Sunday, August 22, 2010

Boston Cream Pie and Baking Together

Alicia and I had the (unfortunately rare) pleasure of spending a few days together in San Diego last week. We went to the beach and walked and rode Segways, and of course we ate lots and lots of good food--mostly good Mexican food, which we won't be able to get in France.
We also took the opportunity to do a bit of a baking project together: Boston Cream Pie.
Alicia and I have always loved this dessert, which is not a pie but seems to have been invented by a French chef at the Parker House restaurant in Boston. Alicia was recently in Boston and saw a plaque announcing the Parker House as the birthplace of the Boston Cream Pie (and, of course, the Parker House roll). It's a sponge cake filled with vanilla pudding/pastry cream and topped with chocolate glaze.
As Maida points out in the headnotes, it's a simple dessert but not an easy one to make. The pastry cream took FOREVER to put together (Alicia seems to have spent a good half hour standing over the stove whisking the milk and flour mixture), the sponge cake (which I made) is a rather fussy little genoise, and there's lots of chilling time involved. Fortunately, the chocolate glaze (which Alicia made) is a piece of cake to put together. The cake took so long to make that we weren't able to eat it the same day we made it. We saved it for Sunday breakfast.
This is what awaited us when we showed up at Alicia's house Sunday morning. Mmmm...look at all that chocolate!

You can see all the yumminess on the beautiful Blue Minton plate that Alicia uses on a regular basis.

The cake disappeared within about 10 minutes. There were about 10 of us, and we were hungry, and the cake was really good. That's my daughter scraping the last crumbs and drops of glaze off the cake plate. The only issue some of us had with the cake was with the almond extract--I found that it was too strong. I personally would use only vanilla extract in the pastry cream.

Here's the recipe. Make it when you have plenty of time and patience.
Boston Cream Pie

2 large eggs
1/4 c. + 1 T. (1.25 oz.) sifted flour
1/4 t. salt
2/3 c. (4.6 oz.) sugar
2 c. (16 oz.) milk
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract (optional)
2 T. (1 oz.) butter, cut into pieces

Beat the eggs in a small bowl; set aside. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Gradually beat in the milk, whisking the whole time to avoid lumps of flour. Put the saucepan over medium (maybe medium-high, if you're careful) heat and whisk constantly for a really long time until the mixture comes to a boil and starts to thicken. Remove the pan from the heat and spoon a bit of the hot milk mixture into the eggs and whisk. Keep adding milk to eggs until you've added about half (or until you have no more room in your small bowl). Now return the egg/milk mixture to the saucepan. Put the pan back over low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2 minutes. Take back off the heat and add the butter and extracts. I would recommend straining the mixture into a bowl and let it cool (put plastic or waxed paper on top to keep a skin from forming) and then refrigerate it for at least an hour. Or you can put the bowl in a bigger bowl filled with ice and water, which will chill it faster.

While you're waiting for the pudding to cool, make the cake.

1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1 t. baking powder
2 eggs, separated
1/4 t. salt
2/3 c. (4.6 oz.) sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. cold water
3 T. (1.5 oz.) melted butter

Heat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan; line it with parchment or waxed paper, then grease and flour it. Sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside.
In one medium bowl (this is a good recipe to use a hand mixer), whip the egg whites and salt until foamy. Add half the sugar gradually and beat until you have just barely stiff peaks.
In another, perhaps larger, bowl, beat the egg yolks and remaining sugar at high speed until the mixture is very light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and lemon juice, and then beat in the water at low speed. Fold the egg yolks into the egg whites in a few additions, quickly and not too thoroughly. Put a sifter or a sieve over the mixture and then sift the flour over the mixture, folding as you sift. Finally fold in the melted butter until just barely incorporated. Pour this into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently. When the cake comes out of the oven, cut around the sides and let cool on a rack for about 5 minutes before unmolding it onto a rack.
When the cake is cool, refrigerate it for about 10 minutes before slicing it in half horizontally. Spread the chilled pastry cream on the bottom layer and then top with the top layer. Chill while you make the chocolate glaze:

4 oz. semisweet chocolate (chips are OK for this)
1/4 c. (2 oz.) cream

Chop the chocolate and put in a medium bowl. Heat the cream in the microwave for about 1 minute (watch it carefully--cream boils over fast). Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for about 30 seconds before you stir it--the chocolate should melt and become smooth and beautiful. Let that cool for about 10 minutes. Then pour the glaze over the cake. You might have drippage, as Alicia did, but never fear--there will be someone there to wipe up the spill. Serve cold, and prepare for no leftovers.

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