Boston Cream Pie

published Aug 24, 2023
Boston Cream Pie Recipe

With three delicious layers of sponge cake, pastry cream, and chocolate ganache, this nostalgic dessert is a stunner.

Serves8-10

Prep35 minutes

Cook40 minutes

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a boston cream pie on a cake stand with a slice missing and a second one separated from the rest of the cake
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

I’m not much of a cake person, but there are a few types that I’ll happily have seconds of, including fudgy-rich chocolate cake, muffins (which are basically cupcakes), and Boston cream pie. The latter is a classic dessert consisting of three components: a fluffy sponge cake for its base, pastry cream for the filling, and a shiny coat of chocolate ganache on top. The final result is a simple yet stunning dessert that is rich, moist, and all together not too sweet. 

History of the Boston Cream Pie

Boston cream pie isn’t a pie; it’s technically a cake. The cake took its name from the type of pie tin it was originally baked in during the mid-1800s. 

The dessert was made famous by the Parker House Hotel in Boston. There, the recipe was perfected and called the “Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie.” It was later renamed as the Boston Cream Pie and is now known as the official state dessert of Massachusetts. 

The Anatomy of a Boston Cream Pie

Boston cream pie comes together with these three distinct elements. 

  • Cake: This recipe calls for a hot milk cake (or hot milk sponge), which is way more foolproof than its fussier cousin,

    the genoise

  • Pastry cream: Also known as crème pâtissière, this cooked custard is made with milk, sugar, eggs, cornstarch or flour, and vanilla. My recipe is much more straightforward than others out there; simply whisk the ingredients together in a pan, bring to a boil, then simmer for one minute (there’s no need to temper any hot milk into the eggs). Finishing with butter adds shine and flavor. 
  • Chocolate ganache: I keep it easy with a basic ratio that’s close to equal parts bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream. A pinch of salt balances the sweetness from the chocolate, while a spoonful of light corn syrup makes it glossy. 
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

If You’re Making Boston Cream Pie, a Few Tips

  • Make the pastry cream, and even the cake, in advance. Since this cake has three distinct components, the time and labor involved in making each adds up fast. To break up the work, I like to make the pastry cream two days in advance and the cake the day before. On the day you plan to serve it, assemble the cake and finish with the ganache. 
  • Rely on your microwave, if you have one. I love using my microwave for simple tasks. In this recipe, I use the microwave twice: once to melt butter for the cake, and then to warm the heavy cream for the ganache. If you don’t have a microwave, you can definitely use the stove. 
  • Be flexible with the type of vanilla you use. Any type of vanilla you have is great here, from vanilla extract to vanilla paste to vanilla beans. To use a bean, you’ll want to split the pod down the middle, scrape the seeds, then toss half into the egg-sugar mixture for the cake and the rest in with the milk for the pastry cream. You’ll need to warm the milk with the seeds first, let it steep for 30 minutes to extract the flavor, then let it cool completely before proceeding.

Boston Cream Pie Recipe

With three delicious layers of sponge cake, pastry cream, and chocolate ganache, this nostalgic dessert is a stunner.

Prep time 35 minutes

Cook time 40 minutes

Serves 8-10

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the pastry cream:

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 4

    large egg yolks

  • 1/2 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 3 tablespoons

    cornstarch

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 3/4 cups

    whole milk

  • 2 teaspoons

    vanilla extract, or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

For the cake:

  • 3

    large eggs

  • 1 1/4 cups

    all-purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling

  • 2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 6 tablespoons

    (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pans

  • 3/4 cup

    whole milk

  • 2 teaspoons

    vanilla extract, or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 1/4 cups

    granulated sugar

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 4 ounces

    bittersweet chocolate, or 2/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

  • 1 tablespoon

    light corn syrup

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup

    plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Instructions

Make the pastry cream:

  1. Fit a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Cut 2 tablespoons unsalted butter into small cubes.

  2. Place 4 large egg yolks, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium saucepan. Whisk until no dry bits remain and the mixture is well combined. Add 1 3/4 cups whole milk and whisk to combine.

  3. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken, about 8 minutes. Once it thickens, continue to whisk, pausing every few seconds to check for bubbles. As soon as it begins to bubble, continue to whisk constantly for 1 minute. Remove the saucepan from the heat.

  4. Add the butter and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste. Whisk until the butter is melted. Scrape into the strainer and push through the strainer with a flexible spatula. Scrape the pastry cream on the underside of the strainer into the bowl. Discard the contents of the strainer. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours and up to 3 days.

Make the cake:

  1. Place 3 large eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Let sit until room temperature.

  2. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325ºF. Coat the sides and bottoms of 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with butter. Line the bottom of each pan with a parchment paper round. Sprinkle a little all-purpose flour over the sides and bottoms, and tilt and shake to distribute evenly, tapping out the excess.

  3. Place 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Cut 6 tablespoons unsalted butter into small cubes and place in a microwave-safe measuring cup. Add 3/4 cup whole milk and microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in between each, until the butter is melted, 60 to 90 seconds total. (Alternatively, heat the butter and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.)

  4. Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and stir to combine.

  5. Add 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar to the bowl of eggs. Beat with the whisk attachment on high speed until thick and doubled in volume, about 6 minutes. The mixture should fall back on itself in a ribbon and be pale yellow in color. Reduce the mixer speed to low and pour in the milk mixture in a steady stream. Add the flour mixture, a few spoonfuls at a time, and beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through, until just combined, about 30 seconds total.

  6. Evenly divide the batter between the pans (about 14 ounces or 2 3/4 cups each). Bake until the cakes are a light golden brown and until a tester inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 22 to 25 minutes.

  7. Place the pans on a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Run a small offset spatula or thin knife around the edges of each cake to loosen. Flip the cakes out of the pans onto the rack and remove the parchment paper. Gently flip right side up, and let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Assemble the cake:

  1. Place one cake right-side up on a large flat serving plate or cake stand. Stir the pastry cream to loosen. Dollop onto the cake and spread into an even layer, going all the way to the edges. Place the second cake layer on top with the bottom facing up. Press down gently to adhere. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Make the chocolate ganache:

  1. Coarsely chop 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (or use 2/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips) and place in a medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon corn syrup and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt.

  2. Place 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream in a small microwave-safe bowl (or measuring cup) and microwave in 30-second intervals until it begins to bubble, about 90 seconds total. (Alternatively, heat in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbling around the edges.)

  3. Immediately pour the cream over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour the ganache over the chilled cake, letting it run down the sides of the cake. Refrigerate until the ganache is set, about 30 minutes.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The pastry cream can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated.

The cakes can be baked up to 1 day ahead. Once completely cool, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature.

The cake, without the chocolate ganache, can be assembled the day before. One hour before serving, make the ganache, finish assembling the cake, and refrigerate until set.

Storage: Leftover cake can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.