Chef Zac Young may be one of the most interesting pastry chefs in America.
The executive pastry chef for PieCaken Bakeshop first graduated with honors from the Baking and Pastry Arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education. Following that, he went straight to work under Sebastian Rouxel and Richard Capizzi at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. In 2006, his talents were recognized by Alexandra Guarnaschelli and he spent four years working as pastry chef at her downtown New York hot-spot, Butter Restaurant. He then trained in France under renowned Chefs Philipe Givre at Valrhona and Philipe Park at Chocolate Michel Cluizel.
In 2012, Chef Young joined the David Burke Group, now known as Craveable Hospitality Group – a nationwide restaurant group specializing in food and beverage management, licensing and consulting. As pastry director, he oversees the dessert creations of the company’s proprietary restaurants and bars.
The dessert he’s most famous for is the piecaken. You’ve probably heard of the turducken, the layered dish that stuffs a chicken inside of a duck inside of a turkey. It has received plenty of cultural notoriety over the years, but Young took it to the next level by turning it into a dessert dish. Working with fellow pastry chef Gian Martinez, the two developed the “dessert turducken” in 2015.
The piecaken consists of a pumpkin pie, pecan pie and spice cake cut and stacked together, then finished with cinnamon frosting, oat crumble and apple pie filling. Since its creation, Chef Young has come up with other seasonal versions of the dessert, which he sells on Goldbelly through The Piecaken Bakeshop. For instance, a Christmas version of the dessert will be available in December that consists of pecan pie, eggnog cheesecake and red velvet cake layered together with amaretto buttercream and topped with sweet and tart cherry pie filling.
Chef Young recently spoke to bake Magazine about the piecaken’s journey and where it goes from here.
How did you originally conceive the idea for the piecaken?
Chef Young: It was never meant to be a retail item. For Thanksgiving of 2015, we were discussing dessert specials for a restaurant in a hotel in midtown. The executive chef there was doing a turducken, and wouldn’t stop talking about it so my pastry chef there, Gian, brought up doing a piecaken. Previously, a “piecaken” was a pie baked in a cake. I kinda said, “What if we take all the Thanksgiving favorites and layer them into one cake?” Despite being known for some over-the-top American desserts, my training is solidly French. I was thinking of an entremets. You have sable (pie crust), you have cake (spice cake), you have a creamy element (pumpkin pie filling) and you have fruit (apple pie filling).
How long did it take for it to become a hit with customers?
Overnight. I posted an “in-process” photo of this as we were playing with it as a special and people started asking to order the cake. The whole cake. A lightbulb went off and I was like, “How can we sell this thing?” So, we built a website for taking orders, and sent out an e-blast to the restaurant group’s mailing list. I think I said, “If we sell 40, I’ll be happy.” The next day, the Monday before Thanksgiving, Kelly Ripa was holding a print-out of our e-blast. I still have no clue how she got it. It just blew up from there. I think we ended up making 400 that week, which was an amazing feat. You try getting all that pumpkin purée the week of Thanksgiving.
What are some other versions of the dessert you’ve done for holidays outside of Thanksgiving?
You name a holiday and we’ve done it. The PassCaken for Passover, the St. PatCaken, the 4th of JulyCaken. The only holiday I haven’t done is Halloween – that is a sacred holiday that must be celebrated with candy bought at the grocery store.
Do you have any plans for future versions of the piecaken?
The immediate follow up to the PieCaken was the PieLogen which was a love letter to Bouche de Noel and looked like a tree stump. I’ve wanted to bring this one back for years. We do offer a wonderful Christmas PieCaken, but there’s something about the stump cake that I loved.
How has social media, especially Instagram, helped grow the piecaken’s popularity?
I love the organic reactions to it on social. I love watching people’s stories and posts over any holiday. I’m just thrilled that people are finding joy in what we do. I also think our partners at Goldbelly do an amazing job marketing it on social. I love when my friends send me screenshots and say, “You are targeting me with ads.” Then I say, “Well, did you buy it?”
When did you partner with Goldbelly, and how has this affected your business?
The second year of piecaken, 2016, because clearly New York wasn’t enough. I partnered with a company called Foody Direct, which was later acquired by Goldbelly. The early years of shipping were truly nuts. We moved production to the basement of Bloomingdale’s, but we still only had enough freezer space for 75 cakes plus the ice packs. So, starting on Halloween through the end of the year, we shipped the 75 cakes in the freezer, made 75 more, froze them and repeated it. Everyday. Except Sunday.
Do you see any trends in the pastry/dessert world?
I think the latest trend is trends. This is the blessing and the curse of social. Trends now happen so fast, get oversaturated and burn out. This is why I’m a fan of solid technique and excellent flavors. Simple is hard, master that first. This is what I’m seeing now, and there is enormous staying power with simple and delicious. Yes, I recognize that I built my career out of being a little over-the-top and sparkly. The older I get, the more I just want to scoop cookies. Stay tuned on the cookie thing by the way.