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Here’s to Cake!

November 3, 2016 | Frank Bonanno

If it’s cake vs. pie, I’m cake all the way. Cake is so great. Any cake in any iteration from any chef is fantastic–German chocolate, raspberry, funfetti, vanilla, lemon, cinnamon, apple, what have you–because a cake, made from scratch, loved and paddled, and loaded with heavy cream and butter and fresh ingredients, gently baked and risen and slathered with more heavy cream and butter and fresh ingredients is delicious in every way. In a restaurant, I would no more order a pie than I would a peanut butter sandwich. There’s the thing, right there–I think of pie as the peanut butter and jelly sandwich of desserts. It’s so basic. Simple and homey with its white flour and juicy filling. The execution couldn’t be easier–crusts call for butter, flour, salt and water (like pasta–simple, timeless). Load that crust up with whatever is ripe and at hand and top it with more crust, or a streusel, maybe, or just whipped egg whites and sugar. I can even get my sons in on the action of baking a pie, the zen of working flour into butter, rolling out a perfect disc on a gently dusted counter. Later, a single warm slice of pie is practically a meal in itself, topped with ice cream that’s just melting over the top and forming a milky puddle around the crust. Later, in the middle of the night, when the house is dark and the kitchen is cool and empty, peeling back the wrap over the pie and with a carton of milk in on hand holding a perfect little triangular parcel of delicious in the other and just indulging in giant bites, followed by giant gulps right out of the container, and maybe I’m a pie guy after all, at home anyway, because at home people cheat with cakes. They use mixes and boxes and powdered blends of who knows what. It sits on the counter and grows stale–but with pie, oh a pie hangs out on the counter for four days and it’s still good, soft, gooey. It beckons you to come on in, take just a bite, and it doesn’t tell on you because the fork doesn’t make a mark, really, and look, no one will know, no one can tell. A pie comes back to life, too. You can just pop it in a toaster oven on the “bagel” setting and it’s as if it was just pulled from the oven fresh and warm and flavorful.

See? I lied there in that first sentence and I didn’t even realize it. Turns out I’m a pie guy all the way. Also–the photo that accompanies this entry implies that I’m making pie crust there. It’s really a picture of me playing with pasta dough–but it looks really nice, doesn’t it?

Some basic recipes below, for other pie folks: a 3-2-1 Crust (the classic); a Shortbread Crust (I like it for fruit pies); Maple Bourbon Pie (because, Thanksgiving. And Autumn). Here’s the deal, though–I often offer up recipes, actual, fantastic recipes that work in homes and are at play in restaurants–so if you are kind enough to give one of the recipes a go in your own home, let me know how it went!

Thank you, Frank . . . .

3-2-1 Crust (The Classic)


3 cups flour
2 cups butter
1 cup ice water
½ teaspoon sea salt

A note: You’ll remember this recipe just by the name: 3 parts flour to 2 parts butter to 1 part ice water—“3-2-1” get it? Add 2 teaspoons of sugar if you’re making crust for something sweet.


Stand mixer; rolling pin; fork


  1. Slice the cold butter into the mixing bowl. Sift the flour and salt over the top. Use the basic paddle on a medium setting to work the flour into the butter. You don’t need a perfect crumble here, just make sure any clumps of butter are roughly smaller than a pea.
  2. While the mixer is still going, stream the water over the crumbly butter/flour mixture. When the dough starts to ball up and pull away from the sides of the bowl, turn the mixer off.
  3. Divide the crust into two balls. If you can’t get the dough to hold a ball shape, just add a bit more water. Place the dough balls in the refrigerator. In two hours, you’ll have two nice crusts ready to roll. (At home, I’ll do this at the end of the day and leave the dough to chill over night, then roll my crusts the next day)

Wednesday’s Pie Crust

Makes 1 9-inch pie

A note: When I was testing out pie crusts, I tried lard, lard-butter, all butter, vegetable oil, and all types of flour combinations. I feel almond flour gives a lightness and nearly cookie-like flavor, and for me the most delicious results came from all butter crusts. Because this crust uses melted butter and egg (pâte brisée) it’s also somewhat easier to work with.

Another note: Apparently in our household, an entire pie serves two. Sometimes we had to hide the test results from our sons.


1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1/3 almond flour

1 egg

3 oz melted, unsalted butter



Stand mixer; rolling pin; fork, 9” pie pan; parchment paper cut to an 8” circle, pie weights;



  1. Preheat oven to 325°. Place all ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer (or use a large mixing bowl and an electric hand mixer). Mix on medium speed until dough begins to hold a ball shape. Use your hands to remove the dough from the bowl and onto a lightly floured surface.
  2. Roll the dough with a floured rolling pin, starting from the center and moving toward the edge in a clockwise pattern. Once the dough is thin and pliable (about 1/8 inch thickness), lift it from the floured surface and into the pie pan, letting the extra crust drape across the pan edges and onto the counter. Roll the pin once quickly across the top of the pan to remove excess dough in one quick move.
  3. Poke the dough all over with a fork (to allow heat to escape during blind bake). Place the cut parchment paper on the bottom of the raw crust and anchor it down with pie weights (dried beans will work, too).  Bake 10 minutes; promptly remove from oven. Cool before filling.

Maple Bourbon Pumpkin Pie

Makes 1 10-inch pie


3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk

2 T rye or bourbon
½ pie pumpkin, roasted & pureed (about 1 can cooked pumpkin)
¾  cup sugar
¼  cup molasses
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
½  tsp cinnamon
½ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 tsp salt


Whisk, rolling pin; medium bowl; 9 or 10 inch pie pan


When people cook with alcohol, they tend to use the cheap stuff. Why? Ingredients matter. Look at this recipe—it calls for an actual pumpkin rather than the canned stuff, fresh ginger, grated nutmeg . . . don’t skimp on the booze. For this recipe, I use Dickel because it’s not as sweet as say, Makers, which lets the rye flavor really come through.

Pressing the pumpkin through the tammy (strainer) twice gives this pie its velvety texture.


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks and rye together in medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Combine pumpkin puree, sugar, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Simmer over medium flame, stirring and scraping down the sides of the pot continually until the pumpkin thickens and takes on a glossy sheen—roughly 15 minutes.
  4. Remove pan from heat and slowly whisk the cream mixture into the pumpkin. Set a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl in your sink. Gently whisk the creamy pumpkin into the strainer, working it through the mesh and into the bowl.
  5. Rinse the strainer well. Now push the pumpkin from the bowl and back through the strainer into the original pot. Once the contents are in the pot, give the pumpkin a quick, vigorous whisk, then transfer into pie shell.
  6. Bake at 400 degrees for ten minutes. Reduce oven to 300 degrees and bake 25 minutes more. Remove from oven.
  7. Extra, unnecessary but nice touch: as the pie cools, I like to pour a bit more bourbon over the top for flavor—about 2 tablespoon more.
  8. Let the pie cool at room temperature 2 hours.

To Serve

Cut pie into slice and serve on dessert plates. Top with whipped cream.