What is the Boston Cream Pie?

Okay! Okay! Now I know this is not the Boston Cream Pie to which I think most of you are familiar, but… but, “What is a Boston Cream Pie?”

Well, let’s see. It’s not really a pie and, from its history, may not have originated in Boston. What is it really? Basically, it’s a single-layer yellow cake split in half with a vanilla custard filling and a chocolate fondant like frosting or thick glaze on top with interlaced swirls the same in white. Conceptually, even though it’s very simple and very easy to make, there a thousand recipes. In fact, it’s an American classic found in just about any bakery in America worth its salt. (Note that there is an original recipe from “Food Timeline-- history notes: pie & pastry, Boston Cream Pie, at http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodpies.html#bostoncreampie)

Brief History of the Boston Cream Pie

The origin of the Boston Cream Pie, like many things is somewhat sketchy and uncertain. Some such as the Joy of Baking.com by Stephanie Jaworski, speculate, that the Boston Cream Pie may have originated with in Colonial America because there were very few cake pans. They used pie pans to make what was known as “Pudding Cake Pies.” Linda Stradely of What’s Cooking America.net notes that the Colonial New England and Pennsylvania Dutch who made them in the mid-Nineteen Century in the same manner. Now of these cakes/pies have frosting on top. It has even been noted that a similar cake with raspberry jam filling was called the “Mrs. Washington Pie.” (I wonder whether this Mrs. Washington may have been Martha!)

It seem that the Boston Cream Pie in its most notable form may have gotten started in 1855 when a recipe for it was printed for it in the New York Herald as the “Parker House Chocolate Pie.” The time line here gets a little sketchy here because the recipe came from.

According to Wikipedia.org (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_cream_pie), “owners of the Parker House Hotel in Boston claim that the Boston cream pie was first created at the hotel by Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian in 1856. Called a ‘Chocolate Cream Pie,’ this cake consisted of two layers of French butter sponge cake filled with crème pâtissière and brushed with a rum syrup, its side coated with crème pâtissière overlain with toasted sliced almonds, and the top coated with chocolate fondant. While other custard cakes may have existed at this time baking chocolate as a coating was a new process, making it unique and a popular choice on the menu.

The name first appeared in the 1872 Methodist Almanac. Another early printed use of the term "Boston cream pie" occurred in the Granite Iron Ware Cook Book, printed in 1878. The earliest known recipe of the modern variant was printed in Miss Parloa's Kitchen Companion in 1887 as "Chocolate Cream Pie."

The Boston cream pie is the official dessert of Massachusetts, declared as such on December 12, 1996.”

Now for this recipe.


For the Cake:
1½ cups *cake flour, sifted
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¾ teaspoon lemon extract
2 teaspoons lemon zest
¾ cup buttermilk

For the Lemon Curd Filling:
½ cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon corn starch
½ cup sugar
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten

For the Frosting:

6 ounce package of cream cheese
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 drops of yellow food coloring

Sliced lemons for garnish

Baking and Assembly

For the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan or an 8-inch square cake pan. Line with fitted parchment paper and grease and flour entire pan.

Sift together cake flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar until light in color. One at a time, beat in eggs until just well blended. Beat in lemon juice, extract, and zest. To butter/sugar/egg/lemon mixture, starting with the flour mixture on low speed, alternately add the buttermilk and flour mixture, ending with the flour mixture. Blend only until all ingredients are just well blended.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

When done, let cool in pan for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to complete cooling.

For the Lemon Curd Filling:
In a non-reactive sauce pan, with a wire whisk, combine and blend lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, and corn starch until cornstarch dissolves. Over medium-low heat, constantly beat mixture until it boils and begins to thicken. Reduce to its lowest point. In a small bowl, with the whisk, beat egg. To the egg, temper the egg by pouring over small amount of the thicken lemon mixture while constantly and vigorously whisking. When well blended, return to pan. Whisk in butter until thoroughly incorporated. Strain with a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.

For the Frosting:
In a medium bowl, cream together cream cheese and butter. Beat in confectioners’ sugar. Blend in extract and ½ teaspoon lemon juice. Take 1/3 of frosting in a separate bowl and add food coloring. To the remaining 2/3 frosting add remaining ½ teaspoon of lemon juice if necessary.

For the Assembly:
Split cake. Fill bottom half with Lemon Curd Filling. Stack with second half and frost the top with 2/3 portion of the Lemon Frosting. With the remaining 2/3 colored portion of the Lemon Frosting, fill into a piping bag or small storage bag (If using a storage bag, seal and snip a small corner, just enough to allow frosting to ooze through.). With the bag, line out concentric circles from the edge, to the center of the cake. With a toothpick, alternating form the edge to the center, draw radial lines.

Slice and garnish with lemon slices.

*Note: If you don’t have cake flour, add 1 tablespoon of corn starch to 1 cup of bleached all-purpose flour before sifting.

Variations: Use any citrus fruit. If making an orange cake, consider orange marmalade infusions.

Special note: Try using a lemon curd infused pastry cream, mousse, or custard and developing a lemon fondant.