In December I will have been living in Massachusetts for 15 years. As my husband says, I have been living in the United States for almost 1/3 of my life: for every three days, I have spent one here.
Though, it took my son’s social studies project to make me realize that not only have I never baked the Massachusetts dessert, but I have also never learned about its history.
Here it’s how it all started. Two weeks ago my younger son came home with a project for homework: to make a list of Massachusetts symbols. We went through its flag, its children’s author, its bird and fish, and then we stumbled onto its dessert: Boston Cream Pie. You need to know that my son loves pastry cream, or crema pasticciera, as we call it in Italy. Years of his picky eating – and some worrisome weight loss here and there – had brought me to bake and cook anything with plenty of eggs, sugar, and cream to fatten up my kid. So when he realized that the Massachusetts dessert was nothing less that vanilla cake, pastry cream, and chocolate, he was hooked.
But why is a cake called a pie we wondered? That had us puzzled. So, I checked the New England magazine par excellence, Yankee Magazine, and looked for an explanation. And here it is what I found.
“Boston’s Parker House Hotel (now the Omni Parker House) is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of what today we call Boston cream pie, and its first chef, by the name of Sanzian, its creator. Starting with a rich butter sponge cake filled with a rum-infused pastry cream, he coated the sides with toasted sliced almonds and spread a layer of chocolate fondant on top, embellishing it with a delicate spiderweb of white fondant. At that time, pie and cake tins were often considered interchangeable, as were the words themselves. This lax approach to labeling is likely why Sanzian’s French-inspired concoction débuted as “Chocolate Cream Pie” in 1856, and why subsequent versions continued to be called pies rather than cakes.
With a few minor tweaks, the original recipe is still the one served in the famed Parker House dining room, but in kitchens across New England, a simpler adaptation emerged. It’s thought that home cooks, smitten with the gourmet Parker House cake but unable to re-create it, simply turned to a similar recipe and improvised.
Today this classic combination is a favorite not just in Massachusetts, where it became the official state dessert in 1996, but nationwide. “
Gluten-free Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes
Since I wasn’t sure that the dessert would go well with the whole family, I decided to halve the recipe I had found and make cupcakes instead…
For the vanilla cupcakes
Simona’s flour mix 1 1/4 cups (7 oz)
Baking powder 1/2 teaspoon
Baking Soda 1/2 teaspoon
Salt 1/4 teaspoon
Granulated sugar 1 cup (7 oz)
Powdered ginger 2 teaspoons
Butter 8 Tablespoons (4 oz), chilled
Eggs 2 large
Buttermilk 1/2 cup (4 oz)
Vanilla extract 1 teaspoon
Glycerin 1 Tablespoon
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12 muffin pan with baking cups.
Into a medium bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Into a small bowl mix together the buttermilk, vanilla, and glycerin.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium-high speed, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Lower the speed to low and alternately stir in the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture in two batches. Give the batter a good fold by hand with a large spatula and scrape into the prepared baking cups – I use a cookie scoop to portion the batter equally.
Bake until the cupcake spring back when you touch them, about 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan about half way through the baking time. Cool completely on a wire rack.
For the pastry cream:
Whole milk 1 cup (8 oz)
Vanilla extract 1 teaspoon
Egg yolks 3 large
Granulated sugar 1/4 cup (1.75 oz)
Salt 1/8 teaspoon
Cornstarch 2 Tablespoons (0.5 oz)
In a large saucepan set over medium heat, combine the milk and vanilla. Bring to a bare simmer, but don’t let it boil. Cover and let steep while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt until the mixture lightens in color, about 1 minute. Whisk in the cornstarch.
Slowly whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture until well-blended. Pour the custard back into the saucepan set over low heat. Stir constantly until the pastry cream is very thick and just beginning to bubble, about 5 minutes. Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, some lumps tend to form. Don’t worry, just use an immersion blender, or pour the pastry cream into a blender and blend on high speed for 1 minute. Pour into a clean bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill until cold.
For the chocolate ganache glaze use my previous recipe:
Heavy Cream 1 cup (240 ml)
Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate 9 ounces, chopped
In a microwave safe bowl warm the heavy cream to a boil. Add the chocolate and let stand for a few minutes. With a whisk, start from the center of the bowl and mix until the chocolate is completely melted and the ganache is smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let it cool before using.
To assemble the Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes:
Use a cupcake corer to carve the cupcakes in the center.
Take the pastry cream out of the refrigerator and spoon it in the center of the cupcakes
Spread the ganache over the top of the cupcake. Chill them for about 30 minutes before serving. In my house, they didn’t last a day!