Pastry chef Zac Young talks creating the ‘PieCaken’ in New York City and its surge in popularity since 2015

Celebrity chef Zac Young originally developed the PieCaken in 2015.
Photo courtesy of PieCaken (left), photo by Anders Krusberg

Is it a cake or is it pie? Either way, the PieCaken has taken the dessert world by storm.

The PieCaken is a one-of-a-kind dessert that has layers of pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and spice cake all held together with cinnamon buttercream and topped with apple pie filling. The tasty treat was originally developed by celebrity pastry chef Zac Young in 2015 as a dessert special for a hotel restaurant in Midtown.

It was never meant to become a thing, and it never meant to be sold as a cake — just as a slice as a special in one restaurant,” said Young. “I had posted an ‘in progress’ post on Instagram of the PieCaken and my friends started asking if they could have one. At first, I said no, but after a while, I relented and thought, ‘I guess we’ll sell cakes?'”

At the time, Young did not have a bakery to work from to mass-create the PieCakens. By the Friday before Thanksgiving in 2015, Young scrambled to build a website to take orders and started to draw up a plan for customers to be able to pick up their PieCaken. Young also sent an email to his mailing list of restaurants about the PieCaken.

Somehow, the email ended up in the hands of Kelly Ripa, who printed out the email and took a bite out of it on the email on what was then “Live with Kelly & Michael” the Monday of Thanksgiving week.

“I woke up to so many texts saying I was on ‘Kelly & Michael.’ I said, ‘No, I’m in bed, I’m definitely not on ‘Kelly & Michael.’ But I turned on the TV and sure enough, Kelly Ripa had printed out the e-blast and was saying, ‘Have you seen this?'” said Young. “Naturally, people started calling. I was getting calls from restaurants. I dropped off a couple of cakes at the show as a thank you, and then Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan were eating the PieCaken on camera and they talked about it for three days!”

Photo courtesy of PieCaken

Young ended up selling around 500 PieCakens that week leading up to Thanksgiving. Young immediately switched gears and made a holiday version of the PieCaken with different flavors and created a few different treats for other holidays. By 2016, Young and the PieCaken team started to ship PieCakens across the country. 

Five years later, Young says that somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 PieCakens have been sold. Previously, the PieCakens were being produced wherever Young could find the space to do so, eventually landing in the basement of a Bloomingdales surrounded by chest freezers that were purchased from Home Depot and selling out of preorders early in the season. Young has since partnered with Goldbelly to fulfill online orders and with Carlo’s Bakery to help bake the PieCakens for the Thanksgiving season.

While the elements of the PieCaken have remained consistent each year, the look of the PieCaken has shifted over time. Young says the recipes have also never changed and never will.

“The pies cannot change. The recipes have not changed as we scaled up,” said Young. 

Thanksgiving is a special time of year for Young. Every year when he would come home from college, his grandmother would make him a pumpkin pie, regardless of what time of year it was. His grandmother also made a spice cake like the one that is found in the PieCaken. 

“Thanksgiving is all about food and family. Growing up, my mother was vegan so my grandmother did the cooking. The pumpkin pie was a benchmark for me,” said Young. “I love it as a holiday because it’s not religious, there are no gifts, it’s just food and family.”

Young is still blown away at how popular the PieCaken has become.

“This was not supposed to be a thing. To watch it grow and figure all of this out has been incredible,” said Young. “You can try to engineer things or try to make fetch happen, and people have tried so hard with food and in life.  I think it’s one of those things that when you’re not trying is when things happen. It was just amazing.”

Those who wish to purchase a PieCaken of their own can visit piecakenbakeshop.com. The dessert costs $99 and ships for free through GoldBelly. PieCakens are also available through Carlo’s Bakery and will be available in their store locations by the slice or as a full cake, as well as online for full cakes. The PieCaken can be stored frozen for up to 3 months.

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