About a year ago, Charles Phoenix, awesome connoisseur of all things pop-culture and especially vintage, was inspired to invent the Cherpumple, a massive and ultra-American dessert made of three pies (cherry, pumpkin, and apple), each cooked inside a layer of cake, all stuck together with cream cheese icing. The really amazing part is that people seem to like eating it.
This week, thanks to new coverage by The Wall Street Journal and Gothamist (which is apparently a compiled chain-blog where they pretend, among other things, that New Yorkers wouldn't make or eat something like this), Cherpumple buzz is growing again, bouncing all over our Facebook pages just in time for Chow Bella's Pie Social this Saturday, November 13.
It seemed destined to be. And I am a nurturing gal, and New Times' other food bloggers are all stretched pretty thin right now in pie-related activity, so I kind of volunteered to be guilted into having and documenting this epic baking adventure.
Get all the nitty gritty on making your own Cherpumple after the jump.
When I felt the deep and personal call to make a Cherpumple, the first thing I knew in my heart was that it had to have the maximum possible loving, yummy homemadeness in it -- especially the pie parts, of course. This was before I'd even begun to dig deeper into the legendary origin and multifaceted development of this Parthenon of pastries.
The original Cherpumple sports three cooked frozen pies nestled in layers of white, yellow, and spice cake made from mixes and frosted with pre-made, shelf-stable tub frosting. I like cake mixes. They save a pantload of measuring and generally produce a cake almost indistinguishable from scratch, if you follow the directions. Frozen pie is usually a travesty, though (especially fruit pie), and vat frosting tastes vile and is loaded with trans fats. (I do use it for decorating, though -- I'm not made of stone.)
I think white cake is just something to serve at weddings and a way to prove that you know how to separate eggs. (I've had really good ones, but never from a mix.) I also felt the Cherpumple lacked an element of chocolate, and nestled around the cherry pie seemed like the logical place for it.
It turns out that other Cherpumple bakers have had the very same ideas about using chocolate cake and making frosting from real butter and cream cheese. (Frosting is really easy to make. And I don't know why my family calls it frosting rather than icing.)
On the other hand, I don't make my own pie crust. Packaged, pre-rolled crust is wonderfully crisp and flaky, and it's usually about a dollar on sale, including the pan. The store brands often contain lard, which makes them even better, and this Cherpumple already didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of being anywhere near vegan.
Thursday, November 11, 8:30 a.m. It's a good day for extreme baking -- my Beloved Significant Other is at home to help carry things, keep me company, honor our veterans, and provide moral support, and there's a Burn Notice marathon on TV. I make a grocery list, read supermarket ads, clip coupons, and charge camera batteries.
11:30 a.m. After a hearty breakfast of blueberry wholegrain toaster waffles, Vienna sausage, multiple mugs of coffee, and painkillers, I put 10! eggs out to reach room temperature and head for the grocery store.
One cherpumplist claims to have spent about $20 on ingredients. She bought her pies at a bakery. I'm hoping that I can undercut that total with my shrewd bargain-hunting, despite upgrading some of the ingredients.
1 p.m. Return with ingredients for Cherpumple (-mince; see below) and other groceries, including more blueberry wholegrain toaster waffles. I add butter, cream cheese, frozen cherry pie (cheaper and just as good as the kind with canned filling), and empty crusts to the room-temperature party and have a lie-down.
3 p.m. Eat lunch and start making pies. I usually make apple pie for winter holiday family events only (Beloved Significant Other, like Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan, doesn't like his fruit cooked), so I tend to season the fresh apples with a jar of mincemeat. It was my father-in-law's favorite. Technically, therefore, I'm making Cherpumplemince, which Steps. It. Up.
The apples are Granny Smiths. Some people are very picky about their pie apples, but I'm happy just to have something crisp and a little tart.
I also make a French crumb topping for the apple-mince pie, to add another texture to both the taste and visual appeal of the finished dessert. (That's providing the whole thing doesn't just collapse on itself, which Cherpumples sometimes do.)
I intended to slip some blackberry brandy into the filling of the cherry pie (which has been thawing on the countertop so that I can bust into it with a pizza cutter), but blackberry brandy elves have made away with it, so I throw in some rum.
4:15 p.m. The first two pies (cherry and apple-mince) are in the oven. I eat a little bit of crumb topping that fell out of the bowl and immediately feel sick of dessert. I've fallen asleep brainstorming about three pies and three cakes for the past two nights.
I decided to encase the pumpkin pie in carrot cake rather than spice cake, and it's a good thing, because the cake mix that was on sale today doesn't come in a spice flavor. Then I realize I'll have yellow cake batter left over, and I can put spices and carrots and stuff in the second half of it, saving a whole cake mix.
6:06 p.m. The pumpkin pie is halfway cooked. (The can of pumpkin that claims to make one deep-dish 9-inch pie makes almost two of the size we need -- fortunately, I bought extra crusts for personal use.)
I've burned my arms three times, but only superficially. Beloved Significant Other has brilliantly ordered pizza.
Carrot cake is very 20th-century American. We had one at our wedding. I'm online, figuring out how much crushed pineapple, grated carrots, raisins, and coconut I'll need for about half a carrot cake, when the pizza arrives.
8:30 p.m. The last cakefied pie has come out of the oven. (I sided with those who theorize that cake batter poured over warm pie bakes more evenly than cake batter poured over cooled pie. Warm pie is a little harder to handle, but turning it out onto a plate and then flipping it into the pool of cake batter worked okay.)
Although the bottom of the oven is covered with smoldering stalagmites of assorted goo (pumpkin/carrot is the only pan that behaved itself), only one smoke alarm has gone off. It is, however, the one that isn't attached to anything, and B.S.O. kindly comes out to retrieve it because he remembers that he put it on top of the fridge behind the cereal.
I'd been concerned that the layers would be unstable -- our range is not entirely level, and sometimes when I make layer cakes I have to do some juggling to wind up with something flat on top that doesn't go sliding off the plate. (I realize that one can adjust the feet of the appliance, but hey, we're not the ones who put it in here to begin with, and I had a feeling I'd get cranky crawling on the floor and trying to twist old, greasy, rusty parts as a prelude to this project.) But the pumpkin pies (which start out as a liquid) looked even, so maybe our house is continuing to settle . . .
Cake has a more delicate texture than pie, so I did what I often do and added an extra egg and a packet of instant pudding to each cake mix to make it moister and denser, hoping that will help everything hang together better. It's hard to fit much cake batter on top of an entire pie in the pan, and that's a little worrisome.
Another thing I often do is substitute applesauce for the oil in a cake recipe. Nutrition-wise, it's like pissing in the ocean at this point, but I did it with the chocolate cake mix anyway, since that will be the top layer and I'm thinking light = good. The applesauce I have on hand happens to be blended with pomegranates, and the finished cake tastes much redder and fruitier than I expected, but also chocotastic.
I'm enjoying a thin layer of warm pumpkin custard that cascaded onto our warped old cookie sheet when it buckled in the oven's heat, along with little "muffin tops" of overflowed cake that I've broken off the edges of the pans. Much tastier than raw French crumbs.
After throwing a few more things into the trash, recycling, compost bin, and dishwasher, I whip up a triple batch of cream cheese frosting, substituting almond extract for two-thirds of the vanilla it calls for. I leave the Cherpumplemince megalayers to get a good night of cooling and firming up before I assault them with icing. Frosting. Whatever.
I anticipate bad dreams about structural integrity. My rotator cuff hurts.
Friday, 5 a.m. I put the Cherpumplemince layers in the refrigerator to get them as firm as possible, and take out the frosting to let it loosen up a bit. I can see that having real butter and cream cheese, which get much harder when chilled, is going to make this nice and sturdy, as long as the pies stay inside the cakes. If not, it'll be a kind of deconstructed Cherpumplemince trifle and allegedly still a taste sensation, as long as the cakes got completely cooked. Which I tried to do.
I look at my notes again and realize I meant to make a quadruple batch of frosting. Oh, well. I still have enough ingredients to make more if I need it. I'd also meant to chop some nuts for the carrot cake, but I don't think anyone will miss them.
Over coffee, I total the expenses. The preliminary figure: $27.82. Ouch. But $7 of that was mincemeat, and I'm quite sure I won't use the whole bag of sliced almonds for garnish. Also, you'll be enjoying free-range eggs, actual butter, and many other nice, fresh ingredients -- and I have a small pumpkin pie, a small chocolate cake, two eggs, and a 4-ounce brick of cream cheese left over.
6:45 a.m. B.S.O. says I have "opened a can of cake-ass" as he leaves for work. The bottom layer, pumpkin/carrot, is densest and moistest, which is how I planned it. The center of it is completely cooked but a little fragile. I fill the small dent with frosting and soldier on.
Mincemeat is leaking out one side of an otherwise lovely yellow cake layer. This is where putting an actual crust on that pie would have probably helped. But I fill the breach with frosting and continue to build the edifice.
The chocolate/cherry layer is in excellent condition, which will make the top look pretty classy. The sheer weight is making hairline cracks on the outer edge of the middle layer but also leveling out a Cherpumplemince that was beginning to list a bit.
I realize that, as I believe the late Roy Scheider said in Jaws, "You're gonna need more frosting." This is a good opportunity to let the mostly finished monstrosity get really solid in the refrigerator.
To see the fully decorated Cherpumplemince and possibly sample a slice, you'll have to join us at Pie Social, 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Fifth and Roosevelt streets.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.