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A Pudding-Soft, Berry-Studded Dessert to End Your Cake vs. Pie Debates

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When Ali Slagle told me she'd give up cake for pie, I nearly lost it. To be fair, we were eating pie at the time, so "out of sight, out of mind"? That's my only explanation.

Samantha Seneviratne's Blackberry Cuatro Leches
Samantha Seneviratne's Blackberry Cuatro Leches

I love pie as much as the next person, but give up cake?! Did she say give up cake?!

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Cake, I'd argue, is a bigger category, with more diversity. Cake can be squishy, fruity, nutty, crunchy. Cake can be tall or squat, airy or dense, large enough to feed a wedding reception or made just for one. Cake can be everything pie can be, and then some!

We've had this fight before—but now I can say with more gusto that cake wins.

But for all of you who, if faced with that cruel dilemma, couldn't fathom giving up pie, consider a cake, by way of the very talented baker, writer, and photographer Samantha Seneviratne and her 2015 book The New Sugar and Spice, that will scratch your pie itch. And if you're a pudding person (Bueller? Bueller?), it will satisfy you, too.

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The New Sugar and Spice Is Everything Nice

The New Sugar and Spice Is Everything Nice by Lena S.

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Raspberry Toaster Strudel

Raspberry Toaster Strudel by Samantha Seneviratne | Love...

Sam's cake is as worthy a pedestal for your prized summer berries as pie. Because her real innovation—besides turning tres leches into cuatro leches (cream, evaporated milk, condensed milk, and, fourthly, whole milk)—is cramming halved blackberries over the top.

The high-rising cake eclipses the berries, which relax into the batter below. When the cake comes out of the oven, you poke holes all over its top and drown it in the sweet milk. It pools in the blackberries' bellies and fills all of the cake's pockets.

Poke. Pour. Patience.
Poke. Pour. Patience. Photo by James Ransom

Chill the cake for four hours, enough time for it to become pudding-soft. Then spoon more leche on top and scatter over any lingering blackberries. You've got a cake, a custardy blackberry pie, and a pudding all in one. You have gamed the system.

It's a cake that's as refreshing as cakes get; that's better the next day; and that's delicious eaten cold, straight from the fridge. If you want to get creative, try using halved strawberries, cherries, or sugar plums instead. Or take your personal favorite tres leches recipe and add fruit; I, for one, want to try blueberries or raspberries on top of this coconut tres leches.

Tidal pools of cream.
Tidal pools of cream. Photo by James Ransom

Sure, it's a lot of dairy to buy for one cake. But drizzle the leftover sweetened condensed milk into your iced coffee, turn that evaporated milk into Laurie Colwin's creamed spinach; and use your whole milk and cream to make ice cream.

Because even if we can't come to a consensus about cake or pie, at least we'll always have ice cream, which—let's all agree—is excellent on either.

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Samantha Seneviratne's Blackberry Cuatro Leches

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Serves 10 to 12

For the cake:

  • Unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 6 ounces blackberries, plus more for serving
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • Seeds from 1 vanilla bean

For the milk-soak:

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
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Ali Slagle has also said that she would choose raspberries over blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Please weigh in in the comments below. (I'd choose blueberries over any berries, any day of the week.)