Monday, March 12, 2012

Release the Piecooken!

This is very likely to be the longest post of my blogging career. But sometimes things just work out that way.

I would rather have banished myself forever from my native country and wandered a friendless outcast over the earth than have consented to this miserable marriage. -- Victor Frankenstein, "The Modern Prometheus"

Not terribly long ago, Fred Clark, The Slacktivist, posted on his blog about an amazing creation. It came from pinterest, or facebook, or somewhere. Wherever it came from, it became a kind of fascination for me, and was a topic of conversation between me and my friends. It was the Piecaken. An unholy child of pie and cake, and cousin to the turducken. The Piecaken is a pie baked into a cake. And it is amazing! I finally decided that I had to make a piecaken.

My fascination grew into an obsession, and then my obsession grew into... well it grew. And from that mighty something-greater-than-an-obsession came the idea of making something greater than a piecaken. What could possibly up the ante on a pie baked into a cake? Well cookies, baked inside of a pie, which is baked inside of a cake! After some thinking, and some considering, I decided that I would make a double-layer cake, with a pie baked into a cake on one layer, and cookies baked into a cake for the second layer. I would call my creation: The Piecooken!

This weekend I brought this creation to life. This is my story:

First, I started with a the pie:

This is my basic, trusty pie dough recipe, easy to make, and serviceable for any pie. This recipe was taught to me by a wonderful friend of mine from south/central Illinois. Her pies are indescribably delicious. I spent a great weekend with her almost 15 years ago learning the craft.

I had a day to myself, with family gone, so this was a project almost entirely driven by whim. There was also a golf tournament on TV so I didn't want to go to the store, so I had to make do with ingredients I already had in the house. I thought about a top-crusted fruit pie, but instead I made a custard:

This was a basic custard from the classic Better Homes and Gardens (1993 edition, in my case) cookbook.

It's a wonderful custard. I decided to do a chocolate custard, but at the moment in the recipe that calls for adding the cocoa Rory McIlroy sank an eagle putt to pull to within 2 shots of the lead and I lost my head. So with a fully-thickened vanilla custard, I had my pie.

custard pie

One reason to go with a chocolate custard was that my cookies were going to be vanilla wafer cookies. But with my custard gaff already in the bag, I marched forward with vanilla wafer cookies anyway. Creaming the sugar and butter is always the happiest moment in a cookie baking day.

It didn't matter much to have uniform-sized cookies:

Here is the vanilla cake batter, the custard pie, the vanilla wafer cookies and the springform pan. I really felt that the springform pan was critical to extracting the layers. I only have one, so it was a two-stage baking process. Well... four-stage if you count the two batches of cookies.

I poured half the batter, layered some cookies, then poured the rest of the batter over the cookies.

And after 45 minutes and a mini-collapse by McIlroy, the first layer was out:

I needed a strategy for the second layer. I was worried about the pie layer being harder to bake than the cookie layer. I was also dangerously under-caffeinated, so I made a cup of coffee.

I sipped coffee while figuring out the pie-layer cake type. Caffeine helped me decide on a strawberry cake for the pie layer.

Here I made a critical decision with the pie. I decided against a top crust. Looking back, this was a real mistake, but Tiger went out with a knee injury, which seemed to point out that I was running out of day. No top layer. Into the springform pan when a layer of strawberry cake and the pie on top of it:

The first problem with the topless custard pie came 40 minutes later when I went to check for doneness. When inserted into a pile of custard through a layer of cake, a toothpick always comes out wet!!

I had to just bake the crud out of that layer and hope for the best.

You can see the slight crater in the center. I theorized that the wetness of the custard never allowed the proper crumb to form in the cake layer above it. But it was reasonably solid after a cooling off period. I was encouraged that the pie layer did not ooze out when I removed it from the pan.

Here are the companion layers side-by-side. You can see the pie layer is substantially taller than the cookie layer.

Next came the frosting. My wife found a marvelous buttercream frosting recipe a few weeks ago, and so I tried my hand at it. It went well. In the picture, if you look behind the mixer to the left, you can see the brain-mold I use to make a pretty plausibly-colored brain jello every halloween.

The frosting begins. I decided to take advantage of the divot in the pie layer, so I inverted the slightly convex cookie layer over the slightly concave pie layer and it was a perfect match.

After the best bit of piping and scraping, I had the best-frosted cake I have ever made:

And now... the moment of truth.

You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been. — Victor Frankenstein, "The Modern Prometheus"

The strawberry layer had indeed suffered from a poorly-set area above the custard pie, so it was not perfect. But it was perfectly fine.

The taste was pretty good...

For next time, and there will be a next time, I will plan ahead, I will turn off the golf, and I will make a true piecooken--cookies baked inside a pie which is then baked inside a cake. But for now, I bid you good night.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

20 Years Ago

I cleaned out a closet this weekend and came across an old piece of art from my friend Jim. I laughed as hard about it today as I did 20 years ago: