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Boston Cream Pie

Boston cream pie made with a hot milk sponge on a cake stand.
Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Rebecca Jurkevich

Boston cream pie is a cake with a curious name. These soft, buttery cakes were once baked in pie tins, then sandwiched around a thick layer of vanilla pudding and draped in deep dark chocolate. The story goes that the dessert was first created during the 19th century at Boston’s Parker House by the hotel’s French pastry chef, who wanted a cake but only had access to pie tins. It’s likely it was those pie tins that created the confusing name. This story may be a myth, since there are other possible origins for this misnomer of a dessert, but the deliciousness of the cake is no lie; that is why it has endured as an American treasure.


Makes about 12 servings

Hot Milk Sponge Cake
2 cups plus 1 Tbsp. (230g) cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
3 eggs, at room temperature
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
1½ cups (300g) granulated sugar
¾ cup (175ml) whole milk
2 Tbsp. mild-flavored oil (such as vegetable oil)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Pastry Cream
2 cups (480ml) whole milk
1⁄4 cup (55g) unsalted butter
1 pinch kosher salt
Seeds scraped from 1⁄2 vanilla bean, or 2 tsp. vanilla extract 
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 egg, at room temperature
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
Dark Chocolate Ganache
2 cups (480ml) heavy whipping cream
16 oz. (450g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Hot Milk Sponge Cake

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line the bottoms of two 9-inch cake pans with greased parchment, but leave the sides of the pans untouched. The cakes need to cling to the ungreased pans to rise properly.

Step 2

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt and then sift back into the bowl. Set aside.

Step 3

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs and egg yolks on high speed. Once the eggs are well combined and starting to foam, about 1 minute, turn the speed to medium-low and sprinkle 3⁄4 cup (150g) of the sugar slowly over top. Turn the speed to high and let it whip for about 5 minutes.

Step 4

While the eggs are whipping, in a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk, oil, and remaining 3⁄4 cup (150g sugar) to a boil. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Step 5

Once the eggs are light in color and thick, they should be able to form a ribbon of batter that sits on top of the egg foam for a few seconds when you lift the whisk out of the foam. Turn the mixer speed to low, slowly add the boiling milk mixture, and then add the flour mixture, a few tablespoons at a time, scraping down the bowl several times.

Step 6

Immediately pour the batter into the prepared pans and gently run a spatula through the batter to pop any large air bubbles.

Step 7

Bake until a tester comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Let the cake cool completely in the pans. Run a knife around the edge before turning out onto serving plates.

Pastry Cream

Step 8

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, 1⁄4 cup (50g) of the sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla; bring to a gentle boil; and then remove from the heat.

Step 9

Whisk enough of the hot milk, a little at a time, into the egg mixture until it is warm to the touch. Once the eggs are tempered, pour the mixture back into the remaining milk in the pan.

Step 10

Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil; continuously whisk for 3 minutes more or the pastry cream will separate once it cools.

Step 11

If there are any lumps in the pastry cream, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve into a shallow container and cover with plastic wrap, pressed directly onto the surface, to prevent a skin from forming.

Step 12

In a large bowl, add enough ice cubes and cold water to create a bath for the container to sit in without the water breaching the sides.

Step 13

Set the container in the ice bath or place in the freezer until chilled, about 15 minutes before using. Or transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Dark Chocolate Ganache

Step 14

In a medium saucepan over low heat, warm the cream until just simmering. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate. Swirl the pan to make sure all of the chocolate is submerged in the hot cream. Let sit for 3 minutes and then gently stir until smooth.

Step 15

Transfer the ganache to an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Step 16

Gently warm the ganache over a pan of simmering water, forming a double boiler, to a pourable or spreadable consistency, depending on your needs.

To assemble

Step 17

Place one cake layer on a serving plate.

Step 18

Stir the pastry cream to loosen, then mix in one-third of the whipped cream to lighten. Fold in the remaining whipped cream.

Step 19

Using an offset spatula, spread all of the pastry cream over the cake; making sure not to go quite to the edge. Place the next cake layer over the pastry cream. Gently press down on the cake to make sure it is sitting snugly on the pastry cream. If the pastry cream goes beyond the edge, clean it up with a metal decorating spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour to set the pastry cream in place.

Step 20

Pour the ganache over the top of the cake, starting in the center and stopping just as it drips over the edge.

Step 21

Refrigerate the cake until the ganache sets, about 30 minutes, then serve right away.

Cookbook cover of Zoë Bakes Cakes by Zoë François.
Reprinted from Zoë Bakes Cakes. Copyright © 2021 by Zoë François. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House. Available to purchase at Amazon, Bookshop, and Penguin Random House.