fat is mixed into the flour with several pea-sized chunks remaining. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Stir with a fork or with your hands. Keep adding water until the dough starts to come together. You will know you are there when the dough can be squeezed into a ball with your hands.
- Divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- When you are ready to bake, roll out one half of the dough until about 1/8-inch thickness. Use it to line a 9-inch pie plate. Trim the edges to within roughly half-an-inch. Refrigerate while you preparer the rest of the pie.
To make the filling:
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
- Combine the rhubarb, strawberries, both sugars, cornstarch, vanilla extract, lemon juice and the 3 tablespoons of butter in a large bowl until well combined.
- Retrieve your crust-lined pie plate from the refrigerator. Pour in the filling.
- Roll out the second crust, and use it to top the pie. Trim the edges and then crimp decoratively.
- Place the pie on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for another 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow pie to cool before serving.
White cake with vanilla buttercream
Most celebrations that I remember from my childhood came with a white cake. There was something elegant about a white cake. It just seemed fancy.
This cake is no exception. The recipe comes from the website Baked By An Introvert. It is a relatively straightforward recipe with no special ingredients (except for possibly the cake flour) or instructions that are hard to follow. In fact, the part that I found most difficult to swallow was the need for four — yes, FOUR — sticks of butter in the frosting. Still, it’s worth it. You end up with an elegant cake with a nice crumb and wickedly sweet frosting.
For the cake:
- 1 cup butter, room temperature
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 6 egg whites, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups cake flour
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup buttermilk
For the frosting:
- 2 cups butter (4 sticks), room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup cream
To make the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper. Lightly grease the parchment paper; set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg whites, one at a time, mixing on low speed for 20 seconds after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in another bowl. Stir with a whisk to combine.
- Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until almost fully combined. Add the buttermilk followed by the remaining flour and mix on low speed until just combined.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Take care to not over-bake.
- Cool for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack before assembling the cake.
To make the frosting:
- Beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy and pale in color, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. After each addition, beat on low speed just until the sugar has fully moistened, then turn the speed up to medium-high and beat until well incorporated, about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the vanilla and salt.
- Turn the mixer on low speed and slowly add the cream 1 tablespoon at a time. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat until the cream is well incorporated, about 3-5 minutes. (After 2 minutes stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl then continue mixing.)
To assemble the cake:
- Place one layer on your cake plate. Top with some of the frosting. Repeat with the second and third layers. Use the remaining frosting to cover the sides of the cake evenly. Decorate with colorful sprinkles if you wish.
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