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Friday, February 1, 2013

February ABC challenge: Boston Cream Pie

Obviously there's an art to cutting this cake so it still looks pretty.

I LOVE Boston Cream Pie, but it's pretty much impossible to find a good one commercially.  Most use a cornstarch-based filling, and I don't know what that brown glaze is that bakeries are using these days that they pretend is chocolate, but it's awful.  Consequently, if I want Boston Cream Pie, or a chocolate eclair, or even a chocolate glazed doughnut, I'll be making it myself.  

Fast forward to the February baking challenge!  Happy happy!!  

The King Arthur cake recipe doesn't include a recipe for the filling.  The hunt for a pastry cream recipe revealed that there is a lot of variation, mostly in the number of eggs, but also in the amount of flour, corn starch, sugar and butter.  So, pretty much everything.  And then the reviews were all over the board as well, everything from "This is my go-to recipe" to "This was inedible!"  The ones that confused me were when they stated that the recipe was nothing more than vanilla pudding.  And that made me wonder, "What IS the difference?"  I really didn't know what I should be looking for.  I had finally settled on one in Joy of Baking because that's a dependable brand, when I happened upon one from King Arthur themselves.  With their own recipe on their web site, I had to wonder why their cake recipe suggests their packaged product or sends you searching for your own recipe.  Did they forget they had it?  Anyway, I decided to go King Arthur all the way and used their recipe.  

The pastry cream was very easy and delicious, mildly sweet and heavily vanilla, like the best French vanilla ice cream.  The recipe makes 3 cups and I needed only 1.5, so I halved it, and that would have required 2 large egg yolks.  The Joy recipe called for 3 yolks, which clued me in that a little more egg wasn't going to hurt anything.  The cage free eggs I buy, though labeled "large", usually run pretty small, so I decided to use 3.  Other than that, I followed the recipe as written.

The cake recipe was pretty easy.  I didn't have the KA cake flour blend and didn't know what was in it; I used unbleached AP flour but substituted a few tablespoons of corn starch.  (Essentially making cake flour.)  The instructions to remove any lumps of flour concerned me -- I didn't feel confident that I would find them if they were there.  So I ran the batter through a sieve, which did collect some small gummy bits.  I think this also evens out the size of the air bubbles, which helps give a fine crumb.  I rapped the pan on the counter a few times to encourage the last of the hold outs to rise up and be popped.  

Is this what you'd call "deep golden brown"?
The problem came when I realized that none of my cake pans are 2" high.  So I used a springform pan, but that was only 8" in diameter.  The recipe recommends baking 50-60 minutes, or until it's a "deep golden brown and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan".  At 50 minutes, it obviously wasn't done.  At 60, it seemed done, but I didn't feel confident since my cake was thicker than it was supposed to be and would therefore need to bake longer.  Besides that, it wasn't what I would have called "deep golden brown" and it was clinging steadfastly to the sides of the pan.  So I let it go another 10 minutes.  It still wasn't pulling away from the pan at that point, but it tested done and it seemed the right color.   

I was concerned about the usual problem I have with things browning too deeply on the bottom, so I had put a pan used to catch drips from pies under the cake pan.  Good thing, too, because it did leak a little.  Otherwise, the cake came out nicely.

This looks like a milk chocolate glaze, but it's just the photo.
When it came to making the glaze, I didn't have any good quality chocolate.  I used some cheap chocolate chips that weren't melting very nicely into the cream, so the glaze took a while to emulsify.  Once I finally had the glaze mixed, I wasn't satisfied with the chocolate intensity, so I added about a teaspoon or so of Dutch processed cocoa, which helped. The recipe directs you to pour the glaze on immediately, but it seemed too warm and runny.  I thought it might just run right off the cake, so I let it cool down considerably and then poured it on slowly.   

I could hardly wait to try the final product.  It's been ages since I've had Boston Cream Pie.  It turns out I could have held off on those last 10 minutes of baking.  The cake is crispy on the outside, which isn't a problem other than it resists the knife and causes it to squish down when I cut it.  

Conclusion:  I would definitely make this again.  It's a little time-consuming, with three separate components, but they don't all have to be done the same day.  The cake could probably be made well in advance and frozen.  The pastry cream can be made a few days in advance.  The glaze could probably be made in advance and warmed before drizzling it on.  

I had two slices.  Immediately.  :)

Recipes:  Boston Cream Pie and pastry cream,  both via King Arthur Flour


  1. Your pie looks very nice!
    I also waited in vain for the edges of the cake pulling back from the sides of the pan, so I just went by the color. And I used KA's pastry cream recipe, too (like you wondering why it wasn't included in the recipe.)

    1. Thank you! Did yours turn out okay? I felt mine was slightly over done, even though I thought the color was as they described. Next time I wouldn't let it get as dark.

    2. It did turn out okay, but I expected my smaller cake to bake a little faster, therefore I checked it often, and took it out when it looked right and a needle came out clean.
      But it's hard to go just by the color, especially if another visual sign doesn't seem to work (the pulling back).

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  3. Paula, yours looks great! My cake got quite brown and I had to take it out early.

    1. Thanks, Karen. I'm starting to think we need to give KA a heads up about the color. Maybe they should shorten the cook time and advise to let the cake get only a light golden brown.

  4. No pulling back from the sides with my cake either. I took it out a little early too, but not much. Yours looks great, love that creamy and smooth filling that the last photo shows, yummy.

  5. I agree with Lien on the smooth filling, looks very good!

  6. Nice rise on your cake! Mine was dark brown after only 30 minutes. When I touched it, it was still "soupy" on the inside. I gave it another 20 min, and it did pull away from the sides, but I still think 50 min is excessive.
    I'm glad KAF's pastry cream recipe worked for you. I made my favorite pastry cream recipe which is from Tish Boyle's "The Cake Book".

  7. Your's looks amazing! It could easily be the center of any fine bakery. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

    1. Wow -- thanks so much, Lara! That's so nice to hear! :)