Cake

Whatever Happened to Boston Cream Pie?

This even chocolatier version is going to bring it back.

November  9, 2018
Photo by Posie (Harwood) Brien

A very reliable indicator of a successful recipe is whether it’s endured through generations. Classic recipes that have stood the test of time bear the stamp of approval of thousands of cooks and bakers—the culinary equivalent of great music. We’re still playing the Rolling Stones today for good reason!

But some recipes, despite their enduring nature, get a little lost in the shuffle as time goes by. Case in point: Boston cream pie. It hasn’t disappeared altogether, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent as similar vintage (and geographically-niche) recipes, like St. Louis butter cake or Key Lime pie.

Why we aren’t all eating Boston cream pie as regularly as we eat apple pie or chocolate cake is beyond me. The dessert is a triumph of pastry excellence—a trio of good things that end up as far more than the sum of its parts. Two layers of hot milk sponge cake sandwich a vanilla pastry cream, all topped with a luscious chocolate ganache.

As for the confusing moniker: pie and cake were largely considered interchangeable words (as were pie plates and cake pans) when the cake was invented in the late 1800s. The original name stuck around even after pie took on its modern meaning as a filled crust dessert. The Parker House Hotel in Boston lays claims credit for naming Boston cream pie in 1856. History is murky as to the precise origin, but it’s clear that similar versions existed in New England (and specifically Boston) around the same time.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“But then it's not Boston Cream Pie. Much as very few of those Key Lime pies are Key Lime pies- people seem willing to give the name to pretty much any dessert containing any sort of lime. If I weren't such an easy going person, I'd also vehemently disagree with the notion that popularity equates with great music, but I don't suppose this is the time or place.”
— Smaug
Comment

Questions of credit aside, the cake is a study in simplicity. With three basic components—sponge cake, custard, and ganache—there’s nowhere to hide. Each component needs to be flawless. Part of the appeal of Boston cream pie is that it doesn’t have wild flavors or lots of sugar; you really taste the ingredients that sometimes get lost in richer, more decadent desserts like vanilla and butter.

After waxing poetic about Boston cream pie, I’m going to hope you bear with me because we’re going to go rogue. Here I am, professing loyalty to the classics, and I’m going to try and change one.

How Boston cream pie got its groove back. Photo by Posie (Harwood) Brien

This recipe is still very much the spirit of a Boston cream pie. All I’ve done is gussy it up a bit, changing the pastry cream filling to a chocolate pastry cream, and…ta da! Chocolate Boston cream pie!

To stay true to the best qualities of the original recipe—by which I mean flavors unmasked by too much sugar—this pastry cream isn’t too sweet, so the chocolate really shines. I like this version so much that my next project is an inside-out Boston cream pie: chocolate sponge layers filled with vanilla pastry cream and topped with chocolate ganache. And the only logical project after that a triple chocolate Boston cream pie: chocolate sponge, chocolate pastry cream, and chocolate ganache.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, start with this lightly tweaked version. Fall in love with it all over again the way I did, and let’s all bring back the Boston cream pie.

Do you like Boston cream pie? What's your favorite classic sweet?

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12 Comments

Suzy S. November 10, 2018
This looks lovely, and I’d be happy to make it, but it entirely misses the point of BCP. I’m not at all opposed to updating classics, but this isn’t an update. This is a new, inspired by BCP, dessert. It’s rather unkind to call it BCP—it deserves its own name!
 
Austin B. November 10, 2018
There is another BCP on this site. The only reason I'm guessing it didn't go far is that it split itself into 3 different recipes, and finding the Ganache and Pastry Cream was a borderline-nightmare.
 
Smaug November 10, 2018
I assume you mean Joanne Chang's recipe- it's not that bad. You can either click on her name at the top of the recipe, or search "users" for Joanne Chang and click on her name when that page comes up; this will take you to her page- click on "recipes" (there are only a few) and you're right there. There are, naturally, any number of ganache and pastry cream recipes available, but these are specific adaptations for this BCP (for the most part)recipe.
 
Austin B. November 11, 2018
I accrued all 3 a ways back, but combining the recipe probably would've saved a great deal other readers some pain.
 
Smaug November 11, 2018
I agree that it was a pretty poor way to present a recipe- one strives to be concise, but there should be limits.
 
Audrey November 10, 2018
It was my dad’s favorite, and he had excellent taste. I plan to make one in his honor on the day that we would have celebrated his birthday.
 
Author Comment
Posie (. November 10, 2018
Oh that is really lovely, what a tribute.
 
Mj L. November 10, 2018
A grocery bakery near me does variations of BCP all the time, like with fruit in the summer but nothing beats the original imo. In fact, a local hipster resto has traditional BCP as this weekend’s special dessert. I’m out West, we still eat BCP here. But substituting chocolate filling isn’t really BCP imo. I remember as a kid I never the 60’s, I made a lot of BCP from a (probably) Betty Crocker cake mix.
 
suzybel63 November 10, 2018
I have two favourite desserts, Boston Cream Pie and Black Forest Trifle. I think the Boston Cream Pie is number one. Our local donut shop serves Boston Cream donuts which are very, very good.
 
Smaug November 9, 2018
But then it's not Boston Cream Pie. Much as very few of those Key Lime pies are Key Lime pies- people seem willing to give the name to pretty much any dessert containing any sort of lime. If I weren't such an easy going person, I'd also vehemently disagree with the notion that popularity equates with great music, but I don't suppose this is the time or place.
 
Lynn November 9, 2018
Is this better the next day, or should you serve immediately?
 
Smaug November 9, 2018
With pastry cream, sooner is better.