Sunday, February 5, 2012

gnat's picaken experiment: a culinary feat never to be repeated

the "picaken" has been a sort of running joke in my life for a few years now. when jalees, cheex and i first tossed around the idea of making a turducken for fakesgiving 2010, one of them suggested that a pie baked inside a cake would be the perfect dessert. we all laughed it off, of course. since then, every once in a while i've gotten an email from someone with a picture of a picaken, since apparently my friends know me and my predilection for strange kitchen experiments all too well. i usually laugh and respond that i'm not really much of a baker.

the last such email came from eileen, and contained a link to the first recipe that i had seen actually call the baked good behemoth a "picaken." what was so different about this email that made me suddenly entertain the idea of following through on this stupid, stupid quest?

the subject line said "challenge."

(unfortunately), i am not a girl who backs away from a challenge easily, which is why three days and several sticks of butter later this happened:

but i digress.

the first person to whom i made my intentions known was my little sister alex, who immediately asked "what is with you baking things inside of other things?" i wish i knew, alex.

so last saturday, after extensive googling of pie flavors and cake flavors and polling really everyone about potential combinations thereof, i assembled the ingredients and equipment and cara and i began picaken-ing. you may be wondering how exactly one accomplishes such a feat. lucky for you, i have pictures.

first you bake a pie. i had never done this before, so it was an experience in itself.

we made a nectarine filling (which, if you think about it, is totally ludicrous considering it was january in chicago. on second thought, not that ludicrous in comparison to the whole rest of the experience).

then you bake the pie. bonus points if you do it in a pi dish.

if you live in a big city and can't cool your pie on a windowsill (like in tom sawyer or dennis the menace or whatever) you open your bedroom window to let in the frigid january air instead. this was surprisingly effective.

this is the point where normally you would stop. after all, you've just baked a beautiful pie. or, you could remove the pie from its dish and set it in a springform pan...

and pour yellow cake batter over it.

where did it go?

it comes out of the oven looking like this. voila! picaken.

you could also stop at this point. picaken accomplished, after all.

cara and i did not stop at this point. what we did instead was assemble another pie, this one banana. we baked it, we window-silled it, and we popped it right out of its dish.

...flipping a perfect, fresh baked pie out of its dish is something of a harrowing experience.

we put it in the springform pan,

and covered it with batter. this time, lemon cake.

we piled our two picakens onto a makeshift cake stand (an upside down cast iron skillet covered in aluminum foil) and frosted that bad boy.

then we invited as many people over as we could so that they could help us eat the thing.

after the first slice came out, i may have cried a little on the inside. the inside of our picaken was far from beautiful. the banana pie turned purple - google offers little guidance as to why this happened, except that it has "something to do with potassium." it also maybe didn't hold together as well as it could have, as demonstrated by the "slice" i am holding below.

despite its less than winning looks, the picaken was delicious. 

i won't tell you how long the whole experience took, because frankly i am a bit ashamed to admit how long we spent on it. was it worth it? absolutely - picaken challenge accepted, and totally dominated. next person who emails me a recipe is getting this photo of a double-picaken slice in response. done and done.

you may have noticed in the first picture that a blue and pink candle were inserted into the finished picaken - because how much of a shame would it be not to use it in celebration of some important event? cara and aleck blew out the candles in honor of their recent engagement (congratulations guys!).

i would like to say that i've learned my lesson about ridiculous food assembly (and my reluctance to back down from a challenge) but picaken-squared was totally worth the time, effort, and mess. that said, i'm never ever going to do it again. probably. we'll see.


  1. Until, you're back in California and we all decide to tackle another one. To go with the Porkturducken of course

  2. This looks AMAZING. Yes!!!