It’s easy for home bakers to share their delicious desserts when hosting an event at home, but it can be difficult to transport some baked goods to a dinner party or picnic due to their delicate construction. Our friends at America’s Test Kitchen understand this poignant problem. Managing producer Sally Swift talked to Lisa McManus, head of equipment testing for Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, about her search for the most secure cake and pie carriers. Lisa also shared the recipe for Mile-High Lemon Meringue Pie from Cook’s Country. It’s a summertime pie worthy of a road trip to share with friends.
Sally Swift: I was recently gifted a wine clutch; it's a little purse with handles. It's very fashionable, gold and black, insulated, and it fits exactly one bottle of wine.
Lisa McManus: Perfect.
(Photo: America's Test Kitchen)
SS: Walking around carrying this little wine bottle, I got to thinking about all the stuff being made to make food portable. With picnic season upon us, I wonder what you have found for whole cake and pie carriers.
LM: There's the old standby of trying to sit on your way to a party with a pie on your lap, but that does not always work – especially around New England where the roads are bumpy. We looked at both cake and pie carriers – nine different products. We tried to find something that could bring a pie or cake in perfect shape, because after you've spent all that time baking from scratch and decorating or frosting the cake perfectly, you don’t want to ruin it in the last couple minutes before you get it in the door.
SS: No kidding.
LM: We looked at a whole bunch of things; a lot of them were plastic. We did look at some fancier ones and ended up eliminating them, because we want you to be able to bring anything. You don't want to get to some dessert that you just can't fit into this thing after you bought it. We wanted something that had the flexibility to carry anything from an 8- to 10-inch pie, single- or double-crust. Or with cakes, many are tall and multilayered. We didn't want you to be restricted by something that was too small.
Associate Tastings & Testings editor Lauren Savoie opens a pie carrier containing a Mile High Lemon Meringue pie in order to asses the damage caused by the lid. (Photo: Steve Klise/America's Test Kitchen
SS: What should we be thinking about when we look at pie and cake carriers?
LM: One important thing is the base. Does it have something that grips, or is that cake and pie going to be sliding around and smashing into the sides as soon as you move? Another is a handle; you want something to carry it with so that you can get a good grip on it, and make it easy to maneuver into the trunk or onto the floor of the car. Nice clips that stay secure are also important. And when it comes to storage, one of the things we found in the ones we liked the best is they were collapsible, so you didn't have to have this giant hatbox-like thing that you had to keep somewhere.
SS: What were your winners?
LM: Our winner for both cake and pie were made by the same company, Progressive. The pie carrier is the Prepworks Collapsible Party Carrier; it’s also a deviled egg carrier – not just for pies and sweets. It's got an insert that lets you carry one pie that's 8-, 9- or 10-inches, plus it will pop up to a height of six-and-a-half inches. We have this Mile-High Lemon Meringue Pie. It’s wonderful, and it's our tallest pie – almost six inches tall when you're done; this carrier was the only one that fit the pie. It has an insert with molded cups for up to 28 deviled eggs. If you have two flatter pies – let’s say two custard pies – you flip that insert over and carry it like a bunk bed for your pies, one on the bottom, one on the top.
SS: That sounds like a super smart design.
LM: The cake one works similarly. It has space for cupcakes, so you can carry two dozen cupcakes. It’s perfect.
SS: How did you test these?
LM: We thought of all these different types of pies and cakes, and we put them in to make sure they fit. Then we walked around the block with them, climbed in and out of cars, drove up and down our bumpy New England roads, to see what emerged in good shape. With the cake carrier, we put the cupcake inserts in and filled it with potatoes; I swung it around to make sure the handle wouldn't come off. That would be the last thing you'd want to do: bake all this stuff, pick it up and – boom – it's falling apart.
SS: I imagine it’s important to have something where the top would come off and you wouldn't have to reach in to get the dessert?
LM: Yes. Let’s say you have a lemon meringue pie or a frosted cake in there, you have to reach down and get it, and that's not going to end well. We were about getting your beautiful baked goods there in one piece and the way you want them to look.
SS: I have to say, there’s no one more powerful than someone who shows up with a cake to a picnic.
LM: Definitely. They’re very popular.
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America’s Test Kitchen Equipment Review: Pie and Cake Carriers
Winner / Highly Recommended
Prepworks Collapsible Party Carrier
ATK Comments: “A smaller version of our favorite cake carrier, this collapsible plastic tote expanded to accommodate even our tallest Mile-High Lemon Meringue Pie. Its large, nonskid base held 8-, 9-, and 10-inch pies perfectly in place, even on bumpy car rides. A bonus: It comes with two molded inserts for deviled eggs, one of which can be flipped upside down and used as a second tier for transporting two shorter pies at once. Its one slight fault: The latches took a little finessing to secure properly.”
Best Buy / Recommended
Pyrex Portables Pie Carrier with 9” Pie Plate
ATK Comments: “Though too shallow for the tallest meringue pies, this carrier comfortably accommodated every other pie we tried in it. Testers loved the shallow recesses in the base of this carrier, which made it easy to slip our hands under the pie plate for easy removal. Another bonus: It comes with a copy of our favorite 9-inch glass pie plate for a bargain price. (While this carrier worked with other plates, we saw the best results when we used the included pie plate.)”
KAF Home Le Marché Insulated Pie Carrier
ATK Comments: “This handled fabric pie carrier failed to provide structure or support: Cream-topped pies smashed against its shallow top, and delicate crusts rubbed against its flexible sides. Spills and stains lingered on the cloth.”
Tupperware Round Container
ATK Comments: “Testers thought this container might be fine for storing leftovers, but it offers little support for transporting pies—and definitely wasn’t worth the steep price. The few pies that fit in the short container slid around in its wide base, smashing their edges against its sides.”
Fox Run Pie Saver
ATK Comments: “In this wide, shallow carrier, whole pies either became squashed or slid around recklessly. Testers often had trouble snapping its lid securely shut. The six smaller, triangular containers that are included for storing leftover pie slices might be useful, or they might be easy to misplace.”
On each episode of The Splendid Table we visit with the test cooks at America’s Test Kitchen to discuss a wide range of topics including recipes, ingredients, techniques and kitchen equipment.