Alton Brown Takes a Stand in the Great “Is Cheesecake Pie or Cake?” Debate

updated Feb 24, 2021
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pecan cheesecake
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Some questions plague the food world, dogging the smartest thinkers and the occasional dabblers alike with their Zen koan-like mysteries, where multiple answers seem so plausible. But then sometimes a voice of authority steps in, giving us the kind of definitive response that riles up the internet and gets everybody all shouty about their own thoughts. No, nobody’s declared their thoughts on whether a hot dog is a sandwich again, or got back to arguing over if burritos are tacos. This time it’s Alton Brown weighing in on Twitter with the dessert version of that: “Let me put this to rest,” the food television star posted this morning: “Cheesecake is pie.”

He quickly followed up his tweet and went a little further in his argument, saying that cheesecake is specifically a kind of custard pie.

It seems obvious right there in the name that, in fact, as a responder posted, cheesecake is actually a cake. But that also assumes a binary: that something must be either cake or pie. Thus, one could argue that it is a pie for which the filling is cake — a reasonable argument when there’s a crust given that most pies are crusts with filling. But that makes the filling the part that earns the cake name — so what, then, of crustless versions of cheesecake?

Some cheesecake is certainly pie, so yes, Alton is correct there. He doesn’t, however, say that all cheesecake is pie. It seems implied but perhaps that’s incorrect, because surely he doesn’t look at something like the trendy Basque burnt cheesecakes, more soufflé than anything, and think, that’s a pie? There’s no crust and it is not baked in a pie pan, what about it could possibly be a pie?

Honestly, though, does it really matter? Is anyone’s life going to be different if they decide to organize their recipes with cheesecake under pie instead of cake or any other kind of dessert? Nope, the only thing that’s important is that it’s delicious.

Where do you stand in the cheesecake debate? Let us know in the comments.