I feel like I owe you an apology, friends. I made this Boston Cream Pie weeks (months?) ago, with the intention of telling you all about it the very next day. It was an event, this Boston Cream Pie. A day of assembling the elements–baking cake layers, whisking pastry cream, melting chocolate. Doing my Food Blogger Due Diligence, taking photos of the creation of said elements, in between baby feedings and kid snack distribution and making shopping lists and errands and all those other crazy things you do on Sundays. When the resulting cake was served, we all marveled at its glory. And in fact, it was so good (and enormous) that I promptly lopped off hunks of the remainder and drove around the neighborhood after dark, delivering them to friends after a furiously sent text–HAVE BOSTON CREAM PIE. TOO GOOD. MUST GET IT OUT MY HOUSE. WILL DELIVER.
And then I totally forgot to tell you all about it.
So let’s make up for lost time, yes?
Have you ever made a Boston Cream Pie? It occurred to me while making this one that I never actually had. I mean, I’d made yellow cake layers, batches of pastry cream, and chocolate ganache approximately eleventy billion times in my life, but had never really assembled them all and eaten them together in my own house. And after doing so and experiencing the sort of primal rumblings to retreat to the garage with a fork and the whole dang cake plate, it’s probably better that I don’t make Boston Cream Pie all that often.
When I put this recipe together, I used my favorite Modern Vanilla Pastry Cream recipe from Pure Vanilla, and ganache ratios I was very familiar with, but the cake layers! They were the new kid in town. And honestly, I’m pretty pumped about them–the layers emerged from the oven so perfect, so uniformly golden and evenly surfaced–perfect for frosting and stacking. The interior holds my kinda crumb–not too fluffy and precious, but far from dense or dry. It’s the Basic White Cake from Emily Luchetti’s The Fearless Baker (a gem of an intro baking book if there ever was one, bee-tee-dubs), which is pretty close to a standard 1-2-3-4 yellow cake, with a few key changes.
If you’ve never heard of/made a 1-2-3-4 cake, here’s the short story: 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, 4 eggs. To that, you also have 1 cup of milk and baking powder. So basic, so adorable with it’s kitschy name, and pretty dang foolproof. But it also tastes and looks kind of basic. The riff on this cake from Emily Luchetti reduces the flour a bit (because who likes dry cake?), uses buttermilk (flavor!!) instead of plain milk, and adds in some baking soda (to react with the buttermilk for extra fluff, and aids in giving the cake a gorgeously even golden color). It’s the little things that make all the difference, yes? Life lessons.
As for the pastry cream, she’s a keeper. I tinkered with the formula for a long time while developing recipes for Pure Vanilla. I love the recipe because as pastry creams go, this one is as light and smooth and versatile as they come. I use some whole eggs rather than all yolks (for that aforementioned lightness), and use a blender, which ensures silkiness, aerates the cream, and eliminates extra dirty bowls and a sieving step. (I have this thing about having to scrub sieves, and the thing is that I HATE IT.)
With the cakes baked, the pastry cream whipped up, and a simple ganache pulled together, all that’s left to do it stack, smear, and slick. Good times.
In these crazy days, I feel like there’s so few projects that I actually get to begin and complete in a reasonable amount of time, and that seriously messes with my Type A-ness. Pulling together this Boston Cream Pie over the course of a single day was like therapy for me. And now you know all my secrets.
Boston Cream Pie
As I encountered, this cake is a bit of a project, but worth every last second. Thankfully, all of these elements can be made at your leisure. Baked and wrapped tight with plastic wrap and refrigerated, the cake layers could be done two days in advance, the pastry cream up to 3 days before, and the ganache is so quick to come together you could do that right before assembly. Actually, the colder the cake and the cream, the more sturdy the whole thing will be as you stack and glaze it.
Save your best vanilla for a recipe like this–I’m positively obsessed with Tahitian vanilla beans for pastry cream, and it really makes all the difference in the world here.
For the cake layers:
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk mixed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Position the oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Grease 2 9-inch round cake pans with butter or nonstick cooking spray and dust lightly with flour, tapping out the excess.
Into a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium-high speed, , about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Lower the speed to low and alternately stir in the flour mixture and the buttermilk in two batches.
Give the batter a good fold by hand with a large spatula and scrape into the prepared pans, smoothing the tops. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom about two-thirds the way through the baking time. Cool completely on a wire rack.
For the pastry cream:
2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (I love Tahitian vanilla for pastry cream)
1 large egg plus 4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a large saucepan set over medium heat, combine the milk and wanilla bean. Bring to a bare simmer, but don’t let it boil. Cover and let steep while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks, sugar, and salt until the mixture lightens in color, about 1 minute. Whisk in the cornstarch.
Remove the vanilla bean from the pot and scrape any remaining seeds into the milk with the back of a knife. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture until well-blended. Pour the custard back into the saucepan set over low heat. Stir constantly until the pastry cream is very thick and just beginning to bubble, about 5 minutes. Pour the pastry cream into a blender. Add the butter and vanilla extract. Blend on high speed for 1 minute. Pour into a clean bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill until cold, about 2 hours, or up to 3 days.
For the chocolate ganache glaze:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 to 70% cacao–or use semisweet, if you prefer)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon corn syrup or honey (optional, but it does give a nice sheen to the ganache)
Combine the chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl. Melt together in the microwave with 30-second bursts of high heat, stirring well after each interval, until the ganache is smooth. Stir in the corn syrup.
To assemble the Boston Cream Pie:
Take the pastry cream out of the refrigerator and whisk until smooth (if it’s been in the fridge for very long and is looking somewhat lumpy, let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes and then whisk again to smooth it out). Place one cake layer on a cake stand or serving platter. Dollop and spread the pastry cream on top of the cake layer, leaving about a one-inch border around. Place the second cake layer on top of the pastry cream, pressing lightly to adhere. Spread the ganache over the top of the cake. Chill the cake for about 30 minutes before serving.
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