I don’t know why October 23rd is National Boston Cream Pie Day, but it is! Boston Cream Pie has been on my to-make list for so long. I think I’ve actually tried to do a post on it for several years running, and something always came up. But 2019 is my year in so many ways, that it’s also going to be the year I tackle the Boston Cream Pie post. Strap in.
If you’re unfamiliar, I should first break the news that Boston Cream Pie is not a pie at all. Instead, it’s a two-layer sponge cake, filled with cream, and topped with chocolate ganache. It’s likely, though, that the “pie” part of its name came from the cake being baked in a pie tin. Pies and cakes were often cooked in the same pans in earlier days, and the names would have been used interchangeably.
The Boston Cream Pie is associated most closely with the Parker House Hotel (now the Omni Parker House Hotel) in Boston. More specifically, they can be traced back to one man, Augustine Francois Anezin, a Frenchman who was the head cook at the Hotel. Many records incorrectly listed Anezin’s name as Sanzian, which immediately made me think he was Armenian, instead of French, but it turns out they just got his name wrong. He was definitely French, born around 1824 in Marseilles, France. He didn’t begin his tenure as chef at the Parker House until he was about 40, so his famous pie-cake would’ve been created sometime after 1865, but before he retired in 1881.
However, even though Anezin was responsible for bringing the pie to the Parker House Hotel, he did not invent cream pies (cake). They had already been around for years, but might have been enjoying a bump in popularity around this time. In fact, there is a recipe that dates back to 1864 called “Boston Cream Cakes” in Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, a women’s monthly book published in Philadelphia. The Boston Cream Cakes recipe differs slightly from the Boston Cream Pie recipe that we know today, but it does show how common pudding pies and cakes were in that day. And it is interesting that, even in those early days, a pudding cake was attributed to Boston.
I’ve found no original recipe for Anezin’s Boston cream pie, but it was likely composed of sponge cake leavened with eggs, as baking powders were not yet commonly used in American baking until after the 1860s. And his recipe may or may not have had chocolate on top at the time. What we do know is that it was years before it would become known as Boston Cream Pie. Recipes referencing “Boston Cream Pie” begin popping up in newspapers outside of Boston as early as 1876. These recipes call for a sponge cake to be baked, split and filled with pudding, but with no mention of chocolate on top. Perhaps some credit for the chocolate covered version of the Boston Cream Pie should go to a woman named Maria Parloa, a well-known “domestic scientist” of her time. In 1877, she opened Miss Parloa’s School of Cooking in Boston. Ten years later, Parloa published her book Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion. In the book, Parloa has a recipe for “chocolate cream pie,” which appears very similar to what we know today as the Boston cream pie, calling for two rounds of cake, filled with pastry cream, and now with the addition of a chocolate icing topping. While Ms. Parloa’s name isn’t as well-known today, she was considered something of a “celebrity chef” of her time. (So, perhaps the “Boston” in Boston Cream Pie comes from Ms. Parloa’s version of the pudding pie, and her link to the city of Boston, rather than Anezin’s. It’s hard to know without documentation of the original recipe.) Whatever the origin, the pie-cake, topped with chocolate ganache, over time became eponymous with, not the hotel that it is attributed to, but the city of Boston itself. In 1996, it was even declared that Boston Cream Pie was the state dessert of Massachusetts, beating out other local treats, such as the Toll House cookie and Indian pudding.
Boston Cream Pie
Makes one 8-inch cream pie.
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cups flour
For pastry cream:
3 egg yolks
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp unsalted butter
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate bar, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
For pastry cream: Stir together the yolks, egg, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a heat-safe bowl until completely combined. Set aside.
Heat the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, until small bubbles just begin to form around the edge of the saucepan. Turn off the heat.
Pour about half of the milk, very slowly, in a thin stream into the egg mixture, whisking rapidly and constantly to temper the eggs. Once the eggs are tempered, pour the egg mixture back into the remaining milk in the saucepan.
Turn the heat back on medium. Whisking constantly, allow the mixture to come to a boil. Once you see bubbles forming, keep mixing for about 1-2 minutes. You should see the mixture becoming thick.
Remove from heat, pour into a clean oven-safe bowl, and put a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the hot pastry cream. Allow the pastry cream to come to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least two hours before using in your cream pie.
For cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Thoroughly grease an 8 x 2-inch round cake pan, and line bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
Beat together the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract until very pale yellow in color, about 12-15 minutes, with a hand mixer. The mixture should be quite thick.
Sift the flour over the top of the batter in three or four batches, completely mixing the flour in with a wooden spoon between each addition.
Pour the mixture into the greased cake pan and place on the center rack in the oven for 20 minutes.
The top of the cake should be golden on top by this time. Before opening the oven door, turn off the heat and crack the oven door, but do not yet remove the cake. Allow the cake to sit in the oven for 5 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool upside down on a cooling rack.
Once the cake has cooled completely, carefully remove the cake from the pan. You may need to use a butter knife to loosen the sides of the cake from the pan, even if you greased the pan well.
Slice the cake in half, lengthwise.
Top the bottom half of the cake with the pastry cream, and place the top of the cake on the pastry cream. Place in the fridge while you make the ganache.
For ganache: Place the chopped chocolate in a heat-safe bowl.
Warm the heavy cream in a small saucepan, until you just begin to see bubbles forming around the edge of the pan.
Pour the milk directly over the chopped chocolate. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes.
Stir together the chocolate and the cream until it is fully combined and smooth.
Spoon the ganache over the top of the cake and smooth to the edges, allowing some to drip over the sides.
I got lost in the research for this post, because I was fascinated to learn about Maria Parloa, whom I had never heard of before. Also, the recipes that I saw reprinted in newspapers under the name chocolate cream pie seem to be taken verbatim from her book, so it is surprising that she has not traditionally been a part of the Boston cream pie story. The research is a bit thin all around, but I always love to chase these histories, and I also loved making this pie/cake.