Only in America – land of the free and the bottomless pit holiday table – would you find a dessert creation so audacious, so over-the-top, so enticing as the piecaken.

It takes a pastry chef with a lot of talent – and a good sense of humor – to pull off this silly addition to the Thanksgiving table, a description that perfectly fits Zac Young, the irrepressible pastry director for the Craveable Hospitality Group (formerly known as the David Burke Group) in New York City.

Young, who turns 34 on Friday, grew up in Maine and still visits his parents regularly in Falmouth. This time last year, he took the crazy concept of piecaken – two or three pies stuffed into a cake – and turned it into a media sensation. Kelly Ripa gushed over Young’s piecaken on “Live with Kelly and Michael.” The New York Times wrote about it. But you had to live in New York to try it.

This year, Young is shipping the all-in-one holiday desserts nationwide through He’s already sold out for Thanksgiving, but will continue making piecakens through the end of the year. Between shipping and pickup service in New York, he expects to sell 1,200 of them for Thanksgiving alone.

A slice of Young’s piecaken is a Thanksgiving trifecta on a fork: pecan pie on the bottom, pumpkin pie in the middle and apple upside-down cake on top. The layers are held together with cinnamon buttercream.

In a telephone interview from New York, Young said he decided to create his own version of piecaken when the executive chef of David Burke Fabrick, a restaurant in the boutique hotel Archer New York, got excited about adding turducken to the restaurant’s Thanksgiving menu. (A turducken is a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey.)


“Kind of as a joke, and as a little nudge-nudge to him, I thought, ‘I’m going to do the turducken of desserts,’ ” Young said.

Piecaken has been circulating on the Internet for years, most commonly the “cherpumple,” which involves cherry, pumpkin and apple pie. Young wanted to use his own favorite Thanksgiving desserts and take “more of a classic French approach in layering them, like an entremet or one of the French-style mousse cakes where you have a custard layer, a cake layer and a crunchy layer.”

The dessert is also a sly nod to Thanksgiving gluttony.

“Personally at Thanksgiving, I want a slice of everything,” Young said. “I will be standing at the dessert table completely overloaded with plates because I want every pie, every cake, plus whipped cream, plus ice cream. This is a way to get one slice of everything in one.”

The piecakens are not huge, but they are dense, weighing in at about 6 pounds each. Each serves up to 20 people, if the slices are small. “It’s gluttonous,” Young said, “but it also lends itself to portion control.”

For the most part, Young’s recipes for the individual components of the piecaken took light tweaking to get them to work together, but there was one big curve ball. Young said Libby’s pumpkin puree is “the gold standard” for pastry chefs because of its consistent moisture content. Just when Young desperately needed large quantities of it, Libby’s experienced a shortage, and Young had to experiment with other brands. It meant reformulating the pumpkin pie recipe three times.



Piecaken was supposed to be just a special on the menu. But when Young posted a photo of the piecaken-in-progress on Instagram a week and a half before Thanksgiving, his followers started asking where they could buy one. Young went to Craveable’s marketing department and floated the idea of selling the piecakens at David Burke in Bloomingdale’s. Within a day, an e-mail blast went out, and the orders flowed in.

“I thought if I sell 50 of them, I’ll be happy,” Young said.

Then, the Monday before Thanksgiving, someone at “Live with Kelly and Michael” gave Kelly Ripa a copy of that email. She read it on air, and took a ravenous bite out of the paper. Young sent over two piecakens, and Ripa and her then co-host, Michael Strahan, sampled them on air. Ripa did her usual schtick, dancing and telling her audience that she was having “a dessertgasm.”

You can’t buy publicity like that. The company sold 250 piecakens in the three days before Thanksgiving.

Young started creating other versions. For Christmas, he unleashed the Pielogen, made with toffee pecan-pie, eggnog cheesecake and chocolate-salted caramel Yule log. For Valentine’s Day, he came up with the “Piecupen,” a red velvet cupcake stuffed with chocolate cream pie, covered with Red Hots cinnamon cream cheese frosting, and topped with a Champagne truffle.


Young began preparing for this year’s anticipated piecaken craziness last January. Because of limited storage and staff – Young personally oversees the packing of each piecaken – only 75 can be shipped each day. The piecakens are made in the basement of Bloomingdale’s, where Craveable has a cafe and test kitchen. To layer the pies, the pastry chefs cut off the outer crusts so the components will sit evenly.

One thing he doesn’t have to worry about is pumpkin puree.

“I wasn’t messing around this year,” Young said. “In July I bought 40 cases of Libby’s and stockpiled it. I’ll be on ‘Hoarders: Pumpkin Puree Edition.’ ”


A sampling of a piecaken in the newsroom brought mixed reviews. Many tasters loved the pie layers but were less impressed with the cake layer. While some called the whole thing “delicious,” others would prefer to eat each element separately. “It’s a waste of good pie,” said city editor Katherine Lee.

Food editor Peggy Grodinsky called herself “a bit of a purist,” and said she’s more likely to indulge in a single perfect piece of pie after the Thanksgiving meal. “On the plus side, this piecaken sure smells like Thanksgiving,” she added.


Some people balked at the $65 price tag (plus $29.95 shipping) and said they’d rather give the money to local pie makers. started taking pre-orders for the piecaken on Oct. 1. By Nov. 1, the Thanksgiving piecakens were sold out – aided by a spread in the November issue of O, the Oprah magazine, which came out in mid-October. Young estimates he’ll sell about 2,500 piecakens by the end of the Christmas holiday.

If you know Zac Young, or his family, and you missed ordering for Thanksgiving, don’t bother begging for special treatment. Even Young’s own sister, Alisa, and the CEO of Craveable couldn’t get a Thanksgiving piecaken this year because they waited too long.

Young will, however, bring one to his family’s Thanksgiving celebration.


Young gets back to Maine about four times a year. On his last visit, he was going through his baby book and found a list that his gluten-free, vegan mother, Susan Young, had kept, detailing what she fed him when he was 7 months old – things like kelp, millet, beets and tofu.


Becoming a pastry chef, he said, “was the ultimate form of rebellion, I guess.”

Young’s family owns Youngs Furniture, founded by his great-grandfather. As a child, Young used to walk to the original Mister Bagel on Forest Avenue in Portland with his grandfather and father, John, who was close friends with the owner, Rick Hartglass. Hartglass allowed Young to watch the bagel-making process, and on Thanksgiving and Christmas Young and his father worked there so the staff could have those days off.

“Now I equate the smell of yeast with Mr. Bagel,” Young said. “Every time I smell it, I’m brought back to my childhood there.”

Young had no desire to become a fourth-generation furniture executive. He attended the Waynflete School in Portland through middle school, then transferred to a boarding school in Massachusetts, where he nurtured his interest in performance and theatrical design.

“There was never any pressure” to go into the family business, Young said. “My father, God bless him, it wasn’t easy raising me. I’ve always done my own thing. And my parents have always totally supported me, even in trying times. I like to think that it all worked out.”

At 23, Young was living in New York City and working in the wigs department at Radio City Music Hall. Over Christmas, he decided to bake some cookies. He bought a KitchenAid mixer and a Williams-Sonoma cookie book and worked his way through it.


“I became fascinated with the creativity within the bounds of science,” he said.

Some experiments – chocolate chip cookies made with chocolate-covered pretzels – were a success, others a disaster. But his efforts caught the attention of his mother, who suggested he try culinary school. The idea had never crossed his mind.

“I had no clue what I was getting into,” he said. “Food didn’t play a big part in my world.”

He visited the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, and when they asked him what he wanted to do, he said he wanted to make cookies.

“They said, ‘We don’t really have a cookie program. We have a pastry program.’ And I was like ‘No, I want to make cookies,’ ” Young recalled.

But once he was exposed to classical pastries, he fell in love. After graduating with honors, Young worked at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. Next came jobs at Butter Restaurant in New York, training in France, and then back to New York for a gig at Flex Mussels Restaurants. In 2012, he became pastry director at the David Burke Group, overseeing desserts for the company’s many restaurants and bars.


Young made the final four in the first season of Bravo’s “Top Chef: Just Desserts,” and now frequently appears as a judge on Food Network shows. He is co-host of a Cooking Channel show called “Unique Sweets,” and brought the show home for a Maine episode, visiting local spots such as Scratch Baking Co., Wicked Whoopies and Catbird Creamery.

In 2015, Young was named one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America by “Dessert Professional.”

Even with all of his success, he tries not to take himself too seriously – as his piecaken sideline shows.

“I frequently say to my team and my staff, as perfectionist as we are and as invested as we are in what we do, we’re not saving kittens,” he said. “What we do is almost trivial, yet it’s also kind of important. Like the arts, or like anything that brings people joy or escape, it’s necessary.

“We make people happy.”

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