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The Times
  • Kitchen Call: This Boston Cream is no doughnut

  • Boston Cream Pie has baffled both foreign visitors and Americans from other parts of the country since its creation in the 1800s in the kitchens of Boston’s venerable Parker House.

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  • Big family celebration for the engagement of one of many nephews. Bride’s family from the Southwest. Since all members of the wedding party had been educated in Boston, I decided something authentically New England was in order. But what? 
    It had to be festive enough to fit the occasion but still carry the gravitas of the region’s history. Then I hit on it: Boston Cream Pie.
    Boston Cream Pie has baffled both foreign visitors and Americans since its creation in the 1800s in the kitchens of Boston’s venerable Parker House. Most visitors expect a crust and some type of filling. But despite its name, Boston Cream Pie is a cake. A yellow cake, although recently I’ve seen versions with Angel or pound cake as the base.
    The layers sandwich what chefs refer to as a crème anglaise -- somewhat sensible as Boston still referred back heartily to its English roots when the dessert was created. (In this country, we call it vanilla pudding or pastry cream.) And it’s topped with a rich chocolate glaze.
    Enter the doughnut company from the down the road. Yes, lots of local celebrities are “runnin’ on” its coffee. Somewhere in the past decades, this company created a Boston cream doughnut: the vanilla pudding wrapped in doughnut batter, fried and then topped with chocolate glaze. And somewhere in those decades, a generation forgot the original “pie.”
    I realized this, but only barely, when we hosted a foreign exchange student a few years ago. At the farewell dinner, I made Boston Cream Pie for dessert. The exchange students were surprised. They told me it looked nothing like the one they’d been gorging on at the doughnut shop near campus. I forgot this as a few years passed until the recent festivities.
    The bridal party, all in their 20s, eyed the cake quizzically. Then they tasted, tentatively, but admitted they always thought Boston Cream was a doughnut. (Chalk that up to another campus-side doughnut shop.)
    Always the educator, I started to launch into my history of Boston Cream  Pie and the Parker House (much longer than above). After noting that it was originally a cake, I stopped myself mid-sentence, and I let the dessert speak for itself. The empty cake platter provided the evidence.
    Below is a “scratch” version. If you’re a non-baker, feel free to use a yellow cake mix. But use a really good brand, and make the filling and glaze from scratch. They taste better that way.
    Boston Cream Pie
    Makes 10 to 12 servings
    Cake ingredients:
    1 cup cake flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 stick unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup granulated white sugar
    Page 2 of 3 - 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
    2 large eggs
    1/2 cup whole milk
    Filling ingredients:
    3 large egg yolks
    6 tablespoons granulated white sugar
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1-1/2 cups whole milk
    1-1/2 tablespoons
    unsalted butter
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    Glaze ingredients:
    4 ounces semisweet chocolate bits
    1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
    1/4 cup heavy cream
    For the cake:
    • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter an 8-inch cake pan. Add a teaspoon of flour and shake the pan all over to coat with flour lightly; shake out any excess that has not adhered to the pan.
    • Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs. Continue beating until all is incorporated.
     
  • Beat the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture, adding milk and beating well until the batter is completely blended.
     
  • Transfer batter into the buttered cake pan. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven until the cake is golden, 40 minutes. Pierce with a toothpick; it should be clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack, 30 minutes. Turn the cake out onto the rack; cool completely.
To make the custard:
  • Whisk together eggs, sugar and flour in a small bowl.
 
  •  Bring the milk just to a boil in a small saucepan. Take the pan off the heat.
  •  
  • Slowly whisk 2 tablespoons of the milk into the egg mixture. Then slowly pour this mixture into the milk in the saucepan, whisking as you go until smooth.
  •  
  • Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture barely to a boil, stirring continually. The mixture will thicken in about 1 minute.
  •  
  • Remove the pan from the heat, and cover the top with a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap, placing it directly on the custard so that it does not form a skin. Cool on the kitchen counter to room temperature.
  • To build the cake:               
    • When the cake is completely cooled, split the cake horizontally into two layers. A large serrated knife works best for this job. Place the bottom layer on the serving platter.
     
  • Uncover and stir the custard. Spoon it over the cake. Cover with the top layer.
  • To make the glaze:     
    •  Melt the chocolate in a small pan in a double boiler over low heat. When it is smooth, add the cream, stirring until smooth.
     
  • While it is still warm, pour the glaze over the cake from the center, allowing it to cascade over the sides. Smooth top if needed.
  • Page 3 of 3 - Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.