Given pie’s near-universal appeal, pie preferences come down to mere details. Which fruit? Which filling? Lattice or crumb top or double crust? And most crucially of all, served warm or cold? On this last point, The Takeout’s staff is fiercely divided.
Setting aside the types of pies that need to be served cold—frozen peanut butter pies, chocolate mousse, Key lime, etc.—I firmly believe even fruit pies are better cold. Given the option, I never want my apple or cherry pie served warm—not that I’d turn away warm pie, if it’s that vs. no pie. My preference is mostly a textural thing; I think the pie’s distinct layers are better foils for each other when the whole things doesn’t ooze into one warm, indistinguishable slice. Served cold, the buttery base contrasts with the soft, sticky fruit filling and the crumbly or flaky crust. When served warm, I find the flakiness is less flaky, the filling often too thin. I want my pies’ filling sticky and my pies’ crust crusty.
Flavor-wise, I think pies also benefit from being served chilled or at room temperature. It somehow heightens my ability to taste individual ingredients like vanilla bean or brandy or cardamom; warm, these tend to all mush together into one generic “baking spices” note. And don’t get me started on the mess that happens when you top warm pie with cold ice cream—complete chaos.
You say “chaos” like it’s a bad thing! It’s true that some pies are best cold—I’m thinking of the cream pies, the custard and chiffon and meringue pies, that need some time to chill so that all that cream and meringue has a solid base to sit on. But fruit pies, especially double-crust fruit pies, are at their best when they’re still warm, when the fruit is mushy and marinated in its own juices and the crust is still flaky enough that it falls apart at the touch of fork, and everything comes together in a perfect stew. The chaos is the point. Order and neatness was why tarts were invented.
But here’s the most persuasive argument against cold pie: I find that whenever I refrigerate a pie, something happens to the crust. The cold turns it heavy and stolid when it should be light and ethereal. The edges where the top and bottom crusts get pinched together are no longer satisfyingly crisp, just crumbly. That is the absolute worst thing that can happen to a pie crust, the sort of thing that would make any true pie-lover weep.