One of the World’s Favorite Desserts is this Crowd Pleaser from Boston.
Cook’s Illustrated is located right in Boston so you’d think they’d know about how to bake the best Boston Cream Pie. And they do. This recipe is phenomenally good. The cake is light as air and the filling has the custardy-goodness Boston Cream Pie lovers crave. And, as you will discover if you bake this cake, you won’t believe how many people adore this dessert. When Andrew posted the picture we used as today’s main illustration, the number of ‘likes’ went through the ceiling. But how did something so obviously a cake, get named a Pie instead?
Invented at a Boston Landmark by a French Chef
It turns out that pies and cakes were baked in interchangeable pans. So the words ‘pie’ and ‘cake’ were used interchangeably. This same cake was given three descriptors: ‘a cream pie’, a ‘chocolate cream pie’ and a ‘custard cake’. Its invention took place in that hotbed of Boston baking, the Parker House Hotel, home of the Parker House roll. The hotel opened in 1855. Its owner Harvey Parker so believed in the importance of great food to a great hotel that he hired a French Chef, Augustine François Anezin, for the unheard-of salary of $5000 a year. At the time, the average Chef earned about $418. a year. The Chef, whose name sometimes appears at “Sanzian”, presided over the hotel’s kitchen for 17 years. He invented the pie/cake in 1856. The Chef’s inspiration were two earlier cakes called ‘American Pudding-Cake Pie’ and ‘Washington Pie’.
Boston Cream Pie used an ingredient not found on Restaurant Menus before.
While custard cakes were nothing new, what was new here was using baking chocolate as a coating. Chocolate had been made in neighboring Dorchester MA since 1806. Strangely and for no reason I can uncover, chocolate was eaten at home and not in restaurants. Chef Anezin created quite a stir by using it at the Parker House. It became an enormously popular menu item first called ‘Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie’ and finally ‘Boston Cream Pie’. But despite its popularity, it was not until December 12, 1996 that it was named the official dessert of the state of Massachusetts.
Cook’s Illustrated makes a great recipe so much better, it’s wicked good.
The Cook’s Illustrated recipe made strides when they put a hot-milk sponge cake into use which didn’t require folding or separating of eggs. Using two 9-inch round cake pans meant not having to halve the cake to add the filling. Butter firms up the pastry cream and corn syrup added to heavy cream and melted chocolate creates a smooth glaze that drips artfully down the sides of the cake. Amazingly, the cake takes only 50 minutes to make. And it’s wicked good. Here is the recipe followed by some other great Cook’s Illustrated takes on other classics.
Wicked Good Boston Cream Pie
Bake this cake and you simply won't believe how many people will tell you it's their favorite dessert.
- For the Pastry Cream:
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1⁄2 cup sugar
- 1 pinch table salt
- 1⁄4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
- 1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- For the Cake:
- 1 1⁄2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3⁄4 teaspoon table salt
- 3⁄4 cup whole milk
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1⁄2 cups sugar
- For the Chocolate Glaze:
- 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
- Step 1 Make the Pastry Cream:
- Step 2 Heat half-and-half in medium saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Meanwhile, whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in medium bowl until smooth. Add flour to yolk mixture and whisk until incorporated. Remove half-and-half from heat and, whisking constantly, slowly add ½ cup to yolk mixture to temper. Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to half-and-half in saucepan.
- Step 3 Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, whisking constantly, 8 minutes.
- Step 4 Increase heat to medium and cook, whisking vigorously, until bubbles burst on surface, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat
- Step 5 whisk in butter and vanilla until butter is melted and incorporated. Strain pastry cream through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Press lightly greased parchment paper directly on surface and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Step 6 Make the Cake:
- Step 7 Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Heat milk and butter in small saucepan over low heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and cover to keep warm.
- Step 8 In stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip eggs and sugar at high speed until light and airy, about 5 minutes. Remove mixer bowl from stand. Add hot milk mixture and whisk by hand until incorporated. Add dry ingredients and whisk until incorporated.
- Step 9 Working quickly, divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake until tops are light brown and toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes.
- Step 10 Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool -completely in pan, about 2 hours. Run small plastic knife around edge of pans, then invert cakes onto wire rack. Carefully remove parchment, then reinvert cakes.
- Step 11 Assemble the Cake:
- Step 12 Place one cake round on large plate. Whisk pastry cream briefly, then spoon onto center of cake. Using offset spatula, spread evenly to cake edge. Place second layer on pastry cream, bottom side up, making sure layers line up properly. Press lightly on top of cake to level. Refrigerate cake while preparing glaze.
- Step 13 Make the Glaze:
- Step 14 Bring cream and corn syrup to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Whisk gently until smooth, 30 seconds. Let stand, whisking occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.
- Step 15 Pour glaze onto center of cake. Use offset spatula to spread glaze to edge of cake, letting excess drip decoratively down sides. Chill finished cake 3 hours before slicing. Cake may be made up to 24 hours before serving.