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Cake vs. Pie (and where to find the best of both)

Team Pie Haywire Pecan Praline Pie | By Cori Baker Consider Key Lime Pie, with its neon flavor, pureed texture and crumbly graham cracker crust, and apple pie, with its flaky golden crimps and warm rivulets of cinnamon among chunks of tender fruit.
Courtesy of SusieCakes | By Kevin Marple

Team Pie

Haywire Pecan Praline Pie | By Cori Baker

Consider Key Lime Pie, with its neon flavor, pureed texture and crumbly graham cracker crust, and apple pie, with its flaky golden crimps and warm rivulets of cinnamon among chunks of tender fruit. From base ingredient to final product, these two classic pies are so different, it’s hard to believe they belong in the same category. That’s the magic of pie: the endless varieties it can take.

Cake is fine. It’s got its charms. But if cake is basic mathematics, then pie is algebra. For the refined palette, it offers significantly more to explore and a much greater culinary reward. There’s no question that in terms of artistry, ingenuity and delicacy, pie—fruit, no-bake, custard, cream, chess, ice-box—blows cake out of the water.

Think first, of the classic pie crust, a dry dough, with cold butter cut through. Bakers chill their fingers in ice water before touching it, ginger and tender. Pie offers a dynamic test and demands your full attention. Anyone can bake a passable cake and cover any flaws with copious frosting. Cake has been cheapened over the years. Plastic cans of frosting are more chemical than chocolate and box mixes have pretty much eliminated any artistry other than fluff and decoration at the end.

But pie offers no quarter. Even store-bought crust can be overworked and rendered stiff and unyielding. Custards blended on the stove, can’t be left unattended or they’ll boil over. Pie requires active baking and creativity, and no two will ever be exactly the same. When it’s treated right, pie’s crisp, golden crust, lattice or a blanket, is a delicious treat, and an accomplishment worth your time.

Of course, that doesn’t even take into account the filling. Pies are seasonal, showcasing everything from lilting fruit to whipped meringues with markedly different results; the subtlest tweak of a pie recipe can yield a beautiful new creation. Introduce a splash of whiskey and chopped bittersweet chocolate and pecan pie becomes bourbon chocolate chip pecan pie. Forgo a top crust and sploosh caramel over the top, and apple pie turns into caramel apple pie; swirl cream cheese into your pumpkin pie mix and congratulations: you’ve reinvented Thanksgiving. Master the elements of a single pie, and you have unlocked infinite dessert potential. There’s no one recipe, no one way it must taste.

Speaking of taste, no matter how it’s decorated or outfitted, any cake always has a distinct cakey flavor, first and foremost. Twist it however you like; it’s all just different hairdos on the same head. Cake is always, at the end of the day, cake. Blueberry cake has the perfume of berries, overwhelmingly covered in sugar and flour: cake. But blueberry pie showcases the pure, raw power of its main ingredient. Rather than dulling the flavor under sweeter confections, pie amplifies its star ingredient. Similarly, chocolate cake requires the aid of frosting in order to truly taste like chocolate. But a single bite of chocolate pie sings with the complexities of cocoa.

Besides, pie is more versatile in its flavors. Chicken pot pie is a glorious, gravy-filled creation that delights all ages. But no one wants to eat chicken pot cake.

Case closed, easy as pie.

Best local pies

  • Haywire, Pecan Praline Pie | 5901 Winthrop St. Ste. 110, Plano |
  • Emporium Pies, Smooth Operator | 107 S. Tennessee St., McKinney |
  • Buttermilk Sky Pie, Peanut Butter Dream Pie |5355 Dallas Pkwy. Ste. 610, Frisco | 1008 W. McDermott Dr. Ste. 400, Allen |
  • Norma's Cafe, Mile High Lemon Pie |605 W. 15th St., Plano |
  • Bonnafide Betties Pie, Tall, Dark and Handsome | 103 S. San Jacinto St., Rockwall |
  • JudyPie, Adohree-A-Doodle Pie | 520 S. Main St. #200, Grapevine |
  • Piefalootin, Coconut Cream Pie | 1400 Williams Dr., Garland |

Team Cake

If anyone says they prefer pie to cake, they’re lying to you and here’s the proof: Is the country littered with petit-pie shops? No. But it’s covered in cupcakeries. Cake is clearly the dominant dessert; it won the battle for market saturation.

Ever since humans began to enjoy sweets, cake has had a special place in our development. Cake has evolved, growing fluffier, gaining ingredients like fruits and chocolate, crossed borders and oceans, and became the everyday delicacy as we now consider it. We mark all of our major celebrations, all the most important milestones in our lives with cake. Birthdays? Cake. Weddings? Two cakes, one for each newlywed. Yes, nowadays, trendy wedding planners sometimes forgo one of these cakes for rows of cupcakes or donuts, but even so, there’s no replacement for the towering cream-and-sugar sight of a multi-tier wedding cake, outfitted with a spray of fresh baby’s breath. People willingly shell out hundreds, even thousands of dollars, for a glamorous, memorable wedding cake. Pie can’t reach those heights.

Additionally, pie is tempermental; any small mistake—leaving the butter on the counter too long, overworking the crust—can ruin the entire dish. It requires a level of expertise that not everyone has time to attain, and frankly, it can be downright frustrating. Cake, however, is accessible. Baking a cake is so easy that parents can bring kids into the kitchen; baking a cake is an experience, culinary chemistry that doesn’t discriminate. That’s the beauty of it: everyone can bake a cake and be proud of their efforts.

Once a pie is baked, the story is over. But cake is just getting started. In terms of beauty, no dessert can top cake for its pliable nature. Its softness means that enterprising bakers can shape cakes into works of art and paint them with fondant, icing and frosting to create edible masterpieces. Few foods can become actual works of art, but from geode cakes to cakes carved to look like Yoda, in the hands of the right baker, cake can become more than a dessert.

Finally, there are many kinds of cake that could easily win the argument: cupcakes, devil’s food, chiffon, Texas sheet, bundt and even—grudgingly—angel’s food. But let the true master, the true universal cake carry the argument: birthday cake.

Picture this: the most classic of cakes, sweet yellow batter with milk chocolate frosting. Who doesn’t have at least one childhood memory of stealing yolky swipes of cake batter out of the bowl, and fighting over who gets to lick the spatula?

And, once it’s baked, who hasn’t poked at the hot golden sponge and picked inconspicuous crumbs out of the bottom of the pan. Cool chocolate frosting pools between the classic two layers, both delicious and ingenious. Cake’s engineering is sound, keeping every crumb moist, untouched by the air until it’s ready to be served with candles and Blue Bell. We bake our cakes with the significance of the present moment. They carry our memories and express of our joy. No celebration is the same without them.

Keep your pie. I’ll take the cake.

Best local cakes

  • SusieCakes, Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake | 4900 W. Park Blvd. Ste. 110, Plano |
  • Sugar Ray's Bakeshop, Flavor of the month | 4021 Preston Rd., Plano |
  • Smallcakes Cupcakes and Creamery, Chocolate Cream Cupcake | 5999 Custer Rd. #155, Frisco | 101 S. Preston Rd. Ste. 20, Prosper |
  • Bird Bakery, Egg Carton Cupcakes | 7A Highland Park Village, Dallas |
  • Ogi's Bakery, Honey Cake | 1651 Eldorado Pkwy., McKinney |
  • Cake Tales, Chiffon Cupcakes | 6975 Lebanon Rd. #306, Frisco |
  • Mesero, Cinco Leches Cake | 7501 Windrose Ave. D180, Plano |