HOWARD MEGDAL: If the game is Cake vs. Pie, the contest is over before either of them reach the oven. Pie in a landslide.
Pie is versatile, pie is delicious. Pie allows you to combine bites of pure crust goodness with crust/filling, or even just a sugar shot of filling alone.
Pies allow for many more flavors. Ultimately, what is cake- chocolate or vanilla? The efforts to move beyond it- carrot, lemon- are evidence of cake simply straining to meet pie, and falling woefully short.
Consider the beauty of a pecan pie layered over the interior. Think of a latticed cherry pie cooling, and I defy you to pick cake over it. Consider that cartoon character steal only pies cooling on a kitchen window ledge, not cakes. And for good reason!
America is best represented by apple pie. Apple cake is served at a shiva. I know where I’d rather be.
JILLIAN LOVEJOY LOWERY: When to comes to cake vs. pie, there’s only one answer: cupcakes. There is no dessert more perfect.
Pie is messy. The filling is too gooey and the crust is too, well, crusty. Cake, on the other hand, is often unwieldy. It’s really hard to cut a reasonable-to-small-sized piece of cake. You always get a giant hunk of it.
Cupcakes, on the other hand, are neat and portable. They are also adorable. They’re the kittens of the dessert world. Delicious, delicious kittens.
Cupcakes are also relatively easy to make. I have no idea how to make a damn pie, and I don’t feel like learning. Similarly, I don’t want to take the time to teach myself to ice an entire cake so that it looks nice, and not like a first-grader’s edible finger painting project. Cupcakes bake quickly and are easy to ice.
Also, because of their size, you can eat a cupcake and not instantly fret that you’re gonna get fat. Cupcakes allow you to lie to yourself about actual calories consumed, a game that I like very much.
Another nice feature about cupcakes is that they’re easy to share. No utensils needed. Just pass ‘em around. Cupcakes build community. What kind of asshole doesn’t like that?
STEVE MURPHY: First of all, Mr. Megdal, judging cake by apple cake is like judging actors by Heather Graham. Let’s not get crazy.
I agree, pie is delicious. Incredibly delicious. But it’s flawed. Put a piece of fruit pie on a plate… and it falls apart. Apples or cherries slide all over the plate. Jab your fork through the crust on the side… and it crumbles into a million (delicious) pieces.
Cake doesn’t fall apart when you slide your fork through it. No, cake sticks together. Cake makes sure that you get every last piece you’re aiming for into your mouth at once. Cake doesn’t need to be wrapped in graham crackers to stay together. Cake is unified. Cake is strong.
And more importantly, cake is covered with icing. Icing, the topping of the gods, the sweet, delicious glue that holds cake to cake to cake in as many layers as you can stack. Icing, the heavenly topping that takes a deliciously dark piece of chocolate cake and elevates it from perfect to astounding. Icing, the part of the cake that people fight to get more of, that people scrape their plates for to ensure they’ve missed nothing.
Pies? No icing. Not even a little icing. I can hear you pie people complaining, “But we use ice cream! We use whipped cream!” Bah, I say. Bah. Ice cream and whipped cream are the Hanukkah to icing’s Christmas (sorry Jews but you know it’s true), a sad replacement for the delight that is a mouthful of chocolate ganache or buttercream. That pie even requires outside help to be delicious is another sign of cake’s superiority. “Oh, this pumpkin pie is so delicious when I pile six inches of whipped cream on top of it.”
As a side-note… isn’t cheesecake really more of a pie? I suppose “cheesepie” didn’t sound as appetizing. Or maybe it was so delicious people just assumed it was a cake. Yeah, that’s probably it.
TED BERG: I really don’t see why this is even a debate. Cake is far superior to pie.
What is pie? Pie is a bunch of weird goo held haphazardly together by a dry, flaky, tasteless crust. We eat pie on holidays like Thanksgiving, that otherwise overwhelm our palate. You couldn’t eat cake after Thanksgiving dinner, it would be too much delicious awesomeness. You just settle for a slice of pie, like sorbet or something, to provide a little bit of sweetness to temper all the salt you just poured on the turkey and potatoes and corn.
Look: I’m not saying I wouldn’t eat pie if I was given to me. It is dessert, after all. But compared to cake?
Cake, at its best, is spongy and moist. It features, almost by design, a rich blend of amazing flavors: the cake part of the cake, and the frosting part of the cake. Both parts are excellent. It’s not like sweet goo in boring crust, like pie. It’s synergy, that’s all.
Don’t tell me I’ve never had good pie. I’ve had plenty of pie that friends have assured me would be the best pie I ever ate. And in one case, that was certainly true, but it still wasn’t better than a decent piece of cake. Pie is like the emperor’s new clothes; people know they’re supposed to like it so they rave about how good it is.
But it’s just not that good.
Cake is that good. Plus it comes in portable cupcake form. What is pie’s answer to the cupcake? The tart? Please, that’s just fruit on an edible plate. The Hostess Fruit Pie? That’s actually better than most pie.
A good friend and a brilliant man once said to me: “I’m going to die someday, and when I’m on my death bed, I’m going to say, ‘I should have had more cake.’”
I live by those words. I will not go down wishing I had eaten more cake. I will die knowing I ate precisely the right amount of cake: a fucking ton of it.
ZOË RICE: You wanna know what’s overrated? Icing. When did dessert artists decide to ruin a lovely piece of spongy, flavored cake with the sickeningly cloying, overly sugared paste that goes between and around it? No, the way to most tastily consume sugar is in delicious, smooth and meltingly soft pie filling. Pie filling makes angels weep. Apple, blueberry, cherry, key lime, pumpkin, sweet potato, banana cream, Boston cream, rhubarb. Oh, it’s so creamy or warm or autumny or puddingy or anything else you could possibly be wanting at any moment. When Tony Soprano fell in love with a race horse, he didn’t name it Cake O’ My. It was Pie O’ My. And oh yes, Pie, be mine.
But let’s not leave out crust. Crust is awesome. Graham cracker crust moistly cushions the custardy texture of key lime. Buttery, flaky, cinnamon-topped crust cradles a warm, caramelized forkful of apple or blueberry. Lattice crust can be sugar-speckled, pumpkin pie crust tinged with nutmeg. I fully believe if people do not like crust, then they haven’t yet had the right crust. It can be light or heavy, sweet or savory. But nowhere is the teeth-coating saturation of buttercream, or the mere fluffiness of icing.
When Agent Cooper got sent to Twin Peaks, the cherry pie is what enchanted him. When grandmothers bake, we rave about their pies. And have you ever heard, “It’s as American as apple cake”? Pie has risen to the forefront of our culture for a very good reason. It’s friggin’ delicious. And unbeatable.
MOLLY SCHOEMANN: I bristle when someone says that I don’t appreciate pie just because I haven’t had a good pie. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m being told by a sleazy co-worker to ‘relax’, because that’s why I’m not enjoying the unwanted backrub he’s giving me. Don’t sneeze on my arm and tell me it’s raining. I know what good pie is, and I know what good cake is, and I know that good cake is better than good pie any damn day.
Look, I’m not going to say that I dislike pie. I enjoy pie! Pie is adequately delicious. I appreciate the fact that pie can be eaten when still warm from the oven, whereas cake generally needs to cool before it can be frosted and consumed. A piping hot piece of pie with a scoop of ice cream on the side is delightful, and if you put it in front of me, I will eat it. But if you put a piece of pie and a piece of cake in front of me, I will put the plate of cake on top of the plate of pie to get it ergonomically closer to my mouth while I eat it, and then wander off in search of more cake. Why? Because cake is a treat. You never know when you’re going to have cake, and you never know when your next cake might be around the corner! Cake is a celebration food, while pie is a signal that the meal is almost over, because hey, suddenly you’re eating pie, and don’t you wish it were cake?
I will reluctantly acknowledge that there is perhaps an unfair stigma attached to sub-par cake, as I think it is encountered much more often than lousy pie. This is because too many of us have been subjected to tasteless, uninspired store-bought cakes at gatherings. Office birthday parties, bake sales, baby showers—there are far too many types of events where people no longer take the time to bake a true Cake, and instead pick one up at the Food Lion on their way. With their garish colors, overly-sweet icing and chemical taste, these cakes are not worthy of the name; they should be called something else. Kakes, perhaps, or Fakes. Because store-bought pies are even more terrible than store-bought cakes, the pies you encounter are more likely to be to be homemade—or at least, bakery-made, which means that their quality of ingredients will be higher, and you can taste the love baked into their sufficient crusts.
But oh! Should you be lucky enough to stumble across a real, home-baked cake that has been made from scratch, made with love, and iced with passion, mark my words, you will join me on team cake. Trust me, it’s delicious here.
AKIE BERMISS: I’m of two minds when it comes to baked desserts. I love cakes. I love pies. I eat them both in equal measure and draw unique pleasures from each grouping. So I prefer to shirk the debate altogether. Why must it be “Pie or Cake”? I say nay. Let us be merry. Let it be: Pie and Cake. In healthy, heaping portions. I see no reason to be particular in this respect. But there is one dessert that I must impugn with fiery indignation. It is a scourge of tiny over-sweet be-frosting-ed mealiness. It is the malefactor’s attempt at miniature mayhem. It is the herald of all things saccharine, the patron saint-food of all empty gestures, the paragon of mediocrity and malfeasance.
I am speaking, of course, of the cupcake.
You might think, from my melodramatic prose (and clumsy alliteration), that I am jesting. But I assure you — this is no laughing matter. I HATE me some cupcakes. I would just as soon not eat than consume the little monstrosities. You see, for me, the cupcake is the deification of everything that is not-so-great about dessert, boiled down to its most lugubrious and concentrate form and stuffed into innocuous looking little paper-liners so as to be easily shoved down our throats.
Dessert is meant to be a delicate battle against the constraints of tastefulness. A good meal, as we might all agree, is usually made up of several co-mingling flavors and textures. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, gamey — and so forth. When dessert rolls around we are setting up the rule-breaker that proves the rule’s rightness. We indulge in our irrational desire to eat something terrifically sweet in the knowledge that it IS far too sweet and that we’ll only be able to have a tiny bit. Just a little taste of uber-sweetness to cap off a delicious meal. Why — have a slice of cake or (and!) pie, why don’t you? Perhaps a scoop of ice cream or pudding? A little something to amuse the palette and contrast the sultry richness of our meal.
A second slice? Well — let’s not get crazy, my friends. How much cake can you really eat before you get sick? Two slices, perhaps. Maybe three. With pie — maybe more, maybe less (depending on your constitution). So what gives with friggin’ cupcakes? I’ve been to parties where people just shovel them down their throats like Flintstones vitamins! Two cupcakes? I think not! Try four or five. Maybe six! They’re so easy to eat — just pick them up with you hands and put them in your face. The rest is vapid too-cute NC-17 level sweetness. Fluffy, meaningless abstract artsiness. It is the puffed-up fluffball of comestibles.
The cupcake! Even the name is cutesy and misleading. Oh its just like a real cake, but in a tiny, finger-sized cup. How novel! How delicious! How cute and cuddly-wuddly and wonderful! And there’s icing. Icing! Elaborately used to connect different textured layers of confectionery bread? Nope! Just slathered on top like too much hair-product on a Molly Ringwald wanna-be pretending she is pretty in pink. What’s the point? Why not just put sugar and butter on crust-less white Wonderbread slices and eat that?! That what cupcakes really are, after all. They’ve no substance, no meaning, no raison d’etre. They simply exist to mimic (insultingly) the beautiful holism of a finely-made cake.
What’s left then? That cupcakes are miniature delights and can be eaten on-the-go? Well I am not moved. I’ll take a good cake that has to be enjoyed while stationary over some puffy excuse for a confection that wears a sloppy sugar hat. Why settle for a hamburger, when you’ve got steak at home? Ok — that’s a bad example, because I LOVE hamburgers. But it still underscores my point. I don’t need to rock a cheap imitation just because its smaller or easier. The real thing is still better. For all the cost, its rewards are infinitely more rewarding. I’ll stick to cake and pie, my friends. And the cupcakes I’ll use for smashing with my fists to emphasize my point during political or philosophical discourses.
And, besides, if I wanted just a bit of tasty pastry to munch on while on the move — I’d get a doughnut.
CHRIS PUMMER: The right answer to this question is cheesecake.
Cheesecake is really a pie that calls itself a cake. But no matter the nomenclature, it is far superior to any of its dessert cousins.
A good cheesecake is rich, like the best cream pies. It’s not airy like cake, but has a lightness to it that is more substantial and satisfying. It can be accompanied by chocolate or fruit, but can never be surpassed by any culinary companion is might share a plate with.
But most importantly, it can never belong grouped with either cakes or pies. That’s because it occupies a spot much higher spot on the food ladder, and a much deeper place in the hearts of dessert lovers.
EMILY SAIDEL: The question of dessert is clearly a contentious one. And while I find both cake and pie equally delicious, with appropriateness dependent on seasonality, occasion, and preference of the audience, I believe both are trumped by the mastery that is ice cream.
Please don’t misunderstand, an individual pumpkin pie may have a higher deliciousness than some generic supermarket brand vanilla ice cream. But as a category, ice cream is supreme because it is a dessert with a wide range of variety, a great range of serving size options, and the unique ability–shared only with whipped cream–to enhance other desserts. That pumpkin pie is good. But isn’t it better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top? And ice cream cake is always a surprising and fun ode to childhood.
I include in this category other frozen ice cream like desserts such as frozen yogurt, soy ice cream, gelato, and at the far end of the category, the non-dairy (or dairy-imitation) based sorbet. What makes pie great? The flaky crumble of the crust? The luscious flavor of the filling? Both can be incorporated into a new pie-based ice cream flavor. The same goes for cake. Ben and Jerry’s, for example, offers Cake Batter flavored ice cream. This dessert’s vast capacity for distinct and personalized flavors is one of its prominent features. Cinnamon, green tea, lavender? All possible and all delicious.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite meals of the year. I truly love turkey, sweet potatoes, green beans, and stuffing. After such a savory meal, I usually want a time to rest and then something sweet to finish. But sweet does not have to be heavy and filling, qualities that both pie and cake share, with their flour-based batter (flour-less chocolate cake does not escape these qualities) and carb heavy crust. But ice cream can be light and creamy, sweet without bursting, and it is ever adjustable in terms of scoop size.
Some might object that ice cream is particularly a summer treat, good on a hot afternoon. To that I say, try it on some winter day, preferably soon, when you’re warm and happy indoors while the wind blows frigid outside. Go to the freezer, take out that pint. The cold of it will make you appreciate your warmth all the more. As the cool, softness melts in your mouth, you won’t be thinking, “I wish this were cake.” You’ll be caught in the wave of “Aw yeah. That’s some good ice cream.”