Zac Young’s PieCaken is Everything a Dessert Should Be

Zac Young's Piecaken, photo provided by Goldbelly
Zac Young's Piecaken, photo provided by Goldbelly /

Popular baker Zac Young’s ingenuity led to the creation of his PieCaken.

When Hall of Fame football coach John Madden popularized the chef Paul Prudhomme-conceived turducken in 1997, he introduced a dish to the masses that has taken on a culinary life of its own. To this day, I’ve yet to meet someone who has actually tried turducken, and why would they?

Take the same general concept and turn it into a mouthwatering dessert, and now you’re talking. And that’s exactly what renowned baker and food TV personality Zac Young did, with his PieCaken being the tasty result.

Just five years old this month, Zac’s PieCaken continues to be a sensation, with both his Thanksgiving and Christmas versions available nationwide through Goldbelly.

So tell us about the Christmas PieCaken, Zac.

“This is our Christmas PieCaken 2.0. We did one last year, but this year is even better. We made some tweaks, and it looks a little different. We’re sticking with chocolate pecan pie, eggnog cheesecake, red velvet cake, and sweet & tart cherry pie filling, but this year we’re adding Amaretto buttercream. It’s like the best of all cheesecakey worlds. You have the cheesecake, but you also have that gooey, caramelly, pecan situation that’s like the turtle. Then you have the cherry pie filling that’s like cherry cheesecake and then very festively holiday with Amaretto, with a little bit of the nutmeg sneaking in with the eggnog. They all work separately, but they all work together. The cherry pie brings the acid to the party to break up the richness. We’re always looking to check every box, from sweet, tart, healthy, crunchy, creamy, and gooey. We want it to be this all-in-one experience.”

With a pandemic affecting how people celebrate the holidays this year, Zac and Goldbelly reacted on the fly, to the benefit of those who want to add PieCaken to their menu.

“Doing things that are holiday-specific, we don’t really know what that’s going to look like during a pandemic. Are people going to be celebrating by themselves? Are they going to have smaller gatherings than usual? So this year, we’re also doing PieCaken slices. You might have just one person over, so the slices made sense to us. This was the year to do it because everything’s changed, and we’re adapting.”

Thanks to an on-air rave from Kelly Ripa on her morning show, what started as a New York phenomenom has become a national favorite thanks to Zac and his PieCaken Bakeshop’s relationship with Goldbelly. And with the COVID-19 crisis affecting how we all eat, Zac isn’t alone in reaping the benefits of the company’s vast reach.

“Goldbelly has been an incredible partner from the start. They saw something in the PieCaken and were always supportive. They really embraced it; they get it. They get the humor; they get the quality, they get everything about it. And the silver lining, if there is one, because the pandemic has decimated the restaurant industry, is that Goldbelly’s expansion has meant that more small businesses, small bakeries, small restaurants, are now getting into the shipping game. There’s plenty of that pie to go around and customers are realizing that they can get all of this amazing food delivered to them. So as horrible as this year has been for the industry, this direct-to-consumer model has been a huge relief to a lot of businesses in the industry.”

Looking back, Zac Young’s culinary journey can be traced to Food Network superstar Alex Guarnaschelli and her New York City restaurant, Butter.

“Alex and I go back almost like 15 years. She gave me my first pastry chef job and is very much responsible for a lot of my views on food. A lot of my palate, a lot of the thought behind flavor and execution that I have are because of Alex. I spent time in France working for amazing chocolate manufacturers, but Alex really added that chef’s touch to it. I think I came to Butter as a technician, which a lot of pastry chefs are, and she really poked a lot of flavor and emotion out of me, literally and figuratively. She’d probably kill me for saying this, but she’s my kitchen mother, or she’s like my kitchen older sister. She’s very loyal and very protective in a wonderful, wonderful way. “

A fun anecdote that Zac shares perfectly sums up Alex Guarnaschelli’s influence on him.

“It’s really fun when we get to work together, and on set, it’s always a homecoming. And as Scott Conant said on an episode of Chopped that the three of us did together, ‘I feel like I’m sitting next to two Alexes,’ which is a good compliment. She’s amazing, and I’m deeply, deeply grateful for our continued relationship.”

On the subject of food competition shows, Zac Young first made a name for himself as a cheftestant on the first season of Bravo’s Top Chef: Just Desserts. While he didn’t win, he made quite an impression on host Gail Simmons. When I asked her this summer which Top Chef alumni she’d bring in to cook for a private dinner party, she didn’t hesitate to choose Zac for the dessert course.

Hearing that he left that impression on Gail, Zac reflected on his Top Chef: Just Dessert roots.

“Top Chef was the beginning of everything. At that time in my life, too, I was in need of some validation that I was doing things right. I always kind of set out on my own path and kind of did my own thing. So the great thing about the Top Chef experience was, you know, it was the first pastry-based Top Chef. So for the pastry chefs that were there, it was all new. It was the first time for everything, and it was an incredibly, incredibly talented group. None of us knew each other, and I think we were all amazed by what everyone created. It gave me a lot of confidence in my pastry products, and my thought processes behind everything.”

I was curious how having been a competitor on Top Chef: Just Desserts has informed his approach to sitting on the other side of the table as a judge on many shows, including the most recent season of Food Network’s Halloween Baking Championship.

“I bring a unique perspective, especially in pastry, because it’s a small, small community. So a lot of my feedback is not just overarching but also competition-specific because what you create in three hours is very different than what you’d crate in a restaurant or a bakery. There are a lot of pitfalls that these pastry chefs suffer, so having gone through them myself, I’m able to guide them without giving them all the secrets.”

Speaking of secrets, neither Zac Young nor his PieCaken fit that label. The pastry chef’s charisma has made him a popular television personality, while his trademark PieCaken continues to thrill customers from coast-to-coast. So scrub that turducken idea from your mental cookbook and head to Goldbelly to order Zac’s far-more-enticing creation.

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Sweet or savory? Are you more likely to make a turducken or order Zac Young’s PieCaken?