Boston Cream Pie has always been one of my favorite desserts. It’s difficult to beat the combination of a light sponge cake layered with vanilla pastry cream and topped with chocolate ganache. It wins on flavor and appearance in my book.
Sure, it isn’t really a pie in spite of its name. As a pie lover, I could choose to hold that against this dessert. Or, I could choose to love it more because it was made in a pie plate instead of a cake pan. I’ll go with the second option because it doesn’t prevent me from loving Boston Cream Pie for any reason at all.
If you’re not familiar with the story behind Boston Cream Pie, here it is. Once upon a time (around 1856), a chef by the name of Sanzian at Boston’s Parker House Hotel made a sponge cake layered with rum infused pastry cream, garnished with toasted almonds, and topped with chocolate fondant. As was common practice at the time, he baked the cake in pie tins which were often used for cake baking. The cake was called “Chocolate Cream Pie” and the name stuck.
Years later, it came to be called Boston Cream Pie in a nod to its birthplace. The Parker House became the Omni Parker House and the rest is culinary history of the most delicious kind. In 1996, this dessert with a history became the official state dessert of Massachusetts.
No matter the reason this dessert was originally baked in pie tins, it is more common to find it baked in a cake pan these days. Doing so creates a more symmetrical cake that can be sliced horizontally into layers for the finished dessert. I like a challenge, so I prefer to use pie plates which create the rustic appearance of the homemade dessert that I love.
In addition to using pie plates, I like to create three layers of cake rather than the customary two layers. I find that the ratio of cake to pastry cream and ganache is just right when I create three thin layers of cake. There’s also something decadent about a triple layer cake.
Once we moved to New England, it seemed fitting to master my own homemade version of Boston Cream Pie. We even took a trip in to Boston to have a slice at the Omni Parker House just to experience it at the very place it was first created.
Once we became chicken keepers and had a steady supply of the fresh eggs that give this cake and pastry cream such a rich flavor, my recipe really took shape. I have been making it the same way ever since.
You can call this dessert a pie or a cake, either is fine by me. I’ll call it homemade and delicious and enjoy every last bite!
- 1 cup (8 ounces) whole milk
- ½ vanilla bean pod
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup (96 grams) granulated sugar
- 200 grams (1 ¾ minus 1 Tablespoon) All-purpose flour
- 4 heaping Tablespoons cornstarch (36 grams)
- 1 cup (192 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- 3 ounces oil (I prefer a sunflower oil blend, but any neutral tasting oil will do)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- butter or coconut oil and sugar to prepare pie pans
- 12 ounces whole milk
- ½ vanilla bean pod
- 2 eggs
- pinch of salt
- ¼ cup (30 grams) All-purpose flour
- 6 Tablespoons (72 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 4 ounces heavy cream
- 4 ounces bittersweet or dark chocolate
- Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Position the oven racks in the top and bottom third of the oven. Prepare three pie pans by coating with butter or coconut oil and granulated sugar. Set aside as you prepare the cake batter.
- Place the cup of whole milk a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean pod lengthwise using a sharp knife. Using the dull edge of the knife, scrape along the length of the inside of the pod to remove the thousands of beans inside. Transfer the beans and pod to the pot with the milk and place over low heat. The heat will help to infuse the flavor and aroma of the vanilla bean into the milk.
- Prepare a large mixing bowl and the beaters for your mixer by wiping with a paper towel lightly moistened with white vinegar. This will remove any trace of fat, allowing you to create a fluffy, beautiful meringue from the egg whites.
- Separate the three eggs, placing the whites in the prepared mixing bowl. Beat the egg whites on high speed until they become frothy. Continue beating while adding the ½ cup of granulated sugar one Tablespoon at a time. Beat until all of the sugar has been incorporated and the meringue has come to stiff peaks. You can test the meringue by removing the beater and holding it upright. If the peak of the meringue holds, it has come to stiff peaks and is ready to use.
- Remove the milk and vanilla bean from the heat to cool slightly. Remove the vanilla bean pod from the milk.Transfer the whipped egg white meringue to a small bowl and return the mixing bowl and beater to your mixer.
- Add the flour, cornstarch, 1 cup sugar, salt, and baking powder to the mixing bowl. Add the oil and half of the warm milk to the bowl. Mix slowly to combine. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract, mixing again on slow speed just to combine. Add the remaining milk to the bowl and beat slowly for approximately one minute until the batter is smooth and well combined.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a spatula, gently fold the reserved egg white meringue into the cake batter. Continue folding until the mixture is smooth and even.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared pie pans, dividing equally among them. Transfer the pie pans to the preheated oven. Bake for 25-35 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time. The cakes are done when the tops are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean or with small crumbs attached.
- Remove the cakes from the oven to a wire rack to cool. When the pans are cool enough to handle, use an offset spatula to loosen the cakes from the pans. Turn each cake out on to the wire racks to cool completely.
- Place the whole milk in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean pod lengthwise using a sharp knife. Using the dull edge of the knife, scrape along the length of the inside of the pod to remove the thousands of beans inside. Transfer the beans and pod to the pot with the milk and place over low heat.
- As the milk is warming, combine the eggs and dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. The resulting batter should be thick and smooth.
- Move the pan of milk from the burner. Remove the vanilla bean pod from the milk. Slowly add the egg mixture, whisking to incorporate the thick batter into the warm milk.
- Return the pan to medium low heat and bring to a simmer, whisking continuously until the mixture is thick enough to coat a spoon. Remove from the heat.
- Transfer the pastry cream from the pan (straining if necessary to remove lumps) to a bowl. Add the vanilla extract and whisk to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing it firmly against the mixture to prevent a skin from forming as it cools. Refrigerate until the cake is ready to be assembled.
- Prepare the ganache by warming the heavy cream in a small pan or in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat source and add the chocolate. Allow the mixture to rest for two minutes before whisking to incorporate. When the cream and chocolate have become a satiny glaze, set the ganache aside to cool.
- Remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator. Whisk the mixture to ensure that it is completely smooth. Whisk the chocolate ganache.
- Place one of the cake layers on a large plate or platter. Transfer half of the pastry cream to the top of the cake. Using a spatula, spread the pastry cream to evenly cover the cake, leaving a narrow margin around the edge of the cake. Repeat this process with the second layer of cake and remaining pastry cream.
- Place the third cake layer on top. Transfer all of the chocolate ganache to the top of the cake. If the ganache is warm enough, it can be poured, if not, simply use a spatula to spread the ganache to fully cover the top of the cake. I like to completely cover the cake and allow a small bit of the ganache to drip over the edge. There’s just something inviting about seeing this cake with chocolate reaching down to the cake plate below.
- Transfer the fully assembled Boston Cream Pie to the refrigerator. The cake can be kept in the refrigerator for several days, although they never last that long here!
- This cake benefits from the use of cake flour. Due to food allergies, I struggled to find a brand of cake flour that was safe to use in our kitchen. Fortunately, I discovered that I could combine All-purpose flour and cornstarch to deliver the benefits of cake flour without adding allergens to our kitchen and one more specialty ingredient to our pantry. For each cup of cake flour called for in a recipe, simply weigh out one cup of All-purpose flour, remove 2 Tablespoons of the flour and add 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch. Problem solved!