personal essay

Ina Garten Personally Walked Me Through Her Boston Cream Pie Recipe — What I Learned Will Change My Cooking Forever

published Apr 9, 2022
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Credit: Courtesy of Trent Pheifer

Six and a half years ago I started an Instagram account called @storeboughtisfine with the goal of making every one of Ina Garten’s aka The Barefoot Contessa’s nearly 800 (at the time) recipes. My first post was a photoshopped movie poster riffing on Julie & Julia titled “Trent & Ina” and a joke that I hoped Meryl Streep was available to play both Ina and me for the movie version of the project. 

1,272 recipes later, we didn’t quite get the Meryl treatment (Meryl, hit me up) but I did have the chance to finish the project in the most magical way — one that I could not have fathomed when I started: I got to assemble the final recipe with Ina Garten herself over Zoom! (You can see the full Zoom tutorial below.)

Last July, with the project nearing the home stretch and knowing Ina is a busy lady — simultaneously working on a new cookbook, podcast, and show, as well as a memoir — I sent a DM asking if she’d join me in making her Boston Cream Pie for my project finale in 2022. Within hours she responded saying she’d love to (!!!) — truly proof that if you want something you have to ask for it. The worst-case scenario would have been a simple no but the upside? Huge! 

Credit: Courtesy of Trent Pheifer
Ina's Boston Cream Pie

Get the recipe: Ina’s Boston Cream Pie

As soon as Modern Comfort Food was released, I knew the last recipe for the project had to be her Boston Cream Pie. It’s celebratory (it is cake after all), it’s a recipe Ina spent years perfecting, and she even admits it’s one of her most complicated ones. With multiple elements (orange-scented sponges, Grand Marnier pastry cream, an orange soak, AND a chocolate ganache drip), what better way to prove to Ina that she’s taught me how to cook and bake than by pulling off this showstopper?

Cooking through Ina’s books gave me confidence in the kitchen and the perfect end for the project was having the chance to personally thank her. Reflecting on that incredible experience, there are a few things the the queen of easy, elegant cooking taught me.

Ina is the real deal.

I had met Ina twice before our Zoom — randomly at a restaurant in Paris and then again at a Food Network event. Both times were brief, and Ina could not have been kinder or friendlier. She’s also been so supportive of the project — liking photos, commenting, and generously responding to DMs. But after spending a little more time with her, albeit virtually, she showed she is as down-to-earth, humble, generous, and as fun as she comes across on television and in interviews. What you see is what you get; there is no pretense or ego. She’s authentically herself whether palling around with her celebrity friends or hanging out with an admirer. She made me feel as if I were catching up with an old friend rather than a culinary icon. 

You’re never done learning in the kitchen.

During our Zoom, Ina and I had a wonderful discussion on how you never really stop learning when it comes to cooking — maybe it’s a new technique, a new-to-you ingredient, or feeling more confident in the kitchen. As if Ina educating me through her books wasn’t enough, she was still able to teach me a few tricks as I assembled her Boston Cream Pie. 

  • Use toothpicks to cut even cake layers. My cake layers have always left something to be desired. Sometimes they’re perfect, other times the slant is laughable. But Ina taught me a foolproof way to ensure even layers: place 6-8 toothpicks halfway up and evenly spaced around the cake and use those to guide your serrated knife. Slice slowly and it’ll work every time.
  • Cut parchment paper triangles to keep your cake stand clean while decorating.  After placing the cake on the stand, parchment is placed around the edges — between the cake and the stand — allowing you to decorate the cake without getting the stand dirty. Once done frosting (or adding ganache) you remove the parchment to reveal a pristine stand. During our call, I overconfidently assured Ina that she had already taught me this trick, but little did I know there was a better way to do it. I typically cut long strips of parchment, which often curl and usually require a million pieces. Ina’s trick?  Cut the parchment into large squares, then cut diagonally to make two triangles (repeat for as many as are needed) The longest edge gets placed between the cake and the stand, with the corner poking out for easy removal. It requires many fewer pieces and is such a neater, cleaner way to do this.

Credit: Courtesy of Trent Pheifer

You can never be too prepared.

Ina’s taught me you can never be too prepared for a big meal like Thanksgiving, and since adopting her sage advice, every year has been a success. Leading up to our Zoom I tried to channel my anxiety and nerves into applying that same advice to make sure everything would go off without a hitch. From sticky notes assigning platters and utensils to creating a timeline and checklist to make sure I was set and ready for filming, all of Ina’s tips helped. The habit of mise en place (prepping ingredients and finding equipment prior to cooking) helped me stay organized and focused on the conversation. So maybe I did go a little overboard organizing ALL my cupboards just in case I had to open them in front of Ina — but, hey, better safe than sorry.

Trusting your instincts in the kitchen takes time.

If you’re someone who thinks you’ll never be a good cook or have the right instincts in the kitchen, let me tell you, I was in your place seven years ago. It’s why I started this project. Many of the recipes I was trying hadn’t been thoroughly tested, resulting in some major failures, and I had zero instincts on how to correct the issues I was having in the kitchen.

Flash forward 1,200+ recipes later, I finally have the skills to recognize and correct issues as they arise. It just took a lot of trial and error. As I was prepping the elements of the Boston Cream Pie, I accidentally overcooked the pastry cream and it was very thick and slightly lumpy. In my previous life I would have tossed it (I also wouldn’t have been making pastry cream. Ha.) but now I know I can press it through a sieve to make it smoother and add a little heavy cream to thin it out. Even though I went rogue, it passed Ina’s test. 

This experience truly was the icing on the cake for this project, and I couldn’t be happier to celebrate its completion with the one who inspired me to get in the kitchen. I am in awe of how lucky I’ve been to spend time with this fabulous person who has truly changed my life in so many ways. I hope some of the things I learned along the way help you on your own kitchen journey.