Cakes & Puddings Sweet

Boston Cream Pie

Light cake layered with rich pastry cream and covered with chocolate ganache - while it's not really a pie, it will likely leave your guests asking for seconds.

Every year we ask my dad what cake he would like for his birthday, and every year his answer is the same – Boston cream pie. As a kid, this answer confused me, because my mom never made him a pie. She always made a vanilla sandwich cake topped with chocolate frosting and layered with vanilla pudding. While it definitely resembled my favorite flavor of doughnut, its rich ganache and light, fluffy sponge cake kept it on the opposite side of the kitchen from any pie my mom had ever baked.

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I learned as an adult that this non-pie was originally named in the mid-19th century. Back then, a “pie” or “cake” was named such based on the type of pan it was baked in – and this cake happened to require a pie pan. Surprisingly, this recipe hasn’t changed too drastically since it was first baked in Boston’s Parker House Hotel in 1856. Its simple formula and classic flavors have kept it at the forefront of many people’s palates for nearly two centuries, to the point where it was named the Massachusetts state dessert in 1996.

We will follow the most traditional form of the recipe and use homemade pastry cream (or crème patisserie, if you’re feeling fancy or French) for our filling, and chocolate ganache for the topping. An easier version of this recipe would substitute vanilla pudding for the pastry cream, and pre-made chocolate frosting for the ganache. If you don’t have the time or energy to make all of the components from scratch, absolutely make the easier version! It does lack the depth of flavor that you get from the homemade ganache and pastry cream, but it still results in a delicious cake that fits in the Boston cream pie category.

This dessert can be divided into three main components: the cake, the pastry cream filling, and the chocolate ganache topping.

For the yellow cake, we’re going to cheat just a little bit and use a box of yellow cake mix. But we’re going to spice things up; instead of following the box directions to the letter, we’re going to also use a small box of vanilla pudding, milk, melted butter, and 4 eggs.

For the pastry cream, we’re going to make a true crème patisserie. For this you will need whole milk, salt, vanilla bean paste, granulated sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks, and unsalted butter. (If you want to substitute instant vanilla pudding for this portion, nobody will blame you! It will still taste great.)

To top this dessert, we are going to make chocolate ganache. For this you will need 8 oz. of high-quality dark chocolate (I recommend 60% cocoa or higher), plus a cup of heavy cream. If you wanted a cheaper topping for this dessert, you could instead use a can of pre-made chocolate frosting, though the taste won’t be quite as “elevated” as a homemade ganache.

Once you have assembled your ingredients, start by preparing your pastry cream – mainly because it needs to be completely cool before your assemble the final dessert.

Pastry Cream

Combine the milk, salt, vanilla bean paste, and 4 tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar has completely dissolved (about 2 minutes) before removing from heat. 

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ¼ cup of sugar with the cornstarch and egg yolks, whisking together until the mixture is smooth.

Slowly drizzle ¼ cup of your warmed milk mixture into the egg mixture while whisking continuously. Continue whisking while slowly drizzling in the warmed mixture until the two are completely combined.

Once your mixture is smooth, return it to your saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously and cook for about 7 minutes, until the mixture has thickened to the texture of pudding.

Remove from heat and stir in butter. Continue stirring until the butter has melted and the cream is glossy.

Strain the pastry cream through a mesh sieve, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cool – at least 2 hours.

Cake

While your pastry cream is cooling, let’s bake the cake. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F and grease two 9” cake pans.

Combine the yellow cake mix and instant pudding mix in a large bowl. Mix in milk and melted butter before beating in eggs, one at a time. Once the batter is smooth, transfer it to your prepared pans and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the cakes to cool in their pans. If desired, use a large serrated knife to even out the surface of one or both cakes. (I always do this for the cake that will be stacked on the bottom; this improves the stability of the final dessert when you assemble and serve it.)

Once your cake and pastry cream are relatively cool (room temperature or colder), start preparing your chocolate ganache.

Ganache

Finely chop 8 oz. of high-quality dark chocolate. The smaller the chocolate pieces, the easier they will combine with the cream.

In a large, microwave-safe bowl, heat 1 cup of heavy cream until very warm, but not boiling. (I recommend using increments of 45-60 seconds in the microwave.)

Once the cream is hot, pour it over the chopped dark chocolate and allow the mixture to sit for 1 minute. Once the hot cream has melted the chocolate, whisk vigorously until the mixture is smooth and shiny.

Assembly

Once your pastry cream is cool and ready to serve, whisk until it is fluffy.

Place one cake atop your serving dish. Cover the top of your first cake with a thick layer of pastry cream before setting your second cake on top. Slowly pour warm ganache over the stacked cakes, allowing some drips to flow over the sides. Allow the ganache to cool briefly before slicing and serving.

(For a more intensely creamy Boston cream pie, you could slice each cake in half lengthwise and fill each layer with pastry cream – resulting in a quadruple-decker version of this decadent dessert. This is very untraditional, but it tastes spectacular.)

I hope you enjoy this Boston cream pie! Regardless of whether you make the easy version – with just vanilla pudding and packaged frosting – or go all out and make your own pastry cream and ganache, your family is certain to enjoy this cake. If you made it at home, please tag your social media posts @WhiskAverseBaking or leave a message in the comments below.

Boston Cream Pie

Light cake, layered with rich pastry cream and covered with chocolate ganache – while it's not really a pie, it will likely leave your guests asking for seconds.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Cooling time 2 hrs
Total Time 3 hrs 25 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 10 slices

Equipment

  • Two 9”cake pans

Ingredients
  

Cake

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1 small box instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup milk
  • cup melted butter
  • 4 eggs

Pastry cream (aka Crème Patisserie)

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cubed

Ganache

  • 8 oz. dark chocolate 60% or higher , chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Instructions
 

Pastry cream

  • Start by preparing your pastry cream. Combine milk, salt, vanilla bean paste, and 4 tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar has completely dissolved ( about 2 minutes) before removing from heat.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ¼ cup of sugar with the cornstarch and egg yolks, whisking together until the mixture is smooth.
  • Slowly drizzle ¼ cup of your warmed milk mixture into the egg mixture while whisking continuously. Continue whisking while slowly drizzling in the warmed mixture until the two are completely combined.
  • Once your mixture is smooth, return it to your saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously and cook for about 7 minutes, until the mixture has thickened to the texture of pudding.
  • Remove from heat and stir in butter. Continue stirring until the butter has melted and the cream is glossy.
  • Strain the pastry cream through a mesh sieve, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cool – at least 2 hours.
  • Once the mixture is cool and ready to serve, whisk until fluffy.

Cake

  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Grease two 9” cake pans.
  • Combine yellow cake mix and instant pudding mix in a large bowl.
  • Mix in milk and melted butter before beating in eggs, one at a time.
  • Transfer batter to prepared pans and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Allow cakes to cool in their pans. If desired, use a large serrated knife to even out the surface of one or both cakes.
  • Ganache
  • Finely chop 8 oz. of high-quality dark chocolate and set aside.
  • In a large, microwave-safe bowl, heat 1 cup of heavy cream until very warm, but not boiling. (I recommend using increments of 45-60 seconds in the microwave.)
  • Once the cream is hot, combine with the chopped dark chocolate and allow to sit for 1 minute. Once the hot cream has melted the chocolate, whisk vigorously, until the mixture is smooth and shiny.

Assembly

  • Place one cake atop your serving dish. Cover the top of your cake with a thick layer of pastry cream before setting your second cake on top. Slowly pour warm ganache over the stacked cakes, allowing some drips to flow over the sides.
  • Slice and serve.

Notes

  • You may need to use barbeque skewers or large toothpicks to anchor your cake and prevent the top layer from sliding off.
  • For an more creamy cake, slice both cakes in half and spread pastry cream between each layer of cake.
  • For a smaller version, cut your recipe in half and place pastry cream in the center of a single cake sliced lengthwise.
  • For a much simpler recipe, substitute instant vanilla pudding for the pastry cream. Instead of making ganache from scratch, buy a container of chocolate frosting from the baking aisle, heat it until it has melted slightly, and pour over your assembled cake using the same method.
Keyword boston cream pie, cake, chocolate, ganache, pastry cream

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