Boston Cream Pie

Posted in : Old New England Recipes on by : Michael Marsha Tags: , , ,

Boston Cream Pie

Boston Cream Pie is one of those desserts that proves you’re a New Englander if you love it!  I’d keep one in the fridge all the time if I could.

The true history of Boston Cream Pie is cloaked in mystery.  No one is positive about where it came from or why it’s named after Boston.  As everyone knows, it isn’t a pie – it’s cake!  It’s just a plain butter cake with custard filling and a chocolate icing.

Boston’s Parker House Hotel has long taken the credit for this delectible dessert. No one there has ever seen fit to tell why they take credit for it. Boston Cream Pie has been on the Parker House menu since the day it opened in 1856. French Chef  Sanzian is mostly credited for creating this. This cake was originally served at the hotel with the names Chocolate Cream Pie or Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie.  This was the first hotel in Boston to have hot-and-cold running water, and the first to have an elevator.

It’s safe to say that the ancestors of this dessert were sponge cake or pound cake. Old timers even used rich sponge cakes for birthday cakes. The modern butter cake only came into being in the late 1870’s and 1880’s when baking powder was developed.  Even then, butter cake was not part of widespread commercial baking until emulsified shortenings were available in the 1930’s.

The real secret behind this pastry is the custard filling. When making this, it’s best to have fresh eggs and cream. But, because they tend to spoil easily, Boston Cream Pie has to have good refrigeration.

On December 12, 1996, Boston Cream Pie became known as the Massachusetts State Dessert. A civics class from Norton High School sponsored the bill.The pie beat out other candidates, including the Toll House cookie and Indian pudding.  Too bad they all couldn’t be the state dessert.

Are you ready to try to make one?  They’re really not that hard, but they do take some work and planning. You want to make sure your cake is completely cool before you add the custard. If you try one, let me know what you think in the comments.

Boston Cream Pie

For the Cake:

1 3/4 cups sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons solid vegetable
shortening (such as Crisco)
3/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup milk

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter two 8-inch cake tins and line the bottoms with wax paper.

Thoroughly combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream the butter and shortening until they are fluffy, then slowly beat in the sugar. Beat until the mixture is again very light and fluffy. Rub a dab between your fingertips — the sugar should be almost completely dissolved. If the mixture feels gritty, beat it some more. Beating thoroughly at this stage is important if you want a light-textured cake.

When fats and sugar are thoroughly creamed, add the egg yolks one by one, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

Measure out the milk in a pouring pitcher so you can add it in two parts. Beat a third of the flour into the batter, then half the milk, then flour, milk, flour. Be sure each addition is thoroughly mixed in before you add the next, but do not beat any more than necessary.

Divide the batter between the pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350° and bake 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the cake is browned and a toothpick emerges clean. Invert the layers onto wire racks, peel off the paper, and let cool.

For the Cream Filling:

1 1/2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean (small)
1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon (1 envelope) gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup heavy cream
3 egg whites
4 tablespoons sugar

Split the vanilla bean to expose the seeds. Put it and the milk in a saucepan over medium low heat and cook only until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan. Allow to cool.

In a separate, heavy, non-aluminum saucepan, beat the 1/2 cup sugar with the egg yolks until well combined, then beat in the flour. Cook, stirring, over very low heat, until it starts to thicken. Pour in the milk in a thin stream, beating all the while. Add the vanilla bean.

Cook, stirring, until the mixture is so thick it holds the path of the spoon. (It will do nothing for quite a while, then suddenly stiffen up, so don’t go wandering off and forgetting to stir or you’ll get wicked lumps.)

Soften the gelatin in the water, then stir it into the thickened custard. Be sure the gelatin is completely dissolved, then turn off the heat. Stir from time to time as the custard cools to release steam that would thin it.

When the custard has cooled, chill it. While it’s chilling, beat the cream until it forms soft peaks. Beat the egg whites until they start to thicken, then slowly add the sugar. Keep beating until you have a shiny meringue that forms slightly stiffer peaks than the whipped cream.

By now the custard should be starting to set. Snatch it from the refrigerator and beat in the meringue. As soon as that’s incorporated, remove the vanilla bean and fold in the whipped cream.

Again chill the filling until almost set — a matter of a few minutes only.

Put the bottom cake layer on a serving platter. Pile on the filling and spread it to within an inch of the edge. Apply the iced top layer, pressing gently to spread the cream.

Chill the cake until the filling is completely set — at least 3 hours, and gobble it up within the day.

For the Chocolate Icing:

2 squares (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup condensed milk
1/4 cup light cream or milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small pan or double boiler, melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Blend in sugar, condensed milk, and cream or milk. Cook until thickened. Remove from heat; beat with a spatula or wooden spoon until cool. Blend in vanilla: Spread the icing on the prettiest layer. There will be a little icing left. Save it to drizzle down the sides of the finished cake.

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