Recipe Review

This Recipe Took Ina Garten 6 Years to Develop, but It’s Perfect

published Jan 13, 2021
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Boston creme pie cake sits on a white cake stand dripping icing
Credit: Photo: Christine Gallary

Even though I lived in Boston for two years and that’s where my husband is from, I confess that I’d never had Boston cream pie until a few years ago. On a return visit to Boston, we decided to head to the Parker House Hotel to sample the famed dessert that was created there in 1856. The cake (not pie) was composed of two layers of sponge cake with pastry cream in the center and a chocolate glaze on top. It was delicious and worth the detour, so when I saw Ina Garten post on Twitter that she had spent six(!) years perfecting her recipe, I knew I had to try it.

Interestingly, Ina’s recipe for Boston cream pie (originally published in her Modern Comfort Food cookbook), has a lot of elements not in the traditional version. It boasts four layers of cake rather than two, includes an orange syrup soak, and calls for flavoring the pastry cream with Grand Marnier. In the headnotes of the recipe, Ina talks about the orange soak being the suggestion of pastry chef Christina Tosi, and that the completed, very elegant cake was the Boston cream pie of her dreams. With such a ringing endorsement, I eagerly grabbed my baking pans and got to work on Ina’s interpretation of the very classic American dessert.

Credit: Photo: Christine Gallary

How to Make Ina’s Boston Cream Pie

This is a monster of a recipe with four different components: cake, pastry cream, soak, and chocolate glaze. The cake is a basic tender white cake flavored with vanilla extract and fresh orange zest, and it baked up perfectly flat in two nine-inch pans. Each layer is quite thin, but you need to halve each one to make four cake layers in total. This part was a bit tricky, even though I worked very slowly and carefully with a large serrated knife.

The pastry cream (essentially a custard) is the most difficult element to make since you have to cook it over the stovetop until it thickens, stirring or whisking the whole time. Don’t step away from the stove at any point or you run the risk of it scorching on the bottom or getting lumpy! The directions are very descriptive here, telling you when to switch from a wooden spoon to a whisk, which I found helpful. It’s flavored at the end with Grand Marnier and Cognac. Plan extra time for it to chill completely before layering in the cake.

The last two elements were easy in comparison to the first two: orange soak and chocolate glaze. The orange soak is made of sugar, orange juice (plan on buying two oranges to have enough zest and juice for this recipe), and Grand Marnier, and the chocolate glaze is made of cream, semisweet and bittersweet chocolate chips, light corn syrup, vanilla, and instant coffee.

Assembly of the cake involved brushing the cut cake layers of the cake with the orange soak, filling it with the Grand Marnier pastry cream, and finally pouring the chocolate glaze all over the top. The glaze was a dream to pour and dripped down the sides of the cake beautifully.

Credit: Photo: Christine Gallary

This Is an Amazing Cake. But Is It Worth the Time?

My family kept tabs on me the whole time I was making the cake, eagerly awaiting their chance to taste the outcome. When the glaze finally set, I cut thick slices for us all. And let me tell you: This cake was totally worth making. It was not-too-sweet, rich with the pastry cream, and infused with fresh orange flavor. The chocolate glaze balanced everything out and I just kept going back for more. My family loved it just as much as I did, and I found myself grabbing forkfuls of leftover cake straight from the fridge over the next few days.

The one thing you should know about this cake is that while it’s definitely inspired by Boston cream pie, it tastes very different from the traditional version. It’s more moist from the soak, and very strongly orange-flavored. I thought the orange flavor was absolutely delicious and tied the whole cake together, but it might not appeal to those who are looking for the strong vanilla flavor found in traditional Boston cream pie. But if the orange sounds good to you, this cake is definitely worth the long ingredient list, prep time, and dishwashing after! It’s an absolute showstopper of a cake — both visually and taste-wise. Ina comes through yet again.

Credit: Photo: Christine Gallary

If You’re Making Ina’s Boston Cream Pie at Home, a Few Tips

1. Make this over two days. Since this cake has four parts, it’s best to divide the work over two days. Make the cake and pastry cream the first day so that you’re then done with the stand mixer, then make the soak and chocolate glaze the day you are serving the cake.

2. Chill the cake before slicing. Loosen the cake layers from the side of the pan before flipping them out, then chill before slicing them in half. Since each layer is thin, the firmer cold cake is easier to cut in half (use a serrated knife if you have one).

3. Divide the syrup and pastry cream evenly. To make sure I got an even amount of pastry cream and syrup onto each layer, I measured and divided up what I had before using. Here are the amounts you should use (you’re welcome!): Each layer gets about 2/3 cup pastry cream and about 3 tablespoons of the soak. If the pastry cream is stiff and lumpy, just give it a whisk again to smooth out before using.

4. Pour the glaze on slowly. If you want an artfully glazed cake where you can still see some of the layers on the side, I recommend pouring about half the glaze all over the cake first, starting at the center of the top of the cake and working your way to the sides. Be patient and let gravity do its thing as the glaze inches toward the sides, and let it start to drip down. Slowly pour more glaze closer to the edges, aiming for it to hit an inch or so from the edge of the cake so it can work its way down the side naturally.

Your turn: Have you tried making Ina Garten’s Boston Cream Pie at home? Let us know in the comments!