Friday, April 26, 2013

Boston Cream Pie at Home

"No, it's not because of the marathon," I told a friend who asked why I'd selected last weekend to make this recipe that I've been meaning to try out for a while. The reason I made it last weekend was that my husband's been away for a week and will be away for another one and I needed some distraction, in this case a delicious distraction.

For those who've never had it, Boston Cream Pie is actually two layers of a spongy vanilla cake sandwiching one layer of vanilla pastry cream and topped off with a puddle of chocolate glaze.  Why is this cake called a pie?  According to urban legend, New England kitchens were more likely to have pie tins than cake pans in the 1800s, when the dessert was developed.

This recipe, for "Wicked Good Boston Cream Pie" comes partly from Cook's Illustrated, a magazine I enjoy though I don't find it quite as reliable as its fans often claim.  The cake and glaze portions were wonderful, appropriately spongy and rich.  But the filling they suggest, a vanilla pastry cream with flour as a thickener, was not only a pain to make (requiring several minutes of stirring over a low flame) but also a flop in terms of its thickening properties. The damned filling never set up properly.

Cursing Cook's Illustrated and all-purpose flour, I ran to the corner store to buy some more milk and whipped up a new batch of pastry cream from a Martha Stewart recipe that uses cornstarch. It came together in a minute.  This despite the recipe's claim that cornstarch is far more unreliable thickener than flour for custards. (The opposite has been true in my experience.)

So here's my recipe, half Cook's, half Martha, and all delicious.  It didn't last very long in my house.

Boston Cream Pie
(adapted from Cook's Illustrated with a helping hand from Martha Stewart's Cooking School)


Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and scraped
pinch of salt
3 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar


1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine


1. For the Pastry Cream: Bring milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, vanilla seeds, and salt to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking to disperse seeds.

2.  Whisk the egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in the cornstarch, 1 tablespoon at a time. Ladle a 1/2 cup hot milk mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to temper the eggs. Add the remaining milk mixture 1/2 cup at a time whisking constantly. When the milk and eggs are completely incorporated return all of the mixture to the saucepan and heat over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a full boil and is thick enough to hold its shape when lifted with a spoon, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the butter.

3.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl and place plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold. Pastry cream will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

4. For the Cake: 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. To Assemble: 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.

9. For the Glaze: 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.

10. 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.

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