Apple pie gets a lot of glory for being the embodiment of American desserts – ‘As American as apple pie’ as the saying goes, flatly ignoring the fact that apple pie isn’t an American invention. That said, American apple pie truly shines when prepared with regional flare — such as being made with sour cream and crumb topping in Amish country or topped with a slice of cheddar in Vermont. This got us to thinking: what other regional desserts in the United States have been living in classic apple pie’s warm, buttery shadow? We set to find out, one sweet pastry at a time.
Black and white cookie
Like many regional specialties, there is a bit of a battle over where the black and white cookie hails from. Well, apologies to upstate New York, but we’re giving this one to New York City. Commonly found in delis throughout Manhattan and the Bronx, this cookie is half chocolate, half vanilla and wholly delicious. If you’re looking for a quintessential New York sweet treat, do as Jerry Seinfield advised, and look to the cookie.
Akutaq is a prime example of how Alaskans make us lower 48-ers feel inadequate. While we view ice cream as an indulgence, or for its well-known healing properties after a break-up, Alaskans have been making their own, practical version for longer than anyone can remember. Historically made from berries, snow, fish and reindeer fat (or other animal fats), akutaq was nutrient-rich food, ideal for long hunting trips. If the sound of reindeer-fat-flavoured ice-cream doesn’t appeal, don’t worry—nowadays akutaq (aka Eskimo Ice Cream) is made with vegetable shortening rather than animal fat and sugar is added.
Much like the game with which it shares a name, chess pie is a puzzle. Where did this tasty pie originate? How did it get its odd name? What few people question is the fact that this dessert is delicious—think pecan pie, minus those pesky pecans. Made in home kitchens throughout the South, you can buy yourself a slice of fancy chess pie (it has chocolate in it!) at The Angus Barn in Raleigh, North Carolina.
While many American desserts are steeped in history, we mustn’t forget that the US is a nation that embraces the new with gusto. Exhibit A: fried Coke. Featuring fritters flavored with Coca-Cola and topped with a thick, Coke syrup, this dish first gained popularity at the 2006 Texas State Fair, and has bringing soda and dessert together ever since.
Bumpy cake is far more appealing than its name might suggest. It’s a chocolate cake with lines of cream piped on top, and the whole thing is then covered with a pourable fudge frosting. With a topography that resembles speed bumps, is it any wonder this regional specialty hails from the Motor City? The original bumpy cake is courtesy of Sanders’ Candy, but you can find a slice in hip Detroit eateries such as Hilton Road Café or Union Street.
Several states have official state pies, but New Mexico made history as the first state to appoint an official state cookie. The honor went to the bizcochito, an anise- and cinnamon-flavoured cookie commonly eaten at Christmas. However, if you happen to have a luminaria aversion or a love of cookies that knows no limits, you can find them year-round at Albuquerque’s Golden Crown Panaderia.
Pin this image New Mexico's official state cookie: the bizcochito (in circular form), by QuickFix.
Key lime pie
Forget the raucous beaches, retirees and voting scandals that might spring to mind when you think of the Sunshine State — key lime pie has them all beat for classic Floridian charm (yes, even you, Grandma). Thought to be invented by Florida Keys sailors who needed to ward off scurvy, key lime pie originally did not require cooking—the acid of the limes reacted with sweetened condensed milk to create a thickened filling. Nowadays, the pie is baked and served en masse throughout the state. You can find a slice at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach or the Cracked Conch Café, located in the Florida Keys.
Woodford Reserve Bourbon has been putting hair on the chests of Kentucky residents since 1797, but it’s not Woodford County’s only claim to fame. They are also responsible for Woodford pudding, a cake flavored with cinnamon, blackberry jam and buttermilk. This sticky, sweet concoction of years gone by is far more likely to be found on the windowsill of a Kentucky home kitchen than on a menu, but around Derby on the first weekend in May keep an eye out for this local favourite on special seasonal menus.