A Crack Pie® Taste TestFebruary 13, 2019
Very few things in the food world live up to their hype but, in my humble opinion, Momofuku Milk Bar’s Crack Pie® is one of the exceptions. While I have no personal experience with the addictive effects of its namesake narcotic, I can still confidently say that the pie deserves its name. I polished off the first slice I ever had in seconds less than three minutes, and was craving for another bite by minute four.
Christina Tosi derived her trademark dessert from chess pie, a recipe common in the Southern states of the US. In true Tosi fashion, she jacked up the sugar, removed the egg whites, used heavy cream instead of buttermilk, and swapped the flour for milk and corn powder to make a richer, gooier version. Her alterations resulted in a pie that had Tosi’s co-workers at wd~50 both begging for her to take the pie plate away and fighting over the last pieces. Years later, with the recipe having undergone several tweaks and improvements, the Crack Pie® is still as popular as ever. It’s one of the star items at Milk Bar, and rightfully appears on every “must-eat” list about New York.
Fortunately for my fellow addicts and I, we don’t have to fly to NYC (or Toronto) to get our fix. More and more local bakers are coming up with their own versions of this trademarked sweet. Because I aim to serve, I tried the most popular local versions of Crack Pie® to see if any of them can satisfy our Tosi-induced addictions.
π Breakfast and Pies (PHP 155 per slice)
One look at π’s recently renamed Smack Pie, and I had a feeling that it would be the least accurate version of the Milk Bar original. For one thing, with its thin, crispy, beige, meringue-like top, it looked nothing like its source. One bite confirmed my suspicion, the Smack Pie is a completely different creation. It’s a distant cousin of the Tosi concoction, at most.
Not only did π add a new topping, they also changed the base to a crispier crust, creating greater contrast between it and the smooth, gooey center. The filling also has a saltier profile than I expected, and was a great foil to the sweet topping layer. A copy of the Milk Bar original, this is not. But that’s not exactly a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very, very good thing
Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza (PHP 270 for a 6in pie)
Gino’s Crack Pie is delicious, but lacks depth compared to its two rivals.
Gino’s Crack Pie has a crust that is slightly thicker, and it lacks the dusting of confectioner’s sugar on top. It also looks most like the original to me. Texturally, it’s also the closest copy. You could slice it into neat, clean portions just like Milk Bar’s, whereas the other two collapse or tear away when cut.
Gino’s Crack Pie is delicious when tasted on its own, but relative to the other two, it lacks a bit of depth in its flavor. I missed the strong sweet-salty contrast, as well as the deeper caramel notes, I’ve come to expect. That said, I still won’t say no to anyone offering me a slice of Gino’s Crack Pie.
Red Hot Oven (PHP 700 for a 9in pie)
The gooey filling was just a little too sweet for me.
Red Hot Oven’s version is so gooey, it took me several attempts to slice a sliver that looked presentable in a photo. It was definitely the densest and the stickiest of all three pies. It was also the sweetest, with a flavor that reminded me of condensed milk. I would go as far as to say that the filling is just a smidgen too sweet. That’s saying something since Christina Tosi always errs on the side of too much sugar. However, the crust does a good job of cutting through some of that richness with its salty overtones and crumbly texture.
π never sought out to produce an exact copy of Momofuku Milk Bar’s signature dessert. They took inspiration from Tosi’s recipe and put their own spin on it, changing things just enough to be able it to call it their own and yet still be reminiscent of the original. While it’s good, their Smack Pie is clearly not a Crack Pie, which removes it from this competition.
To me, the best local crack pie would be the love child of these two versions.
The Crack Pie battle then comes down to the ovens, Gino’s and Red Hot. Neither of them really wins. Or both of them do, depending how you look at it. To me, the best local crack pie would be the love child of these two. The filling would combine the best parts of each, perfectly balanced between salty and sweet. It needs to have the texture of Gino’s, so I don’t have to wrestle with it every time I want a slice, plus the crust of Red Hot Oven’s for its ability to stave off any hint of umay stemming from the rich filling.
Until the day someone finally creates my Crack Pie® mash-up, though, I’m pretty content with what Manila has to offer to satisfy my addiction. It’s probably better for my mental (and physical) wellbeing that an exact replica of the original is not yet readily available locally.