My grandfather was one of 17 kids, born into an Irish Catholic family in Boston in the early 20th century.

He rarely talked of his hardscrabble upbringing, except to brag, occasionally, about helping the family finances by giving tourists a tour of the Bunker Hill Monument for a nickel.

But he always carried with him Boston culinary quirks. He preferred his apple pie with a slice of cheese on the top crust. He’d eat all around the dumplings in my grandmother’s stew, leaving the little clouds of carbohydrates nestled in the bottom of his bowl, then pour molasses over them and proclaim it dessert.

And he loved Boston cream pie. Loved it.

He passed that affinity for the tri-flavor concoction to me. Something about the creamy vanilla filling, paired with a light spongy cake and topped with a chocolate glaze was just the ultimate. So despite the temptation of dozens of delicious-looking cakes offered in “The Perfect Cake: Your Ultimate Guide to Classic, Modern, and Whimsical Cakes,” I decided to make Boston cream pie.

It wasn’t an easy decision. Just looking at the cookbook makes you salivate. Beautiful, lush photos accompany the recipes, prompting you to imagine that you, too, could produce one of these extraordinary cakes. I shared the cookbook with some friends who requested I next make the blueberry cake with ombre cream cheese frosting. Or the cherry chocolate chip cake. Or the chocolate-raspberry heart cake. Their entreaties were all based on how gorgeous the cakes appear in the accompanying photos.

A Boston Cream Pie is, in fact, not a pie but a yellow cake filled with a vanilla custard and topped with a chocolate glazed. Photos courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen

But “The Perfect Cake” isn’t all show. It has very practical tutorials on basic cake-baking techniques (do you know what reverse creaming is? I didn’t…); a primer on the best tools for baking; and a lesson on the differences ingredients can make. It shows in a photo the differences in Lemon Bundt Cake if you make it with butter as the recipe calls for, or you substitute vegetable oil. The butter cake is higher, has finer crumbs and a more golden exterior than its oily cousin.

One section I especially like is dedicated to sheet cakes. When you’re baking for a crowd as I often am (especially in the summer when guests are in abundance), sheet cake simplifies life. (Lemon Buttermilk Sheetcake is next up for a test run.)

Another delightful feature of the cookbook is the preface to each recipe, headlined “Why this recipe works.”

For Boston cream pie, the section says the cake was reportedly invented at the landmark Parker House Hotel. As to why it’s called a pie, when it’s very clearly a cake, the authors surmise that home cooks transferred the concept to the most common form of bakeware in the mid-19th century kitchen: a pie plate.

The recipe also helpfully provides a sidebar on how to pour the glaze over the cake once it’s assembled. Despite the instructions, my glaze ended up looking a little jagged. Large blobs of liquefied chocolate failed to adhere to the side of the cake and instead fell to the cake platter in gooey puddles. So maybe not “perfect” as the title implies.

I have to say, though, once it was baked, assembled and glazed, the first piece of cake was delightful. The cake layers were spongy, the filling was rich, and the glaze on top was really chocolatey, thanks to the Ghirardelli bittersweet morsels I used.

But it didn’t blow me away. Maybe my sentimentality about the cake had artificially increased my expectations?

But when I tried a second piece the next day, it was outstanding. The flavors were more pronounced, they blended beautifully and this was a recipe definitely worth making again. Grandpa would be thrilled.

Carol Coultas can be contacted at 791-6460 or at:

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Boston Cream Pie

The recipe called for unsalted butter, but I used salted with success. I also substituted dark corn syrup for the light called for in the glaze with no trouble. If you don’t have a stand mixer, a hand mixer can whisk the eggs for the cake. And based on my experience, I’d suggest making the cake a day ahead – it’ll taste even better.


2 cups half-and-half

6 large egg yolks, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces and chilled

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup whole milk

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar


1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine


Heat half-and-half in a medium saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt in a bowl until smooth. Add flour and whisk until incorporated. Whisk about 1/2 cup of the half-and-half into yolk mixture to temper, then slowly whisk tempered yolk mixture back into the remaining half-and-half in saucepan. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, whisking constantly, for 8 minutes.

Increase heat to medium and cook, whisking vigorously, until bubbles burst on surface, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla until incorporated. Strain pastry cream through fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface. Refrigerate pastry cream until set, at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.


Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two, 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, and grease parchment. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat, add vanilla and cover to keep warm.

Using a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip eggs and sugar on high speed until light and airy, about 5 minutes. Add hot milk mixture and whisk by hand until incorporated. Add flour mixture and whisk by hand until incorporated.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake until tops of cakes are light brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes, switching and rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool completely in pans on wire rack, about 2 hours. Run thin knife around edges of pans, remove cakes from pans, discarding parchment, and let cool completely on rack.

Place 1 cake layer on platter. Whisk pastry cream briefly, then spoon onto center of cake. Using offset spatula, spread evenly to edge. Place second layer on pastry cream, bottom side up, and press lightly on cake to level. Refrigerate cake while preparing glaze.


Bring cream and corn syrup to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat, add chocolate and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Whisk mixture gently until smooth.

Pour glaze onto center of cake. Using offset spatula, spread glaze to edge of cake, letting excess drip down sides. Refrigerate cake for at least 3 hours before serving. (Cake can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours; bring to room temperature before serving.)

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 3 p.m. Thursday, May 17, 2018 to correct directions for the pastry cream.

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