Boston Cream Pie

Recently a couple of our good friends came over for dinner.  Since one of them had just celebrated a birthday, I thought a birthday-appropriate dessert was in order.  I remembered that he had absolutely LOVED the Boston cream pie cupcakes that I made for them a while back, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try out a real Boston cream pie.  In case you aren’t familiar, a Boston cream pie is two layers of yellow sponge cake filled with vanilla pastry cream and coated with chocolate ganache.  Why is it called a pie, you ask?  Supposedly it did originate in Boston in the 19th century, and back then pie pans were much more common kitchen equipment than cake pans – hence the name.

There is nothing particularly complicated about this cake.  You just need to ensure that you set aside enough time to let the pastry cream chill and the ganache set.  I have professed my undying love for this pastry cream before, and I still feel the same way.  All that wonderfulness in combination with the light, moist sponge cake and the smooth ganache yields a truly fabulous dessert.

One kitchen trick I have heard about previously but never remembered to try until now is to use strips of wax or parchment paper under the edges of your cake on the cake board.  You leave them there until the glaze sets and simply peel them away.  This prevents the excess glaze from making the cake board messy.  It really did a nice job and I will be sure to use this technique again in the future.

Boston Cream Pie
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For the pastry cream:
2 cups half-and-half
½ cup (3.5 oz.) sugar
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
3 tbsp. cornstarch
4 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the sponge cake:
½ cup (2 oz.) cake flour
¼ cup (1.25 oz.) all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
3 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
½ tsp. vanilla extract
5 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup (5.25 oz.) sugar

For the ganache:
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup light corn syrup
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ tsp. vanilla extract

To make the pastry cream, heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds.  Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.

When the half-and-half mixture has reached a simmer, slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly.  Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Return the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds.  Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla.  Strain the pastry cream through a  fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl.  Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

To make the cake, adjust an oven rack to lower middle position.  Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with wax or parchment paper.  Grease and flour the sides of the pans; set aside.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt.  Combine the milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until the butter melts.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla; set aside.

Separate 3 of the eggs, putting the whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and reserving the 3 yolks plus the other 2 whole eggs in a separate bowl.  Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment and beat the 3 whites on low speed until foamy.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and gradually incorporate 6 tablespoons of the sugar.  Continue beating until the whites form soft, moist peaks, being careful not to overbeat.  Transfer the egg whites to a clean mixing bowl and add the yolk-whole egg mixture to the stand mixer bowl.  Beat the egg mixture with the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar at medium-high speed until the mixture is very thick and pale yellow in color, about 5 minutes.

Add the beaten eggs to the bowl with the egg whites.  Sprinkle the flour mixture over the beaten eggs and whites.  Fold in very gently with a spatula, about 12 strokes.  Make a well in one side of the batter and pour the milk-butter mixture into the well.  Continue folding until the batter shows no trace of flour and the eggs are evenly mixed.

Immediately divide the batter between the prepared cake pans.  Bake until the tops are light brown and spring back when touched, about 16 minutes.  Immediately run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cakes.  Place one pan on a towel and cover the pan with a plate.  Invert the pan so that the cake is upside down on the plate.  Peel off the wax paper and reinvert the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat with the second cake layer.

To make the glaze, combine the heavy cream and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate; cover and let stand for 8 minutes.  (If the chocolate has not completely melted, return the saucepan to low heat and stir constantly until melted.)  Stir in the vanilla extract very gently until smooth.  Cool the glaze until tepid so that a spoonful drizzled back into the pan mounds slightly.  (You can refrigerate the glaze to speed up this process, stirring every few minutes to ensure even cooling.)

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cardboard cake circle.  Place strips of parchment or wax paper underneath the edges of the cake all the way around the perimeter.  If desired, reserve about half a cup of pastry cream for decorating.  Spread the remaining pastry cream in an even layer on the first cake layer, all the way to the edges.  Top with the remaining cake layer and press down gently.  Pour the glaze onto the middle of the top cake layer and let it flow down the sides of the cake.  Use a spatula, if necessary, to help cover the sides completely.  Let the cake sit until the glaze fully sets, about 1 hour.  This cake is best served the day it is made.

Source: adapted from Baking Illustrated

26 Responses

  1. It looks divine. i love that picture of the glaze flowing over the top of the cake with the creamy filling. Send a slice my way!

  2. VERY lucky dinner guests/friends with that cake!!

  3. This looks heavenly! YUM!

  4. oh wow does this look divine, especially with all that chocolate dripping off the sides of the cake.

  5. I’ve been meaning to try this recipe for a while. I made the sponge cake once, a long time ago, and it didn’t turn out right for me, but I should try again now that I’m a better baker.

  6. Oh Annie, you’re killin me! This looks so delicious and with Thanksgiving coming up this weekend I can’t decide what to make for dessert, there’s so many awesome choices! (I also love your cake plate!)


  7. boston cream pie-cake is a favorite, and that shot with the cascading chocolate is jaw-droppingly beautiful. excellent work, annie!

  8. mmm!!

    I love the parchment paper technique as well. I learned it from the food network, but I can’t remember who it was. Barefoot Contessa perhaps?

  9. Gorgeous! The cherries on top add such a pretty effect. I’ve never made a Boston cream pie, and admittedly didn’t know exactly what it was comprised of. Now I do! And I’ll definitely have to try out this fantastic pastry cream.

  10. That would be an amazing breakfast with my coffee right now!

    The dessert looks fantastic and the photo is just wonderful. Love it!

  11. This has been on my must-try list for a long time. Looks delicious!

  12. How delicious! I have been wanting to make Boston Cream Pie forever. I really need to get on it:)

  13. I’m making this. Boston creme pie is one of my favorites!

  14. I love that wax paper tip! I do that often, because I’m such a messy decorator! This pie/cake looks divine!

  15. I’ve never been huge on Boston cream pie, but this looks absolutely fantastic. That ganache looks unbelievable!

  16. Speechless with so much beauty and perferction.

  17. This looks delicious! Interesting how they call it pie when it seems more like a cake. I see you have a cup cake recipe I think I am going to try the cup cakes first. They sound interesting as well.

  18. This looks amazing!!!

  19. This looks absolutely fabulous, and your photos are gorgeous. I found you through Foodie Blogroll, by the way!

  20. Annie, why are you so perfect? Miss you friend.

  21. Hello Annie!

    I love your blog and I follow it for a long time. I have a question about this pastry cream, because I want to make it this Sunday and I want to be prepared. I live in Bulgaria and here we don’t have half-and-half. How can I replace it and with what?

    Thanks in advance!

    Best wishes, Irina

    • Hi Irina,
      You can just use equal parts milk and heavy cream (or you could probably just use all heavy cream).

  22. My daughter and I tagged-teamed to make this over the last 3 days (I made the cream Monday night, the cake Tuesday night and she made the ganache today and assembled it). It is not quite as pretty as yours but it tastes wonderful. I’m not sure we’ll make it often because it made a LOT of dirty dishes, but it was worth it!

  23. I have made the cream and the cake…waiting for the sponge to cool so I can make the ganache and assemble. The vanilla cream is to die for. Another wonderful recipe Annie! I looked it up on Cooks Illustrated, but it seemed so complicated. I guess it is the way you word things, because it was not hard at all! By the way this cake is for my father in law’s 86th birthday!! Thanks for having such a great blog and making me be a better cook.

  24. Annie,
    My vanilla cream did not set up after about 5 hours. I think maybe I did not let it cook long enough after putting it back on the heat. Has this ever happened to you? I went ahead and used it. It was messy, but tasted fabulous! The ganache was wonderful and really shiny and smooth. I will definitely try this again.

    • You didn’t cook it long enough after returning it to the heat. It thickens up majorly and the state change is obvious due to the cornstarch, so if you didn’t see it then it needed to heat longer.

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