Rich pastry cream sandwiched between two luscious hot milk & butter cakes draped with dark chocolate ganache…yes, Boston Cream Pie is worth the effort!
It’s a special day (or maybe just a day you want to make special). You’ve got some time on your hands, and a yen for something rich, elegant, and incredibly yummy.
Make Boston Cream Pie.
Breaking down Boston Cream Pie
[Side Note: a version of this post first appeared on my OutlanderCast column, April 3, 2019]
There are, as you’ve already guessed, three parts to making Boston Cream Pie: baking the cakes, making the pastry cream and making the chocolate ganache.
The first and last parts are straightforward: the cake is a classic hot-milk-and-butter cake, so called because you use…uhm…hot milk and melted butter in the batter. This cake type is a richly flavored sponge, moist, and tall.
Chocolate ganache is…well...fudgy chocolate nirvana. ‘Nuff said. It can be used to glaze cakes (as it is here) or as the filling for tarts and truffles.
Boston Cream Pie isn't pie
Before we go further, let’s get the name question out of the way.
Boston Cream Pie is a descendant of earlier desserts called American pudding-cake pies. According to “All Things Knowledge” (aka Wikipedia), this dessert “acquired its name when cakes and pies were cooked in the same pans, and the words were used interchangeably.”
The current name is because this combination of cake-pastry cream-ganache was created at the Parker House Hotel in Boston in the late 19th century. Thanks, internet!
How to make pastry cream
Making pastry cream (aka crème pâtissière if you want to get fancy) can be a little tricky the first time out. It’s really not a difficult technique, just a thickened vanilla custard.
The most challenging step to making pastry cream might be when you have to temper the eggs, i.e., bringing them slowly up to temperature before adding them to the hot milk. This step helps avoid little pieces of cooked egg in your pastry cream.
If, however, you do see some egg pieces, straining the finished cream through a fine mesh strainer will take care of them.
To make vanilla pudding, use the same technique as the pastry cream, just reduce the cornstarch to 2 Tablespoons. By the way, I have a recipe for chocolate pudding here.
Either way, both are guaranteed to be much better pudding than anything you can get out of a box!
Use a fresh vanilla bean in your pastry cream
This pastry cream is flavored with fresh vanilla bean seeds. Did I say vanilla bean seeds? No, flecks of flavor, more like!
I don't always use a fresh vanilla bean in my baking, but I do when the vanilla will be showcased, like in pastry cream or Magic Custard Cake.
To use a fresh vanilla bean, split it lengthwise and scrape up the seeds with the back of a paring knife, then stir those flavor flecks into the milk mixture (along with the spent bean...nothing goes to waste here!).
Also, don’t toss that spent vanilla bean after you've finished making the pastry cream...instead rinse the bean, then place it in a jar and cover with vodka to make your own vanilla extract. You'll be rewarded with vanilla extract that's both free and better than what you can buy. Score!
Make a mini Boston Cream Pie
The mini Boston Cream Pie recipe that I use was adapted from King Arthur Flour, although the recipe for Boston Cream Pie that’s currently on their website has been changed from the one I use.
My mini Boston Cream Pie recipe is based on a scaled-down version of their older version (yay, math!). I’ve had good luck with it, so that’s what I’m presenting to you. You can decide which recipe to use, but remember…choose wisely.
For a full-sized cake, double all the ingredients, and bake the cake in two 9-inch round cake pans for 30-35 minutes.
Boston Cream Pie is one of those desserts that take a little time and patience to make, but the result is so incredible that it’s well worth the effort.
Whether you make a small Boston Cream Pie or the full-sized version, you’ll be rewarded with a rich, elegant, and oh, so yummy dessert. It’ll make any day special!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
More recipes using pastry cream
These recipes all use versions of a pastry cream, depending how much it's thickened. By the way, custard can be sweet or savory. Ponder that a while.
- Easy Homemade Eggnog
- Caramel Swirl Almond Gelato
- Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding
- Crustless Quiche
- Egg Custard
Mini Boston Cream Pie
For the cake
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup granulated sugar, (7-1/2 oz, 200g)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup cake flour, (4-1/4 oz, 120g)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup milk, (4 oz,113g)
- 3½ Tbsp unsalted butter, (1-3/4 oz, 50g)
For the pastry cream
- 1½ cups milk, (12 oz, 336g)
- ½ vanilla bean, split (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
- ⅓ cup + 1 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided (3oz, 86g)
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 Tbsp cornstarch, (3/4 oz, 21g)
- 1½ Tbsp unsalted butter, (3/4 oz, 21g)
For the ganache
- ⅓ cup whipping cream, (3oz, 84g)
- 1 tsp light corn syrup
- ½ cup dark chocolate, chopped (3 oz, 84g)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Make the cake: Beat the sugar and eggs together at medium-high speed using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or hand mixer) until very thick, about 3-4 minutes (butter will fall from the paddle in thick ribbons). Beat in the vanilla extract.
- Using a sifter, add the flour, salt, and baking powder to the cake batter. Mix on low speed just until combined, about 1 minute.
- In a saucepan set over medium heat, bring the butter and milk just to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir the mixture until the butter is completely melted.
- With the mixer going, slowly add the hot milk mixture to the cake batter, mixing until everything is well combined. Scrape the bowl and mix briefly, just until smooth. The batter will be very thin.
- Divide the batter into the prepared pans, checking carefully for lumps of flour (smash or remove them as you spot them). Bake the cakes for 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s a deep golden brown and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.
- Remove the cakes from the oven, run a nylon spread or table knife around the edges, and cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Turn them out onto a rack to cool completely.
- Make the pastry cream: Bring the milk, vanilla bean (or vanilla extract), and half of the sugar just to a simmer in a large nonreactive saucepan.
- Whisk the egg yolks in a mixing bowl and gradually add the remaining sugar. Whisk in the cornstarch to combine.
- Take about a 1/2 cup of the scalded milk and slowly add it to the eggs, whisking constantly. Return the yolk mixture to the pan and cook, whisking vigorously, until the cream boils and is well thickened. Allow the pastry cream to boil approximately 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Remove the pastry cream from heat. Fold in the butter until melted. Do not overmix, as this will thin the custard.
- Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean mixing bowl, removing the vanilla bean. Chill in an ice bath, then refrigerate until needed, covered with plastic wrap on the surface of the custard (this prevents a buildup of “skin” on the surface of the custard).
- Assemble the cake: Place one of the cakes, right side up, on a cake plate. Top with the pastry cream, spreading it right to the edges. Place the top layer, upside down, on the filling.
- Prepare the ganache: Heat the cream to a simmer either on the stove in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Add the chopped chocolate, cover, and let sit for two minutes, then stir together until smooth and lump free. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and stir well.
- Pour the ganache over the filled cake and let set for a few minutes. Serve and enjoy!