I turn now from deserts (the plants at Stanford’s cactus garden, in a series of recent postings) to desserts.

This is the first in a series of follow-ups to my 4/29 posting “All the dessert world is not either cake or pie”, about the categorization and name of a strawberry dish made by Stephanie Shih’s friend Darya Kavitskaya. Darya called it a pie, but Steph insisted it was better labeled as cake. On looking at a picture of the dish (#2 in that posting), I identified it as a strawberry clafoutis, a crustless dessert of strawberries baked in a thick custardy flan-like batter (#3 in that posting) — something distant from both canonical cake and canonical pie. Hence the title of that posting.

But now Darya has sent me the recipe, and I see that it’s not a clafoutis at all, but in fact a fruit pizza, with a sweet base crust and a strawberry topping.

That puts it into a category I’ll label SWEET-PIE, a category whose central members are canonical pie and are not at all like canonical cake. The category SAVORY-PIE (of marginal psychological reality) takes in chicken pot pie, Hot Pockets, ordinary pizzas (both red and white) and (British) meat pies.

So I end up siding with Darya on the cake vs pie issue, though Darya admits that her labeling of the strawberry dish as pie is probably a consequence of the labels she has in her native Russian: (paraphrasing her account a bit) tort, which is fancy and is thus cake; pirog, which is any (non-fancy) pie; and pirozhok, which is a small closed pielet (resembling a Hot Pocket).

(Note: I use all-caps for category names, selecting names that are intended to be suggestive but not definitional; the actual definition for a category is a complex of conditions on membership in the category. We could just use arbitrary numbers to name the categories, since nothing substantive follows from the names we choose — all the work is in the conditions on membership — but for expository purposes suggestive labels are really helpful.

Mentioned linguistic expressions — linguistic expressions qua expressions — are cited in italics. Used linguistic expressions — referring, attributing, predicating, etc. — are not typographcally distinguished.)

Now to the superordinate category CAKE-PIE embracing both pie and cake. The central, prototypical, members of the category are sweet baked dishes based on a combination of flour and eggs and served as desserts. (Categories generally have any number of members at some distance from their prototypes.)

Among the subcategories of CAKE-PIE are SWEET-PIE and CAKE:

(1) In SWEET-PIE, the central members have the flour and eggs made into a dough, which is used for crusts —  some selection of a base crust, a crust rim, and/or a top crust — with the crusts then topped or filled by a sweet foodstuff (especially one based on fruit).

(2) In CAKE, the central members are composed from a batter of flour, eggs, and sugar, with air incorporated into the batter by beating.

These are, roughly characterized, (some of) the categories I use in classifying food for everyday purposes. In culinary contexts, I have further categories, plus a much wider assortment of labels. Other people will have somewhat different inventories of everyday categories and also categories for use in various technical contexts, and somewhat different inventories of labels. In culinary mode, I distinguish pizza rossa and pizza blanca (both referring to foods in the SAVORY-PIE category), and in the SWEET-PIE category, I also have the labels pizza dolce (which some refer to as Italian cheesecake!) and fruit pizza. A classic fruit pizza (Darya’s version is much simpler than this):

(#1) Baked sweet dough of some kind (cookie dough will do), cream cheese filling, fancy fruit topping

Darya’s pie:

(#2) Base of sweet dough, sweet strawberry topping, baked

The recipe as provided by Darya:

Dough: butter 100 gram, 2 eggs, flour 100 gram, sugar 80 gram, a pinch of soda and a drop of lemon juice

Filling: strawberries 300-400 gram, sugar 50 gram, lemon juice 2 tbs

In a pan, heat up sugar, add strawberries and lemon juice. Cook until strawberries caramelize.

Mix together butter and sugar, add eggs, flour, and soda. Mix well. Put the dough on a cake pan, strawberries on top. Bake at 350 F for approximately 30 minutes.

Also in the SWEET-PIE category: pizza dolce. From the Memorie diAngelina (Easy, Authentic. Italian.), “Angelina’s Pizza Dolce (Italian Cheesecake)” by Frank Fariello on 6/5/11:

(#3) A whole pizza dolce, in a pie plate

(#4) A slice

For most of us, pizza means just one thing: a round disk of dough topped with tomato, mozzarella and other goodies and baked in a hot oven. But ‘pizza’ really just means pie, and can refer also to Italian cheesecake, typically made with ricotta and eggs, flavored with sugar and other things, called pizza dolce di ricotta. 

Ingredients: 500g (1 lb.) ricotta cheese; 5 eggs; 150g (3/4 cup) sugar, or more to taste; zest of a small lemon, finely grated; a good pour of sweet anise liqueur (anisette or sambuca)

Directions: Mix all the ingredients together until they form a smooth and uniform whole. Pour into a greased pie pan and bake at 180°C/350°F for about 45 minutes, or until completely set and golden brown on top.

This is pretty clearly a somewhat eccentric dish in the SWEET-PIE category — eccentric because crustless and also fruitless.

The name Italian cheesecake captures the close similarity to cheesecake, but that too falls into the SWEET-PIE category. From Wikipedia:

(#5) A cheesecake slice, with bottom crust and fruit on top

Cheesecake is a sweet dessert consisting of one or more layers. The main, and thickest layer, consists of a mixture of soft, fresh cheese (typically cream cheese or ricotta), eggs, vanilla and sugar; if there is a bottom layer it often consists of a crust or base made from crushed cookies (or digestive biscuits), graham crackers, pastry, or sponge cake. It may be baked or unbaked (usually refrigerated). Cheesecake is usually sweetened with sugar and may be flavored or topped with fruit, whipped cream, nuts, cookies, fruit sauce, or chocolate syrup. Cheesecake can be prepared in many flavors, such as strawberry, pumpkin, key lime, lemon, chocolate, Oreo, chestnut, or toffee.

On to the SAVORY-PIE category, in particular pizzas of various kinds. From NOAD, a definition of pizza rossa, the canonical pizza:

noun pizza: a dish of Italian origin consisting of a flat, round base of dough baked with a topping of tomato sauce and cheese, typically with added meat or vegetables. ORIGIN Italian, literally ‘pie’.

The bottom dough crust is crucial.

Pizza is the all-American vernacular food, though it’s available in many fancy variants.

(#6) A classic slice of (pepperoni) pizza

And there’s a variant with a rim crust as well as the bottom crust:

(#7) Chicago-style deep-dish pizza

(Also in the SAVORY-PIE category is Greek spanakopita: see my 2/23/17 posting “Spanakopita”.)

This is not the end of the pizza world, however. There’s also pizza blanca:

(#8) A rectangular, and very simple, pizza blanca

Pizza blanca (vs. rossa): pizza crust plus a savory sauce (sliced onion, minced garlic, red pepper flakes, parmesan cheese, mozarella cheese; or with an alfredo sauce, and possibly with dollops of ricotta); crucially without tomato sauce, and also usually without meat, even chicken, though bacon or pancetta is sometimes used; vegetables (olives, avocado, artichokes, eggplant, mushrooms, even sometimes tomato slices) can be added.

Back in the summer of 1974, Ann Daingerfield Zwicky attempted to tailor a dinner for a housemate, a seriously picky eater who reacted badly to tomatoes and tomato products (like tomato paste / sauce), by whipping up some pizza blanca, in several varieties (I remember an especially fine mushroom one). Unfortunately, the housemate rejected it as too weird; for him, pizza had to have tomato sauce on it. He preferred to eat more canonical pizza, even though it made him decidedly queasy.

Historically, pie referred to items in the SAVORY-PIE category, with meat or cheese fillings — often completely enclosed in a crust, for carrying by hand or in travel. But now the canonical pie is in SWEET-PIE.

On pie in general, from Wikipedia:

A pie is a baked dish which is usually made of a pastry dough casing that covers or completely contains a filling of various sweet or savoury ingredients.

Pies are defined by their crusts. A filled pie (also single-crust or bottom-crust), has pastry lining the baking dish, and the filling is placed on top of the pastry but left open. A top-crust pie has the filling in the bottom of the dish and is covered with a pastry or other covering before baking. A two-crust pie has the filling completely enclosed in the pastry shell. Shortcrust pastry is a typical kind of pastry used for pie crusts, but many things can be used, including baking powder biscuits, mashed potatoes, and crumbs.

Specifically on meat pies:

(#9) Steak and kidney pie

(#10) Nigerian meat pies (completely enclosed and portable)

Meat pies with fillings such as steak, cheese, steak and kidney, minced beef, or chicken and mushroom are popular in the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand as take-away snacks.

Though such pies are common throughout much of the former British Empire, with the exception of chicken pot pie and Hot Pockets, they are not widely served in North America, though they are not unknown. See my 12/30/14 posting “potpie”.  (And see the section on Hot Pockets in my 3/13/18 posting “Zane Grills”.)

To come: tortes, tarts, flan, and quiche, in relation to cake and pie. And the category BREAD-CAKE, comprising both breads and cakes.

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