So long, Cupcake!

I laughed (and drooled) over this article in the New York Times about how the cupcake craze is waning and a new era of pies is blooming. Warning: There is a delicious photo of a pecan pie featured, so don’t click on the link if you can’t handle temptation at this moment.

I say “yay” to a pie Renaissance. While I love the idea of cupcakes (I mean, come on, they are so darn cute…and portion controlled), I’ve had a hard time finding a perfect cupcake.

I can easily find a perfect donut (hello Top Pot, I’m talking about you), but every cupcake I’ve tried in Seattle fell down in either the cake or the frosting department. My perfect cupcake has cake that would be good by itself (read: moist and flavorful) and frosting that is creamy with no greasy or gritty mouthfeel (i.e., made with butter, not shortening) and is not so sweet that it sets your teeth on edge and makes you feel like you need a shot of insulin.

To be fair, I have not sampled all of Seattle’s cupcake offerings, but those I have sampled have scored at best 50-75 percent of possible points. Since I eat cupcakes so seldom, I can’t exactly go looking for a better cupcake experience the moment I come off a sub-par one. And, yes, I could make fab cupcakes myself (I did go to pastry school a few years back, after all), but the last thing Jeff and I need is a dozen cupcakes in the house!

So, anyway, back to pie. I’m all about pie. Partly because pie has so many delicious variations without getting into weirdness (hello turkey-and-gravy flavored cupcakes, I’m talking about you). And it’s much easier to make a healthy (or at least healthier) pie that is still delicious. Anyone who says they really enjoy lowfat cupcakes is lying…and probably eating half-a-dozen in the desperate attempt to get some satisfaction.

While I swoon for many incarnations of pie (pumpkin, key lime, lemon meringue, apple, cherry, berry, strawberry-rhubarb, French silk, pecan) I really only go gaga over chocolate cupcakes. How much do I like pie? When I was a kid, and we moved from California to Oregon, my “I’m never going to like living here” stubbornness evaporated the moment I took a bite of blackberry pie, which was something I’d never even heard of in California! Mmmm…fond food memory.

Don’t even get me started on tarts, the pie’s elegant half-sibling. I make a lemon curd tart that would make your toes curl while you are getting down on your knees to beg for more, I kid you not. (Note: My lemon curd tart is not healthy. Lots o’ butter in the crust, and lots and lots o’ butter and egg yolks in the curd.) I haven’t made one for over a year, easily, but I can taste it just thinking about it. Now that’s another fond food memory!

Whereas tinkering with the fat and sugar content of cupcakes can get you into trouble (there’s more chemistry at play with that sort of baking), you can easily play with many pie recipes to make them appealing to the tastebuds and the wallet (by that I mean you don’t have to go buy bigger pants).

In pastry school, I accidentally made a pumpkin pie without the sugar (the spices made it in, though). It baked just fine, and I swear after the first bite (in which I was hit with the first impression of “hey, this isn’t as sweet as it should be”), it tasted just fine. I try to combine fruits with tend to need sugar with those that don’t in a single pie, so I can use less sugar overall.

The enhanced possibilities of marrying good taste and good health means that I will actually make pies from time to time. Graham cracker or gingersnap crusts are low in fat and will suit many creamier pies. Fruit pies don’t take well to those crusts, so I often turn to the pie’s slightly less elegant cousin, crisps. Crisp toppings don’t have to have much fat (although they can), and can even be made gluten free by substituting ground nuts for any flour or oat components. Plus, they are fast.

I make a mean pie crust, but it takes time to do it right. Butter must be chilled, then the dough must be wrapped in a disk and chilled. Once you roll the crust out and put in the plate, it should be chilled again before filling. Not hard, but time-consuming. And a really good, flaky crust is so worth it that it’s worth doing it right, if you’re going to do it at all, IMO. Otherwise, do a crisp!

Photo: © Davinci | Dreamstime.com