When Pie is a Piece of Cake

Baking, Dessert, Recipes
on April 23, 2006
Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn

In cooking, as in fashion, where one knockoff leads to another, the road to Boston Cream Pie seems fairly straightforward. The pie, or cake-pie as it was originally called, started out as a cake batter baked in a piecrust. This makes sense because most Colonial cooks had pie pans, not cake pans. At some point, the crust was eliminated, and the batter was poured directly into the pie pan. The transition from pie pan to cake pan is unclear, but once the pie officially became a cake, the real tinkering began.

The first variation, called Washington Pie, was a two-layer cake filled with jam and topped with powdered sugar. This was followed by Boston Cream Pie, with pastry cream replacing the jam. Next, in a moment of can-you-top-this, a three layer extravaganza with jam and pastry cream was created. Finally, in 1854, a chef at the Omni Parker House hotel in Boston transformed the dessert into Chocolate Cream Pie by topping it with chocolate.

These days, two pastry chefs at the Omni are kept busy making Boston Cream Pie. Instead of whole cakes, which tend to dry out where they’re cut, the desserts are made in individual servings. The sponge cake is cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds and sandwiched together with pastry cream. The sides are covered with more cream and toasted almonds, and the chocolate glaze is decorated with a white icing spider-web design. It’s a great looking dessert, but it’s still a piece of cake called Boston Cream Pie.

By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.

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