Welcome, dear readers, to The Takeout Draft, our recurring feature that combines our love of food, fantasy sports, and arguing on Slack.
Every week, we will select a topic of conversation from the food and drink world. Takeout writers will then field a team via the snake draft format. After five rounds, The Takeout commenteriat will vote on who they believe was victorious in that week’s draft. At the end of 2020, the staffer with the most weekly victories will select a charity of his/her choice that The Takeout will make a donation toward.
The previous Takeout Draft: Best ice cream flavors experienced an unfortunate technical glitch with our online survey system. But here’s what the first 508 votes looked like before technology betrayed us:
Taking a manual tally from the comments section (where readers vocalized their picks in lieu of the poll), Aimee Levitt still trended toward a handy victory, though the gap between her and Allison did close up somewhat. Marnie, meanwhile, was left far behind the pack, and she accepts this reality with grace. Congrats to Aimee!
This week, in honor of Pi Day on March 14, the topic is best pie. Just like last time, we want these pies to be common varieties that nearly anyone is likely to have tasted for themselves at a holiday dinner, summer cookout, or bake sale. Competing in the Thunderdome this week are members of the Takeout staff: Allison Robicelli, Marnie Shure, and Aimee Levitt. The randomizer has selected a draft order:
Let’s do it.
Marnie: Aimee’s up first to talk best pie!
Aimee: Oh, my gosh, the pressure! Where to begin!
I think I’ll have to go with my oldest, dearest love: apple.
Marnie: Starting off with the classics. I love it
I used to eat a mock apple pie made with Ritz crackers as a kid
Aimee: I especially love the rendition by the Hoosier Mama Pie Company here—they use Chinese Five-Spice Powder. It makes it much more complex instead of cloying. I make it every year for my partner’s family Christmas celebration because one year I didn’t and they were all very upset.
Allison: I’ll admit: I don’t like apple pie as much as I should. It’s a great pie! But it’s like being a person who doesn’t care for coffee. You feel like you’re left out of something.
Aimee: It’s American!
Marnie: I want to try the less cloying version you mentioned, Aimee, because I never like too much sugar crusted on top.
Allison: And I make a DAMN good apple pie. The pie I made at my old bakery was ranked #2 in New York City by the Village Voice.
Why have you not revealed this information to us before?
Marnie: It just occurred to me that talking pies with Allison is going to serve up many such revelations
Aimee: I demand all the recipes.
Allison: I’ve had a very interesting life! I can’t remember all the weird shit that’s happened to me. I’ve held the top spot (or near it) on many best of NYC lists. I consulted with Columbia University on building bakeries for poor women in Uganda. I helped review Senor Frogs for the New York Times with Jason Biggs.
One time I accidentally had dinner with The Smothers Brothers, and then Henry Winkler randomly showed up and joined us, and then George Steinbrenner sent our table a bottle of champagne.
Aimee: Now that sounds like a melatonin dream.
Marnie: And now, you have to choose a pie for round 1 of The Takeout Draft. Such a journey!
Allison: So many things to be revealed. But speaking of best of NYC lists, my first pie pick was on Zagat’s list of best chocolate desserts in town, and that’s chocolate cream pie
One fun fact about myself that I know I’ve told you guys is that pudding is my super-number-one-all-time-most-favorite dessert.
Marnie: Yes, this is fundamental to your character. So does chocolate cream pie sort of puddingify the pie experience for you?
Allison: It’s pudding with whipped cream and a flaky butter crust. I mean, everything there is perfect.
The key, though, is you need to be hyperfocused on every single element, making sure that they’re flawless—the very best of their form. If one element is subpar, the whole thing falls apart. There’s a very clear delineation between flavors and textures, unlike in something like apple where things sort of melt into each other.
So that crust? It needs to be made with the good butter, it needs to have as much flakiness as it can muster. For the pudding, lots of milk fat. You don’t skimp. You use half and half and cream, you use the best chocolate you can buy.
Aimee: Milk or dark chocolate?
Allison: Right now, I’m in a milk chocolate phase in my life, so I’m using that. But at the old bakery, we used semi-sweet. Smack dab in the middle.
For whipped cream, you should make it yourself, you shouldn’t oversweeten it, and it should have a strong firm peak, which creates a good, denser body of texture. This contrasts well with the fluid silkiness of the pudding, so they’re enhancing each other.
Aimee: I don’t even like cream pie that much and I want this pie right now.
Allison: I like chocolate shavings on top, too, for a bit of additional texture. Maybe some crushed pistachios or hazelnuts. Whatever I’m in the mood for.
Anyway, your turn Marnie!
Marnie: Here’s a pie that you could absolutely mess up in every conceivable way and it’d still be perfect: peanut butter pie
It’s no-bake. It’s cream-cheese-based. You can put it in a chocolate graham cracker shell and douse it in chocolate sauce if you want. Sometimes there are chunks of cream cheese that didn’t blend in. WHO CARES. It’s peanut buttery mush, and it’s everything to me.
Allison: Oh, you know what a sucker I am for peanut butter. Crunchy or smooth?
Marnie: Smooth peanut butter! I like when the texture is on top, in the form of candied nuts or crushed peanuts.
Aimee: A wonderful pie for lazy people! I love it.
Marnie: It doesn’t need whipped cream on top, but again: do literally whatever.
Some places in Chicago that do a mean PB pie that I just have to shout out: Pearl’s Southern Comfort in Edgewater, and Half Acre’s Balmoral taproom.
Aimee: Putting those on my list.
Allison: Btw, here’s a PB pie recipe I wrote.
Marnie: That was a solid first round.
For my round 2 pick, I’m going with pumpkin pie
Marnie: I feel like this pie is divisive
Aimee: Very much so.
Marnie: But there’s something about the utterly smooth texture that’s so desserty to me. We don’t get to have smooth, smooth entrees like that, unless we’re just gorging on foie gras.
Plus, I’m a sucker for all the spices. Give me cinnamon and nutmeg till I burst.
Allison: I like pumpkin pie! Though good pumpkin pie. Personally, I like using butternut squash in mine. I also replace the evaporated milk with ricotta.
So I guess that’s a different pie entirely.
Aimee: If it’s orange, it’s close enough.
Marnie: We’ve always used the Eagle Brand Cookbook recipe from, like, 1981
Aimee: A deep, dark secret is that most commercial canned “pumpkin” is actually squash.
Marnie: I wouldn’t mind a world where I have to say “squash pie” more often. But still, that’s shocking
Allison: Here’s a tip, since everybody uses canned pumpkin (including me): cook it a bit in a skillet first, stirring it around a lot, til it concentrates.
First, it gets rid of that weird backnote in the pumpkin, which is like a mixture of dirt and tinfoil
Second, it caramelizes the pumpkin’s natural sugars and concentrates the flavors, so you can put more pumpkin in your pie.
God, this draft is going to be six hours long, isn’t it. My apologies.
Marnie: You’re making me excited to keep building out our pie recipe catalog
Allison: Okay, here’s my second round pick: Pecan!
I knew I should have swooped in and claimed that one
Aimee: Another divisive choice!
Marnie: Oh, how I love it so.
Aimee: It’s so easy to ruin, though, if you go overboard on the corn syrup.
Allison: I usually find it too sweet, but if you swap out some of the corn syrup for dark maple syrup and add more roasted nuts to the custard and a good glug of oaky bourbon...
...see, here I go again. I need to shut up.
Marnie: Not “shut up” so much as “guard your trade secrets”
Aimee: That sounds like a good pecan pie, though. Not a sugar bomb.
My next pick is Dutch Pear. It’s the same idea as Dutch Apple, but the pear flavor is milder and more mellow and I really love it.
Allison: I love pear pies and we should eat more of them!
Marnie: What makes an apple pie a Dutch apple pie?
Aimee: It has only one crust, and on top there’s a layer of sour cream and nuts.
Traditionally they’re walnuts, but I don’t really like walnuts that much, so when I make it myself, I experiment with almonds or crushed pecans.
Allison: I will only accept Dutch pies that have no raisins in them, as you know my feelings about raisins.
Aimee: Raisins have no place in pie.
Allison: They are garbage and they feel like boogers
Marnie: Raisins can GET RIGHT OUTTA HERE
Allison: Pie boogers
Aimee: There’s a reason the only pie with raisins is Funeral Pie.
Marnie: Never had a pear pie, myself! I’m getting inspired. Pears need more love.
Aimee: My next pick is lemon meringue. It’s another classic, but I only started to get into it recently. In her BraveTart cookbook, Stella Parks has this really lovely variation with lemongrass. It looks really beautiful when you’re making the custard, and it has a nice floral flavor. But I also don’t mind straight-up lemon. It’s so refreshing!
Allison: I was just arguing about this with Atticus. I love the lemon custard, but I’ve never cared for meringue of any sort. Too sweet for me. But I see its appeal!
Marnie: I should give that another go! We ate it while “studying” Amelia Bedelia in second grade, and I was horrified.
Aimee: What happened?
Marnie: As a kid, meringue looks like it’s gonna be soft, like whipped cream. NOPE. What a rude awakening.
Allison: Yeah, maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s one of those things like when you think you’re drinking a glass of Coke but it’s actually root beer and you spit it across the room. That must have happened to me with whipped cream and meringue, and it scarred me.
Marnie: I think I still don’t like meringue that much, but lemon has become one of my favorite flavors as an adult so I’ll have to try this pie again.
Aimee: I like how it’s soft and crispy all at once.
And it has those beautiful high peaks that get all nice and toasty like a big old marshmallow...
Allison: If the meringue was replaced by whipped cream, this would be the greatest pie in history.
You want something light to go with the lemon. Especially if it’s the middle of summer.
I swear by the BraveTart meringue recipe. It’s more work than others I’ve tried, but it’s so beautiful and delicious.
Marnie: Stella Parks is wonderful.
Allison: Did I ever tell you about the time Stella helped me tape my boobs the first year we were nominated for Beard awards together?
Aimee: No you did not. That sounds like another melatonin dream.
Allison: We’re old friends, and I trusted her to make sure my nipple didn’t come flying out at any point.
We had never taped boobs before, but we were successful!
And speaking of whipped cream and tartness, I have my next pick...key lime pie. Which is actually my favorite pie.
Marnie: Whoa. I’ve had maybe one slice in my life
Allison: I’m very picky about chocolate cream pie, but key lime pie is almost universally good. It’s easy to make, and as long as you’re using real key lime juice it’s hard to mess it up. The key limes do all the work, and nothing is really supposed to compete with them.
The only way you screw up key lime pie is if you try using real limes instead, which is a completely different flavor.
Marnie: Meaning, you buy the juice instead of squeezing it from the limes?
Allison: The key lime juice. You can get it bottled.
Aimee: That’s a relief. The limes are so little! It would take forever to squeeze out enough juice for a pie.
Marnie: I love when less work is actively encouraged
Allison: Sometimes you don’t need to mess with things if they’re already perfect. I may try making a key lime pie soon with Cara Cara orange juice, since I’m obsessed with those things.
Marnie: What kind of crust?
Allison: Graham cracker! It’s the easiest crust to make, and it’s actually the perfect companion to the custard.
Marnie: Graham cracker crusts have my heart.
Okay, wrapping up round 3: strawberry rhubarb pie
Aimee: The first pie of the spring!
Marnie: I don’t think I knew what rhubarb actually was or looked like until....college? Because I only ever understood it to be part of strawberry rhubarb pie.
Aimee: There really is no other use for rhubarb, is there?
Marnie: It took me YEARS to come around on these flavors. I thought it was just a way to sneak vegetables into your fruit pie, but now I understand the bite it adds.
Allison: Strawberry rhubarb is crazy because right as rhubarb season ends, strawberry season begins. There’s such a short overlap, which makes the perfect pie so special.
It’s like Brigadoon! But pie!
Marnie: Okay, it’s time to kick off round 4, and I am going a little unorthodox here. Please forgive me. Turtle pie
Aimee: There is nothing to forgive. Pie with caramel is magical.
Allison: I’ve never had this!
Marnie: Praline ice cream, chocolate graham cracker pie shell, PIPED STRIPE OF FUDGE AROUND THE EDGE, caramel and pecans on top.
Every single birthday in my entire family has been marked by turtle pie. Cake can go to hell
Allison: Oh, it’s an ice cream thing!
Marnie: Hence the unorthodoxy
Allison: Where is this from?
Marnie: Baskin-Robbins, baybeeeeee! Very easy to replicate at home, too
Allison: I have never seen this before. I must track it down post haste.
Aimee: I love those Baskin-Robbins ice cream pies! They have this distinctive smell that makes me all nostalgic and happy.
Marnie: The smell of butterfat....
Allison, round 4 pick?
Allison: Number four: Damn Fine Cherry Pie. And yes, I have a fun story to go with this.
So my friend John owns this great wine bar in Brooklyn called The Owl’s Head, and one March he decides to have a party for Angelo Badalamenti’s birthday on March 25. He’s the guy who writes all of David Lynch’s music and did the soundtrack to Twin Peaks, which both John and I are huge fans of. Badalamenti also happens to be from the neighborhood we grew up and lived in.
So the next year, my bakery gets in on it with him. We do a whole Twin Peaks inspired menu for the week. Cakes, pies, Jell-O—all of it. And of course, damn fine cherry pie, which we bring to that year’s party at The Owl’s Head. And after an hour of us watching old episodes in cosplay, who walks in but Angelo Badalamenti!
And he had a piece of my damn fine cherry pie and told me it was one of the best he’d ever tasted.
Allison: His whole family showed up, too. We’re from the part of Brooklyn that’s all big mouths and big accents and lots of hugs with strangers. It was a good night.
Aimee: What made the pie damn fine? Spill your secrets, Robicelli!
Allison: Frozen cherries, which are always perfect. And not doing too much to a good thing. Plus a splash of good port wine, which enhances the cherry flavor by quite a bit.
Now to you, Aimee!
Aimee: I’m gonna have to go with the strawberry pie at Spinning J here in Chicago. It comes around once a year, during strawberry season. It’s just the strawberries, no pastry cream, on a shortbread crust with a dollop of whipped cream on top, and it’s absolutely perfect. It haunts my dreams.
It’s so hard to get a perfectly fresh strawberry, let alone enough for an entire pie.
Marnie: Spinning J has some fantastic pies!
Aimee: And it’s an old-fashioned soda fountain! Chicago really has become a wonderful pie town.
Marnie: Great to know for Pi Day
Aimee: I’m planning an expedition to Spilt Milk in Oak Park. Gotta check out those pies.
Allison: There’s something so wonderful about a pie that lasts for just a moment. Like, you wish you could have it all year, but that tiny window makes it just so special. Like Christmas.
Aimee: That’s the case with a lot of pie. I think that’s why I love it so much.
Marnie: FINAL pick??
Aimee: This is so hard! So much pressure! How do you choose?
Marnie: There are so many left, and yet, so few I want to select.
Aimee: In December my friend had a pie-themed housewarming, I made the Four and Twenty Blackbirds bakery’s hot buttered rum pie because hot buttered rum is one of my favorite things in winter. It tasted like a butterscotch pie, but with a nice kick. I realize this is a hyper-specific choice, but it’s the pie that is in my heart and mind right now.
Marnie: Then it’s a worthy entrant in our Takeout Draft!
I like how our selections have sort of covered every season
Aimee: Have you noticed how pie cookbooks are organized by season?
Marnie: Yes! As is the Jeni’s ice cream cookbook
Aimee: I love that cookbook.
Allison: I know for a fact that our readers will cry foul if there is not one savory pie on the menu. And so, I shall bring up the Medieval Mince Pie I made back in December, because it was just so damn fun to make:
Plus it has a picture of a pig!
Marnie: Lol, I was wondering if anyone would boldly branch into savory meat pies in this draft. I suppose Pi Day is for them, too!
Allison: It was absolutely crazy eating this absolutely massive pie that could have easily fed 20 people essentially by myself. It was surprisingly delicious for a recipe that was from 1430
Marnie: Salty animal products will always have their place
Aimee: Especially if they’re encased in pastry.
Allison: It also got me thinking about how many people in history had used that recipe. When was the last time somebody used it? What was the pie like for those people who were being ruled by King Henry VI? I mean, it’s crazy to be connected to people that far across history.
Marnie: From a completely opposite corner of history, my final pick is Oreo pie, because I am a child and forever shall be
Aimee: Oh, that’s a good one!
Marnie: I think I might just be partial to no-bakes? Plus, I’m not a big fan of straight up munching on Oreos, so breaking them up into a pie or a Blizzard is the best application.
And you get to put a cherry on top.
Aimee: Is this Oreo pie ice-cream-based?
Marnie: That exists, but that’s not the one I’m thinking of. We’re talkin’ more CREAM CHEESE mixtures
Aimee: Ohhhhh! This is not what I thought. It’s better!
Marnie: Cream cheese, Cool Whip, powdered sugar, and Oreo crumbles—a thing of beauty
Aimee: Which brings us to the question: is cheesecake a pie?
Marnie: Okay, so I think that no-bake cheesecakes are, and baked ones are.....less so? What do you think?
Should we start asking celebs?
Aimee: I think so. People might be getting tired of hot dogs.
Marnie: Hot dog pie. There’s a concept.
Aimee: Like a gigantic pig in a blanket!
Marnie: Too bad we can’t add that to our Takeout Draft...yet.
Aimee: Maybe next Pi Day.
You can vote one of three ways:
1. In the survey below
2. Call out the victor in the comments
3. Respond to our poll on Twitter
Happy Pi Day, one and all!