I first heard about piecaken a few years ago, but it always seemed like way too much dessert to me. (Spoiler alert: it still is!) If you are unfamiliar with this dish, the original is three types of pie stuffed in a cake. Pastry chef Zac Young is credited with creating piecaken while working at David Burke Fabrick in New York. That version was a spiced pound cake with layers of pecan pie and pumpkin pie, topped with upside-down apple pie, slathered in cinnamon buttercream and edged in oat streusel.
The "dessert turducken" was featured in the New York Times back in 2015 and was so popular that it reportedly led to a pumpkin purée shortage in New York. Each eight pound creation took Young over seven hours to create. Since then, it has taken on many forms from apple crumble inside cheesecake to cherry pie inside chocolate cake to any other other sweet combination you can think of. Young's recipe now includes pumpkin pie, pecan pie and apple spice cake. He shared the signature Thanksgiving dessert with the Hallmark Channel, and it's evolved into another holiday version that he now sells on Goldbelly for $100.
Image courtesy of Goldbelly.com
This version caught my eye because I received a gift card to Goldbelly and was recently perusing options on how to spend it. But when I saw the price tag, I thought there's no reason I can't make that myself! So, I'm saving my gift card for another foodie purchase (that's for another blog) and set out to research more about the piecaken.
The Christmas version (as well as original version) comes from Young's PieCaken Bakeshop and ships nationwide through Goldbelly. It features Chocolate Pecan Pie, Eggnog Cheesecake and Red Velvet Cake layered together with amaretto buttercream and topped with sweet and tart cherry pie filling. It comes with some pretty big accolades: Young was named one of the “Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America” in 2015, the PieCaken has been featured on Oprah’s O List, and Chowhound named it “The Most Epic Holiday Dessert of All.”
While it looks intimidating, most recipes online (even Food Network's) call for you to purchase store-bought pies and cakes, which would make this dessert very approachable for home cooks. However, I wanted the true experience of making all of the elements myself. So, I dug through The Chopping Block's recipe database (Chef Sara Salzinski is always ready to help) and used our Red Velvet Cupcake (adapted for a 9-inch cake pan) and Chocolate-Bourbon Pecan Pie (bourbon omitted to make it alcohol-free) recipes. It helps to always have a disc of TCB pie dough ready to go in the freezer!
I pulled inspiration for my piecaken from lots of resources including Nutmeg Nanny which seemed to be the most "from scratch" version I could find online.
The most important thing to consider is timing. You need to allow all three layers to chill overnight in the fridge, so you'll want to start the day before you want to serve your piecaken. I made the Red Velvet Cake and Chocolate Pecan Pie first since they bake at the same temp. I took Nutmeg Nanny's tip of baking the pecan pie in a disposable aluminum pie pan just in case you need to cut it off in order to get the pie out of it. This seemed logical to me, but it wasn't necessary as I was able to pull my chilled pie right out of the pan easily the next day.
Next, I made the eggnog cheesecake. Of all of the different layers, this was my personal favorite, and I'll be making it again next holiday season (separately though). This was the first time I've made a cheesecake outside my Instant Pot since getting the multi-cooker many years ago. I would have done it in the Instant Pot if I could, since it literally makes the best (and easiest) cheesecake but the machine only fits a 7-inch springform pan. Since the rest of the desserts would be 9-inches in diameter, a smaller pie simply wouldn't work as a base.
Once all three desserts were made and wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge, it was time to relax with a glass of eggnog and leave the assembly of this monstrosity for Christmas Day. Of course, you can assemble and refrigerate the piecaken and then serve later but there was honestly no room in the fridge for this massive dessert.
Chocolate Pecan Pie
Yield: One 9-inch pie in a disposable pie tin
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour, 20 minutes (if dough is made in advance)
1 disc of pie dough (here's my go-to recipe which is of course, from TCB)
For the filling:
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1. Roll out the dough on a well floured surface slightly larger than the pie tin.
2. Transfer the dough into a pie pan and crimp the edges. Chill the dough while making the filling.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°.
4. To prepare the filling, melt the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
5. Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl with a whisk until frothy, and then add in the sugar. Stir in the syrup, vanilla, salt and the melted butter-chocolate mixture until well blended.
6. Arrange the pecans on the bottom of the pie crust and carefully pour in the egg mixture.
7. Bake, on a parchment-lined sheet tray, until the filling is set and slightly puffed, about 50 minutes.
8. Allow to cool and refrigerate overnight.
Makes: 1 9-inch cheesecake
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
For the crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup salted butter, melted
3 Tablespoons sugar
For the filling:
24 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup eggnog
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 eggs, room temperature
For the crust:
1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper in the bottom and grease the sides.
2. Combine the crust ingredients in a small bowl. Press the mixture into the bottom of the springform pan.
3. Set prepared pan aside.
For the cheesecake:
1. In a large mixer bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar and flour until well combined (Use low speed to keep less air from getting into the batter, which can cause cracks). Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
2. Add the eggnog and nutmeg and mix on low speed until well combined.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating slowly and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition.
4. Pour the cheesecake filling into crust and spread evenly.
5. Place springform pan inside another larger pan. Fill the larger pan with enough warm water to go about halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
6. Bake for 1 hour and 30-40 minutes.
7. Remove cheesecake from oven, let cool at room temperature and refrigerate overnight.
Red Velvet Cake
Makes: 1 9-inch cake
Active time: 20 minutes
Start to finish: 45 minutes
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon red food coloring
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan.
2. Mix together the vinegar and baking soda and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.
4. Add the egg, beating until incorporated. Mix in the cocoa powder and food coloring.
5. Alternately add the buttermilk and flour in 3 additions, ending with the flour. Mix in the salt.
6. Add the vinegar/ baking soda mixture and the vanilla extract.
7. Add the batter to the cake pan and bake until the cake's top springs back when touched, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely. Refrigerate overnight.
4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1. Mix all ingredients together with a hand or stand mixer. Add more cream as needed to get the desired consistency of frosting.
Note: If I were to make this piecake again, I'd substitute whipped cream for the frosting as it would be less sweet. I found the buttercream in addition to the three desserts just too sweet for me. I also halved the amount of frosting I saw in other recipes, as I really just used it as a "glue" to keep the layers in place and as a crumb coating for the cake.
1. Unmold the pecan pie from the aluminum pie tin. I was able to invert the pie once it was chilled overnight and remove from the pan without having to cut the pie tin. Place on a serving plate or cake stand.
2. Trim any pie crust from the sides of the pie.
3. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top of the pie. You just need enough to act as "glue" between the layers to keep them in place
4. Unmold the cheesecake and place on top of the pie.
5. Trim the top of the cheesecake with a bread knife so that it is flat. Trim the sides to make them flush with the pie.
6. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top of the cheesecake.
7. Trim the cake layer so that it is flat and place on top of the cheesecake. Cover the cake and sides with frosting.
8. Decorate the outside of the cake however you like. PieCaken Bakeshop uses sprinkles, which I'm not a big fan of, so I used more graham cracker crumbs on the sides in honor of the cheesecake element. Young uses cherry pie filling and piped rosettes on the top, but I decided to keep mine plain.
9. Refrigerate until about 30 minutes before you want to serve the piecaken. Let the cake sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before slicing.
This is a massive dessert so you want to serve very thin slices, but that's easier said than done. It's also extremely heavy, so having a slice stand up nicely for a photo wasn't going to happen for me.
While the piecaken is certainly an impressive dessert, I actually prefer to eat these three desserts separately. They were all delicious and the flavors in this Christmas version definitely go well together, but even a small piece is over the top for me, even after letting a large holiday meal digest for a few hours. But if you are more of a sweet lover than I am, I encourage you to give the piecaken a try. Even if you go the store-bought pie/cake route, it's still fun to assemble and shock your family and friends!
If you want to learn how to master the pie portion, don't miss our Pie and Tart Boot Camp coming up on Saturday, January 14 at 10am at Lincoln Square. If the cake is your favorite part, you can learn how to make Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake in our Holiday Brunch class tomorrow on Saturday, December 31 at 11am at Lincoln Square. If you want to learn how to decorate a cake like a pro, our Cake Decorating class is back on Saturday, February 18 at 10am at Lincoln Square. And if you are living gluten-free, we have a special baking class coming up in February for you: Gluten-Free Baking and Pastry on Saturday, February 11 at 10am at Lincoln Square. There's a baking class for everyone!