October 23rd is National Boston Cream Pie Day, but don’t let the name fool you. Boston Cream Pie is a cake: two layers of buttery sponge cake sandwiched with crème pâtissière (pastry cream or vanilla cream filling) or custard filling, and topped with a glaze of chocolate ganache.
The modern Boston Cream Pie was created for the opening of the Parker House Hotel in Boston, in October 1856. An Armenian-French chef, M. Sanzian, sandwiched two layers of sponge cake with crème pâtissière, and topped the cake with a chocolate ganache glaze.
His recipe was a re-working of the early American pudding-cake pie. The first reference, a recipe published in 1855, calls it a “pudding pie cake.” It had a powdered sugar topping.
According to What’s Cooking America, the cake was originally served at the hotel with the name Chocolate Cream Pie or Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie. “Boston” came later.
As a throwback to its origin, the ganache top of the cake is sometimes decorated with confectioners’ sugar, or icing designs can be made in the ganache, as in the second photo. For a more festive cake, the bare sides can be covered with pastry cream and toasted almonds (which is how the cake is currently prepared at the Parker House—here’s their recipe).
According to Omni Parker House, what made the dessert so special was its chocolate icing. Back in 1856, chocolate was mainly consumed as a beverage or in puddings; the chocolate bar was yet to be perfected (here’s the history of chocolate timeline). So chocolate icing was an innovative use of chocolate at the time. [Source]
So why is it called a pie?
Boston Cream Pie. Top photo by Cara Fealy Choate | Wikimedia. Bottom photo courtesy Mackenzie Ltd.
The answer is most likely that, in the mid-19th century pie tins were more common than cake pans. The distinction between calling something pie or cake was more flexible than it is today. The cake might well have been baked in pie tins. (By the same token, cheesecake is not a cake, but a cream cheese-flavored custard pie.)
Prep time is 30 minutes, cook time is 40 minutes.
Boston Cream Pie. Top photo by Taylor
1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside.
2. SIFT together the flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.
3. BRING the milk to a boil in small saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the butter, stirring until the butter melts. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, stir and set the pan aside.
4. BEAT the eggs on medium high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer, for 7 minutes. Add the sugar and mix an additional 8 minutes.
5. REDUCE the mixer speed to low. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture. After the flour has been mixed in, add 1/2 of the milk mixture and blend. Add the next 1/3 of flour and blend. Add the remaining milk mixture and blend. Add the remaining 1/3 of the flour and blend. Turn off the mixer and scrape the batter down from the sides of the mixing bowl.
6. DIVIDE the batter equally between the two prepared pans. Bake for 25 minutes, remove from the oven and let the layers cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Invert the cakes and cool completely on a wire rack.
7. PREPARE the vanilla cream filling: In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks, flour, sugar and salt. Stir with a fork until the flour and sugar are well mixed with the egg yolks. Set aside.
8. BRING the milk to just boil in large heavy bottomed saucepan. Remove the pan from stove. Add 1/3 of the hot milk to the egg mixture; stir to blend. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining 2/3 of the milk; stir to blend. Return the saucepan to medium high heat, stirring constantly. When custard begins to boil…
9. REDUCE the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the pastry cream thickens. Remove the pastry cream from the heat and pour into a bowl. Add the butter and stir until well incorporated. Add the vanilla and almond extracts; stir to blend. Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool.
10. PREPARE the chocolate glaze: Place chocolate chips, milk and salt into a heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir the chocolate until melted and well blended with milk. Remove from the heat. Add the butter to the chocolate, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add the vanilla and stir to blend. Set chocolate glaze aside.
11. ASSEMBLE the cake: Place 1 sponge cake layer on a cake plate. Generously cover with chilled vanilla pastry cream. Top the cream with the second layer of cake. Cover with chocolate glaze. Some of glaze should run over the sides of the cake. Refrigerate the cake until the glaze sets, about 30 minutes. Serve.
What’s the deal with two different spellings, cream and creme?
Cream is the appropriate spelling in the U.S. Crème, pronounced KREHM, is the French spelling.
To make things appear more fancy or exclusive, some Americans began to use the French spelling without the accent, pronouncing creme as KREEM.
It may be pervasive, but it isn’t correct.
And for a different twist, here’s a Boston Cream Cheesecake recipe (actually a pie).