~ Oh Baby it's Never too Cold for Boston Cream Pie ~
Minus ten degrees. It could be worse. I could live in Boston. I don't want to think about that. I'd rather think about this: Boston Cream Pie, a feel-good dessert that won the hearts of Americans over a century ago. What got me thinking about this retro blast-from-my-past dessert? It was another one of those "thirty-one days to Oscar" flicks I watched on my kitchen TV yesterday:
Some Like it Hot (Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis & Marilyn Monroe)!
"When I was a kid, I used to have a dream. I was locked up in a pastry shop overnight and there was goodies all around. There were jelly rolls, and mocha eclairs, and sponge cake, and, Boston cream pie"! ~Daphne
I adore Boston cream pie. After I heard Jack say that line, I thought "why not, I haven't made one of these cakes in a really long time". It was a great reason (excuse) to preheat one of my ovens, I had all of the ingredients on-hand in my pantry and refrigerator, and, my own recipe (circa 1990's) in my recipe file!
Wait a minute -- this doesn't look anything like a pie!
#1. It's the national dessert of Massachusetts' (over the Toll House Cookie and the Fig Newton). That's some very famous company!
#2. It's not a pie. It is a cake: two thin-ish layers of vanilla and/or rum-flavored, golden sponge-cake or butter-cake (your choice) with vanilla-flavored egg-laced pastry cream sandwiched between them, then top-glazed with soft, elegant, almost drizzly chocolate. It is attributed to be the culinary creation of French chef Sanzian of Boston's Parker House Hotel (now the Omni Parker House). The Parker House was the first hotel in the city to boast hot-and-cold running water and an elevator. This now signature-dessert has been served there since the hotel's opening in October, 1856. What made it so unique were two things: the chocolate frosting and the custardy center. During that time period, chocolate was consumed in American households in beverage or pudding form, and, pastry-creams were limited to use in "cream cakes" (aka cream puffs). The idea to incorporate the two into a cake recipe called "Chocolate Cream Pie" (later renamed Boston Cream Pie) became quite the rage.
So why is this cake called a pie? It's thin (like a pie), it's soft (like a pie), and, it gets cut into wedges (like a pie). There's a bit more to it than that. It seems that in early American New England and Pennsylvania Dutch country, cooks were known for baking crossover-cakes (my word) meaning: sometimes it was hard to tell them apart. The Pennsylvania Dutch Shoo-Fly pie is a prime example. That was because pie tins were more common than cake pans. More often than not, these cooks baked pies and cakes in pie tins. It is said that the precursor to Boston Cream Pie was the early American "Pudding-Cake Pie". This "pie" became so popular, it was turned into a boxed mix by Betty Crocker and sold sold nationally in 1958. At age three, this boxed mix was my introduction to Boston Cream Pie!
I won't lie, this convenient mix containing three packets, one each for mixing the cake, custard and chocolate glaze kept me very happy for a lot of years. Like a good brownie mix, I always kept a box in my pantry for emergency purposes. Then, without explanation, they stopped making it -- poof -- it disappeared. I hate it when that happens. Fast forward to the year 2000. I was hosting a birthday party for two of my neighbors and girlfriends, Carol and Maryann, who celebrate their birthdays on February 10th and 14th. For their new millennium birthdays, I decided to serve a retro lunch: my own recipes for Roasted Cream of Tomato Soup, Waldorf Chicken Salad, and, Boston Cream Pie. For their birthday gifts: I gave them each a fondue pot!
Part One: Making My Golden Butter-Rum & Vanilla Butter Cake
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons butter-rum extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
no-stick cooking spray
Place the butter, sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl. In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the milk and extracts. In a medium bowl, measure and stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.
~ Step 2. On medium-speed of mixer, beat butter, sugar and eggs until combined, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and beat for 5 full minutes, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula as you beat. Mixture will be fluffy, smooth and pale yellow.
~ Step 3. Reduce speed to low and begin adding flour mixture in 3 increments, alternately with milk mixture, beating well after each addition. When all ingredients are in, increase speed to high and beat for 2 full minutes.
~ Step 4. Transfer batter evenly between prepared pans. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh each pan to make sure each pan weighs exactly the same -- this is what professionals do to make sure all layers bake uniformly. Give each pan a couple of short gentle back-and-forth shakes across the countertop to smooth out the batter.
~ Step 5. Bake both cake layers, at the same time, on center rack of preheated 350 (or 325) degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cakes will be golden and puffed through to their centers. Remove from oven and place pans on cooling rack for 6-8 minutes.
4 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons butter-rum extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 large egg yolks
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter, diced into 1/2" pieces, kept cold (1 stick)
~ Step 1. Place 3 1/2 cups of the milk in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop. In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the cornstarch, 1/2 cup of the milk and the extracts, until smooth. Set aside. Cube the butter and return the cubes to the refrigerator.
~ Step 3. Place the saucepan of milk over medium heat. Stir occasionally until milk is steaming (not simmering or boiling), about 3 minutes. Using a whisk, in a gradual steady stream, whisk in the egg yolk/sugar mixture.
Continue to cook over medium- medium-high heat, whisking constantly (this mixture can scorch easily). In the beginning, the mixture will be foamy on top. As the mixture begins to thicken, within 3-4 minutes, switch from a whisk to a large spoon and add the cold butter pieces, 2-3-4 at a time, stirring well after each addition. Repeat this process until all of the butter has been added and is thoroughly incorporated.
~ Step 4. Continue to cook until the pastry cream is nicely-thickened, smooth and ribbonlike, about 2-3 more minutes. There will be no more foam on the top. Remove from heat and immediately transfer to an 8-cup measuring container to prevent further cooking. Don't forget to take a taste -- it's unbelievably good!
~ Step 5. Cover the surface of the pastry cream with plastic wrap, meaning: don't just cover the container, place the plastic directly on the surface of the pastry cream. This will prevent a rubbery skin from forming on top. Cool 1-2 hours before refrigerating until well-chilled, several hours to overnight.
#1. My Easy-as-Pie Chocolate Glaze:
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate (4 squares)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners's sugar
2 tablespoons hot water, possibly a little more to bring glaze to desired consistency*
*Note: Glaze will thicken a bit as it cools so keep that in mind.
#2. My Classic Chocolate Ganache (I chose to use this one today):
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels or small chunks of bittersweet chocolate
~ Step 3. Uncover and whisk vigorously until ganache is smooth and shiny. Cool to room temperature, about 1 hour, then, cover and refrigerate until desired consistency is reached.
For my Boston Cream Pie, I don't want the ganache to be drizzly or pourable. Why? Because it's my recipe and I prefer it to be spreadable like chocolate frosting. Thirty minutes in the refrigerator is all that it takes. If it's in there a little too long, just let it sit out on the countertop for a few minutes -- it will soften up to a spreadable consistency again.
Still need instructions?
This recipe makes two whole 'pies'. Slice each cake layer in half lengthwise. Spread 3-3 1/2 cups chilled pastry cream just to the edge of the perimeter of the bottom halves. Frost the top halves in any manner you like, but the sides of a traditional Boston Cream Pie are always left open. Lightly place the frosted top halves on top of the pastry cream halves. Refrigerate 'pies', uncovered, for several hours or overnight prior to slicing cold and serving cold or at room temperature (always slice cake while it's cold). Tip from Mel: Cake is easier to slice if you place a wooden skewer down through the center to keep the layers from slipping or sliding from side to side. Cake is also easier to slice if you use a sharp straight-bladed knife, not s serrated knife.
Smile for the camera!
Oh Baby it's Never too Cold for Boston Cream Pie: Recipe yields 2 cakes, 6-7 cups pastry cream, 1 1/2 cups chocolate glaze or 4 cups chocolate ganache, enough for 2, 8"-round Boston Cream Pies, 6-8 servings each.
Special Equipment List: 2, 8"-round, straight-sided cake pans; 1-cup measuring container; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; kitchen scale; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack; fork; 4-quart saucepan; whisk; large spoon; 8-cup measuring container; plastic wrap; 2-cup measuring container; wooden skewer
Cook's Note: For another one of my favorite served-cold desserts you can find my recipe for ~ Treat Yourself to a Slice of Peanut Butter Pie ~ in Categories 6, 11, 15 or 22. In this recipe, the ganache gets poured over the peanut butter pie filling (which is in a chocolate cookie crust) and the pie goes into the freezer to set up!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)