After you’ve eaten hot dogs and hamburgers, end your Independence Day celebration with this star-studded dessert.
Growing up on the East Coast, July 4th was all about beef hot dogs and hamburgers, apple pie and Budweiser – all of this was a prologue to a family stroll to our traditional spot near the George Washington Bridge to see the fireworks that is from a barge floating in the Hudson River. It was a nice ritual.
Today, beef hot dogs are upgraded to sausages made from all kinds of exotic meats. The hamburgers are exotic (or possibly vegan) too. The beer is artisanal and rich in flavors. And although apple pie will never go away, it’s just one of many cakes and pastries and ice creams and sorbets and gelatos that we devour.
The fireworks are watched on television these days, especially this year as it was such a dry winter that heralds a summer full of risk of fire.
Apple will always be the iconic cake of choice because unlike blueberry or raspberry or a variety of exotic flavors, it has a tasty history. In the 18th century, Dutch and German immigrants brought with them a flaky crust of butter, to which the English pilgrims added apples, sliced and seasoned. The apple pie is so iconic that it can be found in “American Cookery”, the first known American cookbook from 1796.
And the phrase “As American as apple pie”? It started with folk tales about Johnny Appleseed. During the Second World War it was offered as a patriotic slogan to motivate soldiers to fight for “mother and apple pie”.
And yet, as with so many of the various July 4th rituals, apple pie is no longer alone – more than pumpkin pie is the only dessert inhaled during the Thanksgiving feeding frenzy. After a day of duck sausages and Impossible Beef burgers, served on organic rolls with homemade relish and ketchup, washed down with one or three bottles of Sam Adam’s Summer Ale, the imagination of a young overeater turns into a red-white-blue flag cake; single cherry pie; Star & stripe cupcakes; Strawberry rhubarb shortcake; Watermelon granita; red velvet blueberry ice cream cake – and much more.
I never get tired of apple pie – especially the oversized, apple-wrapped model that Costco sells for next to nothing. But my restless soul longs for a change. Especially after a year of pandemic isolation. I have different family members who bake some very fine cakes. But I also like cakes from shops and restaurants made by some of our best cake and pastry shops. Where? Consider this … and a happy fourth everyone!
6100 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys, 818-989-5132; 1051 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank, 818-557-3783; 21800 Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills, 818-884-9099; 8810 Tampa Ave., Northridge, 818-775-1860; www.costco.com
The prices for Costco cakes – including their sublime apple pie and pumpkin pie – are reasonable, and more. Especially when you not only consider the quality of the cakes, but also the size, which is probably twice as large as all other cakes on the market.
I’ve always wondered if the pies are a loss guide, as the amount of fruit seems to be barely covered by the cost of the pies alone. Still, they’re a wonder and a delight – the quintessential vacation cake. I am known to sit with a fork and eat the crust filling. That doesn’t make my family happy. But it makes me ecstatic.
And depending on which branch you go to, expect to find a 70-ounce pecan cake, a lattice-crusted apple, an early pumpkin, lime, and cherry pie. There is also an All-American Chocolate Cake (that’s what they call it!). It’s good, great in fact. But it’s not a cake.
Pi Bake Shop
Studio City Farmers Market; 818-986-1441, www.pibakeshop.com
There is actually no bakery shop in the Pi Bake Shop. Rather, you can find it in the beautiful Studio City Farmer’s Market, open every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., where, with a bit of luck, you can enjoy the classic apple pie and / or the vegan apple pie, the salted caramel apple, the key lime, the maple bourbon pecan and the mixed berry crumble.
The cakes here are something beautiful and wonderful, almost perfect and especially tasty when you add the complexity that needs to be handled. It is worth it ..
And don’t forget to do lots more shopping while you’re there. Studio City Farmer’s Market is one of the best in Southern California.
11118 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; 818-308-7990, www.republicofpie.com
Well, of course, they serve cakes in the Republic of Pie. However, this particular republic also offers an extensive selection of breakfast and lunch dishes.
The apple cake of choice is the classic apple, a fine cake without any bizarre or eccentricities. It’s the kind of cake your mother might have baked – she could have baked cakes. (There is also a cherry, a marionberry, a peach-blueberry, a strawberry-rhubarb, banana cream, chocolate cream, coconut cream, chocolate banana cream, espresso chocolate cream, cookies & cream, and earl gray cream. Key lime, along with pecan and pumpkin. )
I grew up with supermarket pies and these are a different world from, say, Mrs. Smith Pies. It’s been a long time since I’ve had one. I guess it’s a good idea to keep things that way. Some dishes are more memorable than meat.
Sweet Lady Jane
Encino Market Place, 16403 Ventura Blvd., Encino; 818-783-8188, www.sweetladyjane.com
I’ve loved Sweet Lady Jane since she opened on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood about two decades ago. And I went there as often as my clothes would allow for the oreo tiramisu and chocolate cake – along with pretty much all of the rest of the dessert case.
They’ve only grown a little since then, with new stores in Santa Monica and Encino where the candy is as … sweet as ever. But in a subtle, unobtrusive way. There is an apple pie, of great importance. There is an apple schnapps mini tart where the bakers didn’t skimp on schnapps. There is an apple galette. And an apple tart tatin.
There are also mixed berries – so colorful for the fourth – and cherries. What if you want ice cream toppings you can do when you have it at home. I prefer not to have mine a la mode.
14743 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-788-3983; www.mariecallenders.com
Marie Callender sells eight cream cakes, including double-cream blueberries, banana cream and lemon meringue. There are also six specialty pies – including chocolate satin and Kahlua cream cheese. And 10 fruit cakes – here you will find the classic apple cake, not huge, but big enough.
There’s the French apple with cinnamon crumble, which I probably like more for the crunchiness of the crumble than for the cake itself. In season there is a sour cream apple pie. And there’s an apple pie with no added sugar, a reminder that apples are sweet enough on their own to make a fine pie. There is also the mysterious “Razzleberry” – both with and without sugar. And the always confusing rhubarb cake. Is rhubarb a fruit, a vegetable, maybe a mineral? I was never quite sure.
Merrill Shindler is a freelance restaurant critic based out of Los Angeles. Send an email to [email protected]