Boston Cream Pie’s Origins
In its simplest form, Boston Cream Pie is a pastry cream sandwiched between two layers of sponge cake and topped off with a chocolate icing, as mentioned above. It’s really a version of a “pudding-cake pie,” an early American dessert favored by New England and Pennslvannia Dutch bakers. Since chocolate used to be an ingredient that was often eaten as a pudding or beverage, it was only right to have chocolate in this pie’s first name. It was originally called Chocolate Cream Pie, and over time, the name changed to what it is today. While we can’t be sure who first made a Boston Cream Pie, a chef named Sanzian at the Parker House Hotel in Boston (now the Omni Parker House Hotel) takes credit and began serving this yummy dessert there when it opened in 1856. (Fun fact: The Parker House Hotel was not only the first to serve Boston Cream Pie, but also was the first hotel in Boston to have an elevator and hot and cold running water.)
Pie or Cake?
Even though the name has pie in it, it’s not actually a pie, it’s a cake! The most logical reason for this misnomer is that the treat used to be cooked in pie tins since they were more common than cake pans. The cake was originally made with a basic pound or sponge cake. Nowadays, sponge cake is most commonly used, but it’s created in a different, more sophisticated way. The cakes are now very moist, buttery, and rich, which became possible due to baking powder that was first developed in the 1870s and 1880s.
Even then, however, the Boston Cream Pie wasn’t commonly made until emulsified shortenings were available in the 1930s. That being said, after the ingredients were available, it still was not that common. It is a little more complicated to make, than say, a strawberry, blueberry or apple pie, so it became a less accessible and therefore more desired dessert.
Yummy Pastry Cream
The pastry cream has historically been the real star of the Boston cream pie. (But wait till you get to the next section; Tangle Chocolate wants to change that!) A pastry cream is basically a thick custard that is used to fill cakes or pastries. Vanilla is the most common flavor, especially for Boston cream pies. The pastry cream is made by bringing milk almost to a boil, tempering in eggs, then adding sugar and cornstarch. Tempering in this sense is a bit different than the tempering we do when making chocolate. It means to slowly raise the temperature of an ingredient that is sensitive to heat, such as the eggs, so that they mix in smoothly. It can be done by either warming the eggs before adding them, or by adding a bit of hot milk to the eggs before completely combining them. If the eggs do not get tempered correctly, they will cook in little scrambled egg pieces when added to the hot milk. The thing that makes pastry cream different from other custard-type sauces is the addition of the cornstarch. The cornstarch creates that thick consistency that allows the cream to lay perfectly between two layers of cake without soaking in or dripping out.
Best Chocolate Topping
Most recipes for Boston Cream Pie call for semi-sweet chocolate, the kind you might buy as bags of chips at the supermarket. However, we at Tangle Chocolate suggest that you go rogue and use either our chocolate or another fine chocolate and taste the difference. It may require an internet order or separate trip to a gourmet food shop, but we think you’ll find that the results will be worth it! A flavorful bean-to-bar small-batch chocolate will give you a topping that will rival the pastry cream for your attention and that will balance the richness of the sponge cake.
There are several great recipes for Boston Cream Pie, but here are two that are for the adventurous baker. The latter is a little more complicated than the former, but both provide detailed instruction on how to create a delicious dessert that you’ll want to add to your regular rotation:
Boston cream pie is a dessert loved by all, from the cake to the custard to the chocolate icing, and every mouth-watering flavor in between. Next time you’re craving that combination, try one of these recipes to treat yourself, and I promise you will not be disappointed!