Best Boston Cream Pie

By • May 6, 2013 • 49 Comments


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Author Notes: It’s a little risky to try making your own version of Boston cream pie, an iconic dessert that’s been around longer than any of us, in a city so steeped in tradition. Boston cream pie isn’t really a pie, either. First served in 1856 in the Parker House hotel in Boston, now known as the Omni Parker House, it’s actually a vanilla sponge cake filled with pastry cream and topped with chocolate glaze. I learned how to make this version of the classic from Rick Katz, the first pastry chef I ever worked for. His Boston cream pie was lighter and less cloyingly sweet than the original, which meant lightening up the cake, the filling, and the glaze. The cake is a simple sponge cake that lends itself to being soaked with a flavored syrup (hence the name “sponge” cake). The filling is not just straight pastry cream, as in the original version, but a creamier, fluffier combination of pastry cream and whipped cream. And the glaze is pure chocolate ganache -- bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream -- which makes for the most decadent finish ever.Joanne Chang

Serves 4 to 6

Sponge Cake

  • 4 large eggs, separated, plus 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • pinches kosher salt

Cake-Soaking Syrup

  • 1/3 cup hot brewed coffee
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 3/4 cup Pastry Cream (see separate recipe)
  • 1 cup Ganache (see separate recipe), warmed
  1. Special equipment: 13- by 18-inch rimmed baking sheet, parchment paper, stand mixer with whisk attachment or handheld mixer, sifter or sieve, offset spatula, clean cardboard.
  2. To make the sponge cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C, and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Using the stand mixer or the handheld mixer and a medium bowl, beat together the egg yolks, 1⁄4 cup (50 g) of the sugar, and the lemon juice on high speed for at least 6 to 8 minutes if using the stand mixer or 10 to 12 minutes if using the handheld mixer, or until thick and doubled in volume. Stop the mixer once or twice and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the whisk to ensure the sugar and yolks are evenly mixed. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
  4. Clean the bowl and the whisk attachment or beaters (they must be spotless) and beat the egg whites on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes with the stand mixer or 4 to 6 minutes with the handheld mixer, or until soft peaks form. The whites will start to froth and turn into bubbles, and eventually the yellowy viscous part will disappear. Keep beating until you can see the tines of the whisk or beaters leaving a slight trail in the whites. To test for the soft-peak stage, stop the mixer and lift the whisk or beaters out of the whites; the whites should peak and then droop. With the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar very slowly, a spoonful or so at a time, taking about 1 minute to add all of the sugar. Continue beating on medium speed for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the whites are glossy and shiny and hold a stiff peak when you slowly lift the whisk or beaters straight up and out of the whites.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold about one third of the whipped whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it. Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Sift the flour and salt together over the top of the mixture and fold in gently until the flour is completely incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared baking sheet.
  6. Using the offset spatula, carefully spread the batter evenly to cover the entire baking sheet. Concentrate on spreading the batter toward the corners and edges of the pan. The center will be easier to fill once the edges are filled with batter. Don’t worry about the top being perfectly smooth; it is more important that the batter be spread evenly so that the cake is the same thickness throughout. Bake the cake for 18 to 24 minutes, rotating the baking sheet back to front about halfway through, or until the top is pale golden brown and springs back when pressed in the center with your fingertips and the cake doesn’t stick to your fingers. Let the cake cool in the pan on the wire rack for about 5 minutes.
  7. Line a large cutting board with parchment. Run a paring knife around the edge of the still-warm cake to release it from the sides of the baking sheet, and invert the cake onto the parchment. Carefully peel off the parchment and allow the cake to cool completely. Using a chef’s knife, cut the cake in half crosswise and then in half lengthwise. You should now have four cake layers, each about 5 1/2 by 8 inches. Cut the cardboard so that its dimensions are just slightly larger than the cake layer dimensions.
  8. To make the soaking syrup: In a small bowl, stir together the coffee and sugar until the sugar has dissolved.
  9. Using the pastry brush, brush the top of all four cake rectangles evenly with the soaking syrup, using up all of the syrup.
  10. Place one cake layer, syrup-side up, on the prepared cardboard rectangle. In a medium bowl, using a mixer or a whisk, whip the heavy cream until it holds very firm, stiff peaks. Fold in the pastry cream (see separate recipe) until well combined. Using the offset spatula, spread about one third of the cream mixture over the cake layer. There is a tendency for the cream to mound in the center, so be sure to spread the cream out to the edges of the cake. In fact, to make the best-looking cake possible, it is better if the cream layer is slightly thicker along the edge than in the center.
  11. Place a second cake layer, syrup-side up, on top of the cream layer and press down gently so the cake layer is level. Using the offset spatula, spread about half of the remaining cream mixture over the cake layer. Again, you want to spread the cream a bit thicker along the edge of the rectangle to prevent the final cake from doming.
  12. Place a third cake layer, syrup-side up, on top of the cream and press down slightly to level the cake. Using the offset spatula, spread the remaining cream mixture over the cake, again making it a bit thicker along the edges than in the center. Top the cake with the final cake layer, syrup-side up, and press down gently so that the top layer is flat. Lightly wrap the cake with plastic wrap, place in the freezer, and freeze for about 8 hours or up to overnight, or until it is frozen solid. (At this point, the cake can instead be put into the freezer just until it has firmed up and then it can be well wrapped and frozen for up to 2 weeks.)
  13. At least 3 hours in advance of serving, remove the cake from the freezer and place it on a cutting board. Using a chef’s knife dipped in very hot water, trim the edges of the cake so that they are neat and even. (These trimmings make for great snacking.) Dip and wipe the knife clean several times as you trim to make sure you get a neat, sharp edge on the cake. Trim the cardboard underneath so it is flush with the cake.
  14. Place the cake on its cardboard base on a cooling rack set on a baking sheet. Pour the warm ganache (see separate recipe) over the top of the cake. Using the offset spatula, spread the ganache in an even layer. It will begin to firm up right away when it hits the cold cake, so work quickly to even the surface. Let the excess ganache drip down the sides of the cake, leaving some parts of the cake exposed. Let the ganache set for several seconds, then transfer the cake to a serving plate. Let the cake thaw at room temperature before serving.

Tags: cake, chocolate, dessert, flour bakery, joanne chang, pie

Comments (49) Questions (2)

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about 1 month ago carol rives

i can't find a link in the recipe or commentary for the pastry cream or the ganache. What am I missing?

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4 months ago Rosemary

Thank you for this recipe - I have had this numerous times at Flour so when I came across this, I knew I had to make it for my husband's birthday! It was delicious and everyone loved it! And not too complicated to make - just took a little time :)

Fc_macaroon_830

7 months ago Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery+Cafe and chef/co-owner of Myers+Chang in Boston.

HI Faezah- I haven't made this in an 8 inch round yet. I wonder if you pour all of the batter in the round if it will over flow? If you have four 8 inch round cake pans that you can divide the batter into that might be easier. Or try putting in into two pans and splitting the layers. I would not adjust oven temp and as for time I would go by sight- till it is light golden brwon- hard to say how long that will be without having done it before, sorry!! Keep me posted. Joanne

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7 months ago Faezah

Hi there. I need to make this cake in 8' round version. How to adjust the oven temparature n baking time. Thank u thank u...

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8 months ago Mathieu Caya

Hi Joanne
I made the cake on three occasion, I can't seemed to get the lift on the cake. It looks flatter than your version. Any though on what I might be doing wrong ?

Thanks

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8 months ago Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery+Cafe and chef/co-owner of Myers+Chang in Boston.

Hi Mathieu- it's hard for me to know without seeing it- it is definitely a flat cake so maybe you're not doing anything wrong? Be sure not to overwhip your whites- that will lead the cake not to rise. Send a pic and I'll take a look!

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8 months ago Melissa

Just made this cake for my own birthday. Wow...it is so delicious that all the work is worth it! Got many compliments, even my husband who does not eat sweets loved this cake. I had a hard time lifting the 4 small sponge cakes from the parchment paper though. Am I the only one? For some reason they got sticky and had sweat beads like on top of a meringue pie. I live in Houston and it was very humid when I made it. I had to use wide spatula to support lifting each piece, but still broke one in the process. Any tip would be much appreciated!! Thank you, Joanne, for this wonderful recipe!

Fc_macaroon_830

8 months ago Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery+Cafe and chef/co-owner of Myers+Chang in Boston.

Thank you Melissa- I'm so glad to hear! I wonder if the humidity got to your cakes OR perhaps you could bake them a touch longer so they are not quite so sticky. Hard for me to say without seeing it- they should come off fairly easily from the parchment so I'm thinking it might be a bit underbaked. Either way it sounds like it was a success!

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8 months ago Melissa

Thank you so much for your suggestion! I think you are right about baking it longer because I did cut down baking time for my convection oven is hotter than normal. I will definitely try again soon to see if it helps. (I will just "have to" eat them all by myself this time : ) ) BTW, my mother commented this cake is better than all she's had in famous coffee houses in Vienna when we visited last month. I was so pleased!

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8 months ago darksideofthespoon

I used my own pastry cream recipe (no flour, uses 1 egg and cornstarch instead) so this might be isolated because of that, but after trying some of the trimming (we're serving it tomorrow) I gotta say - the filling is SO greasy on the palate. It's good, don't get me wrong, but I can't get past the mouth feel of the pastry cream/whipping cream.

Fc_macaroon_830

8 months ago Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery+Cafe and chef/co-owner of Myers+Chang in Boston.

Hi! I wonder if it is your pastry cream recipe? the whipped cream lightens the pastry cream so it's not so gluey and greasy so it might be that. I hope you ended up enjoying it! THanks for trying it!

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8 months ago darksideofthespoon

I'm not sure if it was because the trimmings I had just came out of the freezer, but maybe that's why it had a weird mouth feel. To say it was a hit last night would be an understatement and I didn't notice any greasiness at all! So... I take everything back! ;)

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8 months ago Vicki Bensinger

I made this cake for my daughter a few days ago. We've been away in the mountains for the summer and knew before coming that this was the cake I'd be making for my daughters 24th birthday. Having gone to school in Boston she fell in love with Boston Cream Pie. I saw this recipe in Joanne's book, I have both Flour cookbooks, so made sure to bring it along. After reading the recipe many times over we were ready to make it. I however had a different interpretation of the number of egg yolks and whites than my daughter. I called the bakery but they were already closed for the day.

I thought it took 4 egg yolks and 7 egg whites, while my daughter thought it only took 4 egg yolks and 3 egg whites. Thank goodness for this post I was able to confirm the number of eggs. To think it could have been a disaster had we made it the other way.

I was proud of the way it turned out although quite time consuming. One note, the coffee flavor definitely disappeared after being refrigerated overnight. We enjoyed it's mild flavor much better that way. I think an extra day in the frig is the way to go.

Feel free to stop by my blog to see the results. Great cookbook and recipes. Looking forward to stopping by the bakery next time I'm in Boston.
Vicki Bensinger
www.VickiBensinger.com

Fc_macaroon_830

8 months ago Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery+Cafe and chef/co-owner of Myers+Chang in Boston.

Lovely to hear- thank you for the feedback!

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8 months ago Vicki Bensinger

Unfortunately I didn't trim my edges. My daughter insisted they looked perfect. After all it was her cake. I think my edges could have been straighter but then, she loved and that's all that matters.

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9 months ago Vivian Henoch

I think I'll skip all the steps and just come to Boston! Gorgeous. Saved recipe for a really rainy day in Detroit.

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10 months ago Kitchen Butterfly

I love, love, love this dessert. I've made it twice. And well on my way to a third.

The first time, I split the cake into 6 parts, so I could make two variations - one as advertised with coffee, and the other with orange syrup.

Both were delicious. The coffee version reminded me of Tiramisu and the orange one was delightful and fragrant with a zip of citrus freshness.

The second time it was for my sister's 30th and we went with the coffee version. She absolutely loved it but I strangely found it too sweet.

I am on version 3 and it will be a kumquat one. I intend to soak the cake with a kumquat syrup (not sure whether I'll add some liqueur yet) and then top it with sliced poached kumquats before I layer the cream on.

To counteract the sweetness I've reduced the sugar in the pastry cream to1/3 cup and not the recommended 1/2 cup. The texture of the pastry cream seems 'regular' and hope it will let the other ingredients shine through.

The ganache works super well with the cake too - contrasting the flavours - a bit of rich and dark.

Finally, I absolutely love how clean the edges get once 'trimmed' - the trimmings make for delicious snacking and you end up with a truly professional looking product in your home kitchen.

Thanks for a superb recipe.

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8 months ago Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery+Cafe and chef/co-owner of Myers+Chang in Boston.

That's awesome- thank you!

Stringio

10 months ago enthous

Good start, but too sweet. All that work and it was another sugary sweet dessert. I expected a richer, less typical result for all that work. The ganache was great, using 70% Belgian chocolate. The pastry cream needs less sugar so the richness can shine. I may try again reducing sugar in the pastry cream, cake and the coffee syrup. Maybe a little liqueur in the coffee syrup would help. It was beautiful and impressive looking.

Fc_macaroon_830

10 months ago Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery+Cafe and chef/co-owner of Myers+Chang in Boston.

Yes liqueur would def cut down a bit on the sweetness! Be careful abt reducing sugar in syrup too much- if syrup is watery it will make cake soggy not moist. But you could def cut down a little bit to make it less sweet!

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11 months ago za'atar

This cake is time-consuming, but delicious. I will definitely be returning to the pastry cream recipe again and again. I'm not sure if it was correct or not, but I ended up using 7 egg whites for the sponge cake, and it turned out great.

Fc_macaroon_830

10 months ago Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery+Cafe and chef/co-owner of Myers+Chang in Boston.

7 egg whites total- 4 from the whole eggs which get separated and 3 additional whites!

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11 months ago nanw.

thanks so much...yum

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11 months ago nanw.

is this super hard? it looks fabulous for parties but i usually can't spend ALL day on the cake alone. please help out

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11 months ago savoryB

It isn't difficult, really. And when you read the recipes for the ganache and pastry cream, you'll see you can prepare them a few days in advance.

Stringio

10 months ago enthous

It's not that difficult, but it has a lot of steps and is time consuming. You'll use a lot of bowls!

Fc_macaroon_830

10 months ago Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery+Cafe and chef/co-owner of Myers+Chang in Boston.

You can make a lot of the components ahead of time and you can also freeze the cake so it's ready for you when you want it!

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10 months ago Kitchen Butterfly

I intend to freeze the kumquat version I'm in the process of making for a party in mid-July! One thing off that list :-)

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11 months ago karin.anderson.52

You find the recipes for pastry cream and ganache if you click on Joanne Chang's name on top of this post, and then, in her profile on "recipes".

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11 months ago savoryB

You're so right - usually I'm more resourceful like that. This time I commented first and looked second.

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11 months ago karin.anderson.52

Happens to me, too. :)

Stringio

11 months ago Doug Weller

I really don't like coffee, what else can I use?
Doug

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11 months ago jfoureur

betting a raspberry (or almond) liquer or thinned syrup, would be good........ also curious about using "earl-grey" tea

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11 months ago Kitchen Butterfly

I made an orange syrup and it was divine! I also made the coffee and it was just as I'd thought - like Tiramisu! It went in minutes and we're making another one right now!

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10 months ago Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery+Cafe and chef/co-owner of Myers+Chang in Boston.

I love all of these ideas- definitely use another flavor if you don't like coffee- just make sure it's something that goes well w chocolate since that is such a big part of the flavor profile of this cake.

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11 months ago Meatballs&Milkshakes

Absolutely love Joanne's book, everything I've made from it is unbelievable....definitely my dessert island cookbook! Will have to get around to this one soon!

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10 months ago Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery+Cafe and chef/co-owner of Myers+Chang in Boston.

thank you so much!!

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11 months ago dldavis

Pastry cream and ganache-...Found them in search.

Stringio

11 months ago Debbie Jean 1

The links for pastry cream and ganache are missing from this post. Hopefully someone will see that and correct.

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11 months ago Ceege

The pastry cream and ganache recipes are not posted with this recipe on this site. How can I obtain these before trying out this cake.