Monday, January 26, 2015

Pie vs cake

History's most delicious debate

by Alex Abad-Santos and Kelsey McKinney on July 19, 2014

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A polarizing debate found its way into the halls of Vox's D.C. headquarters this week. It turned culture writer against culture writer, healthcare reporter against fellow healthcare reporter. Fighting broke out over which American dessert was better: cake or pie.

The debate was settled in a sugary Hunger Games bake-off. Seventeen tributes baked the best pie or cake in their arsenal – boston cream pie (a cake), chocolate peanut butter cake, apple pies, strawberry rhubarb – to face off against each other in the hopes of swaying the undecided.

The battle royale saw both sides suffering food comas and head starts to diabetes, but no progress. When the powdered sugar settled, there was still no compromise. Both sides were just as rooted in their convictions.

The carnage at Vox was just a microcosm of the bigger debate at hand. Is cake the great American dessert? Or is it pie? We've outlined the two perspectives on the controversy. You may choose for yourself.


The case for pie

by Kelsey McKinney

Cake is fine to eat at your second cousin's daughter's 6th birthday party while you stand in the corner and bemoan your existence, or at the wedding of the first guy you ever loved, but it's nothing to celebrate. Cake is just a circular dessert that is trying to be as good as pie. Both cake and pie can come in fruit or chocolate varieties. Both are baked in the oven. Both can be served in slices. But only one can be dense and dry and bland.

Pie is an American tradition about love and family. Pie is delicious, and complicated, and infinitely better than cake.

People love pie so much they steal it.

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Traditionally, after a pie was baked in the hot oven, it would be placed on the windowsill of the kitchen to cool off before serving. While there, though, the pie had to be vigilantly watched so hungry people (traditionally homeless people or unruly children) wouldn't snatch it.

Popular characters from "The Little Rascals" and "O Brother! Where Art Thou?" to The Simpsons and Yogi Bear have stolen pies off of windowsills. People have even done performative art experiments about pie stealing. In 2011, an open case was filed against a pie-snatcher in Cedar Rapids, Michigan.

Why isn't the same true for cakes?  In short, no one needs to steal a cake, because they can buy a cake mix at the store for three bucks and make one. Making a pie is an art. It requires careful attention to the crust and the filling, as well as intricate instructions, even if the pie crust is (god forbid) store bought.

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making a weave top pie. Photo by Robert Donovan/Getty

Pie is Patriotic

Pecan_pie

pecan pie. A true American treat. Photo by Boston Globe/Getty

On top of being delicious pastry goodness that everyone wants to steal, pie is patriotic. You never hear someone say something is "as American as cake." No. They say "as American as apple pie," because pies are the most American of desserts.

Americans, it's important to note, did not invent pie. It has been around since the ancient Egyptians began wrapping meat in pastries to keep them from burning. Then Europeans made pies into pastry treats, and later brought the concept with them across the Atlantic Ocean. The Pilgrims brought apple spurs with them, which grew into apple trees, which made apples, which were turned into that delicious American treat, apple pie!

Since then, pies have evolved to reflect the geography of their creation. Maine has blueberry pies. Texas has pecan pies. Georgia has peach pies. Pies tell the story of our country. Americans love pie so much that we even write songs about them:

There's an American Pie Council "committed to preserving America's pie heritage and promoting American's love affair with pies." There is no American Cake Council.

Even the President of the United States of America thinks pies are best. Case closed.

May pies reign supreme, forever and ever.

A polarizing debate found its way into the halls of Vox's D.C. headquarters this week. It turned culture writer against culture writer, healthcare reporter against fellow healthcare reporter. Fighting broke out over which American dessert was better: cake or pie.

The debate was settled in a sugary Hunger Games bake-off. Seventeen tributes baked the best pie or cake in their arsenal – boston cream pie (a cake), chocolate peanut butter cake, apple pies, strawberry rhubarb – to face off against each other in the hopes of swaying the undecided.

The battle royale saw both sides suffering food comas and head starts to diabetes, but no progress. When the powdered sugar settled, there was still no compromise. Both sides were just as rooted in their convictions.

The carnage at Vox was just microcosm of the bigger debate at hand. Is cake the great American dessert? Or is it pie? We've outlined the two perspectives on the controversy. You may choose for yourself.


The case for cake

by Alex Abad-Santos

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MCT via Getty Images

Served at weddings, first birthdays, golden anniversaries, going aways, graduations, and holidays, cakes have been the way humans tell other humans they matter, and that this moment they are sharing matters. These important days, hours, and even minutes are marked by cake. And in these moments, these celebrations, cake is the final hurrah, a last burst of togetherness before sending people on their way. That's not to say that pies don't have their moments, because they do serve as the dessert of choice at funerals and layoffs.

When the world was young (around the 17th Century) and not infatuated with Austin-Brooklyn-hipster-pie-love, cakes were made with the finest ingredients available to the baker. Spending money to make something for someone else is one of the empirical ways we show love. And although cakes today don't necessarily require a wallet raiding, they're just as delicious and as special as they were back then.

Cakes are art

Not all cakes are created equal. Bundts aren't bombes, and red velvet is operating on a different plane than the perfection that is yellow cake vibrates on. "Dacquoise" is hard to spell, and funnel cakes are so delightfully simple. (Pie insurgents will claim cheesecake is a pie, but they fail to realize that cheese pie sounds gross and that a pie had to sell itself on the delicious merits of cake.) Regardless of the cake, there's some wondrous alchemy going on when cake is made. The memories of your mother or father spinning eggs into spongey sweet layers of dough or willing pillowy frosting from sticks of butter are as magical as the cake itself.

"No written definition of the word 'cake' could approximate the glories of sweetened dough, baked, filled, frosted, and made ravishing with edible decoration," Joseph Amendola and Donald E. Lundberg wrote in their book Understanding Baking.

If cakes are powerful enough to test the limits of the English language, it's only fitting that they command a language of their own. The great Southern writer Eudora Welty used the language of cakes — the patticake, the wedding cake, the caramel layer cake, Mrs. Mosal's white fruitcake — not pies, to tell the stories of the patriarchy, class, and race in her writing. And "the Lane Cake, not the Lane Pie, was a minor character in To Kill a Mockingbird," The New York Times's Kim Severson pointed out last year.

Cakes are a symbol of hope and resilience

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Flickr editorial via Getty Images

Cakes are sometimes maligned for their process. The common knock on cakes is the availability of cake mix. Never mind the cans of pie filling and pre-made crusts found in grocery stores today! Hypocritically, pie extremists bemoan the cake mix. But they ignore its beginnings in the Great Depression and the hungry families of the 1930s who "just wanted a damn cake on the table" Bon Appetit explains.

During the Great Depression and times of war, people made cakes with the scarce ingredients at hand. "War cake" or "Depression cake", became a treat for struggling American families. Those treats are now symbols of American ingenuity and resilience.

"American as apple pie," the phrase goes. That deeply undersells America. Apple pie is nothing more than a variant of apple strudel, and Americans are much tougher than a dainty Austrian pastry. We're a people with mud running through our veins and sacrifice in our hearts. We do not back down, and we will have our dessert, our war cake, because when we have our backs against the wall, we find ways to achieve what we set out to do.

Remember: if someone loves you enough to break you out of prison, they do not bake you a pie. They bake you a fucking cake.

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