Piecaken hides a cooking lesson

Kim Ode
Minneapolis Star Tribune

It’s high summer. For kids, the novelty of no school has worn off, while for parents, the resumption of school remains far off.

Chances are, the list of diversions is running thin.

So imagine this scene:

Mom, what can I do? I’m sooooo bored.

Well, how about we bake something?

You mean Rice Krispies bars?

That’s not baking. How about a piecaken?

Piecaken? Awesome!

If you’ve never heard of piecaken, it’s exactly how it sounds: a pie baked inside a cake. The doubled-up dessert became a hot Thanksgiving trend a few years ago. Because, indulgence.

Consider it the inevitable sweet spawn of a turducken — that mid-’80s invention of a deboned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck stuffed into a deboned turkey.

Oddly enough, Pinterest pages devoted to piecaken are not this dessert’s best friend. Most photos show slices of cherry pie bleeding into white cake, crumbling messes of apple and chocolate, sagging stacks of berries and frosting. Thick pie crusts within fluffy cakes look like sheets of plywood amid insulation.

Our challenge was to elevate the piecaken to a dessert that nixes the crusts, tastes great and looks fabulous — and is fun! After all, the lure of a piecaken is bringing what looks like an ordinary cake to the table, then serving up slices that provoke only one response: “Whoa, there’s a pie inside this cake!”

We settled on peanut butter and chocolate as a classic flavor combo with particular appeal to many kids. To sidestep the crust while still being able to lift and nestle a pie into cake batter, we invoked a curious creation from the 1970s called Impossible Pie. With roots in Southern crustless coconut pie, this version was popularized by General Mills using its Bisquick mix, which made a pie in which the crust and filling magically merged.

Made with crunchy peanut butter, our baked pie is easily transferred into a springform pan filled halfway with chocolate cake batter. Then it’s covered with the rest of the batter.

Once baked and freed of the springform pan, the cake offers no clue that a pie lurks within. Finished with a glossy blanket of ganache and a ring of chopped peanuts, the resulting dessert is a looker.

But it also serves as a sort of summer school course, enabling young bakers to learn concepts of mixing thoroughly, cracking eggs confidently and measuring ingredients accurately.

Think of it as hiding some education inside a yummy dessert.

Summer Vacation Piecaken

Note: We adapted the “impossible pie” recipe with peanut butter, then found a kid-friendly chocolate cake recipe. The pie layer must cool for an hour before the chocolate batter is prepared, then the whole cake must cool for several hours before glazing and slicing. A morning’s baking for an evening’s dessert! Serves 16.

Impossible Peanut Butter Pie

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 egg

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter

Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake (see recipe)

Ganache Glaze (see recipe)

Chopped peanuts, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray only the bottom surface of an 8-inch pie plate.

In large bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, baking powder, pinch of salt, egg, cream and peanut butter. Beat at medium-high speed, scraping bowl occasionally, about 1 minute. Pour into the pie plate; do not spread the batter.

Bake for 35 minutes until puffed and dry in the center.

Let cool completely on a wire rack. It will sink slightly.

Once the “pie” is cool, make the chocolate cake as directed. Once the cake is baked and cool (or wait until immediately before serving), drizzle ganache over top, letting it drip down the sides. Garnish with chopped peanuts.

Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake

Note: From “Short & Sweet: The Best of Home Baking,” by Dan Lepard. Makes 1 (9-inch) cake.

1/4 cup cold water

1/4 cup good-quality cocoa powder

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. boiling water

2 ounces good dark chocolate, chopped into little pieces

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

2 eggs

1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil

11/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit in a 9-inch springform pan. Spray the pan, then put in the parchment paper. (The spray helps hold it in place.)

In a small bowl, stir 1/4 cup cold water with the cocoa to make a smooth paste, then whisk in 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water. Add the chopped chocolate and let melt, stirring occasionally.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using a large bowl and a hand mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar and condensed milk until very smooth. Then beat in the eggs and oil.

(You can freeze the remaining condensed milk for up to 3 months for another piecaken, or to make this chocolate cake recipe as a simple loaf-pan cake, baking for 35 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees.)

In a small bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder.

Add a third of the flour to the egg mixture and beat until combined. Then add half of the chocolate mixture and beat until combined. Add another third of the flour, the remaining chocolate and then the remaining flour, beating well after each addition. There should be no white streaks of flour.

For the piecaken: Measure out 2 cups of batter onto the parchment paper in the springform pan. A spoon helps spread it evenly.

With 2 hands, carefully ease the peanut butter “pie” from the pan, supporting it from beneath, then gently place it on the batter. Scrape the remaining batter into the pan, spreading and directing it down the sides to enclose the pie.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is firm when pressed.

Place on a wire rack until completely cooled. You also can keep the cake overnight in the pan, covering it tightly with aluminum foil, then glaze and serve the next day.

Ganache Glaze

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped very fine, or semisweet chocolate chips

In small saucepan over medium heat, warm cream and bring carefully just to a boil. Remove pan from heat, add the chocolate, cover and let stand for a minute, then stir to melt. It will thicken as it cools.