Let them eat cake - or maybe pie

Cake or pie, which is your favorite dessert? That's the question I put to the Monitor newsroom in an informal and decidedly unscientific poll.

I was musing about this after two activities coincided. One was baking the carrot cake on page 16. The other was reading "American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) From America's Back Roads," the tale of how Pascale Le Draoulec crisscrossed the United States in search of each state's best pie(s).

Not everyone would travel 20,000 miles to find a pie - or a cake - but people are passionate about their choices.

Cake lovers were most likely to sing the praises of their favorite's texture (moist, spongy) and frosting (gooey). Chocolate cake came in for special comment. As one colleague put it: "Pie, although delicious, does not come in as many different chocolate varieties [as cake]."

And who doesn't recall the thrill of licking the batter and icing bowls when Mom baked a cake?

Then there's the special-occasion nature of cakes - birthdays, weddings, anniversaries - that creates pleasant memories. One editor still remembers her very special eighth-birthday cake and how all the girls came attired in "our best dresses and Mary Janes."

Ah, but when thinking about special occasions, what about all those Thanksgiving dinners topped off by pumpkin pie? In the spirit of the day's tradition of culinary excess, one man notes: "Nothing says Thanksgiving like a modest slice of pumpkin pie ... next to a modest slice of pumpkin pie ... with a scoop of vanilla ice cream sharing the plate."

Pies do have drawbacks - few people can imagine a birthday pie - but a junior staffer notes that pie is good for breakfast. "Not so with cake."

Memories of pies usually focus on mothers and grandmothers. ("I love my mom's apple pie; it's the best.")

Even a chocolate-cake supporter concedes, "The exception to this is my grandmother's pies, especially her peach/blueberry one, which I have never found equalled."

Fruit-filled pies were most likely to be extolled. "Peach pie is best," says a photo editor, "followed by blueberry, blackberry, lemon, and apple."

The subject of pie crust was much discussed. It was often the reason given for favoring cake or pie. "A good pie crust can't be beat," says one woman. Another counters: "Pies too often have dry crusts, or crusts that are too doughy."

Then there was the issue of homemade versus store-bought or eaten in a restaurant.

"Home-baked pies are generally more interesting than home-baked cakes," points out a female staffer. "But in a restaurant setting, cakes are more likely to be appealing."

A male colleague isn't so sure. "Cake works best for me when I'm attending events, but nothing beats pie when I'm sitting at the counter of a local diner."

So which won, cake or pie? Pie, by two votes.

A handful of people appreciate both - or don't have strong feelings one way or the other.

A reporter suggests that choosing between cake and pie is like trying to compare apples and oranges. And one woman relates that at family gatherings people have learned to offer both, since the folks on her dad's side are pie lovers and her mom's relatives prefer to eat cake.

I tend to think that's the best way. Maybe fragrant apple pie accompanied by triple-fudge chocolate cake. Or lemon meringue pie and the carrot cake on Wednesday's food page.

I wonder why I'm beginning to feel hungry.

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