Sunday, September 18, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Massachusetts III - The cream cake that eats like a cream pie

New England clam chowder is just one of Boston's many culinary exports to the rest of America. One of the most famous ones is that most popular of Yankee desserts, and no I'm not talking about the whoopie pie.  This one had spread across the country before I was even born.

Official Name: Commonwealth of Massachusetts
State Nicknames: The Bay State
Admission to the US: February 6, 1788 (#6)
Boston (largest city)
Other Important Cities: Worcester (2nd largest); Springfield (3rd largest); Cambridge (5th largest)
New England, Northeast; New England (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Clambake; Maple Syrup
Bordered by:
Vermont, New Hampshire (north); New York (west); Connecticut, Rhode Island (south); Atlantic Ocean (south and east)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: cranberry juice (beverage); cod (fish); wild turkey (game bird); baked navy bean (bean); cranberry (berry); Boston cream pie (dessert); chocolate chip cookie (cookie); Boston cream donut (donut)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: New England foods, in particular Boston-specific foods such as: Boston cream pie, Boston baked beans, Boston brown bread; "New England" clam chowder; Irish, Italian and Portuguese ethnic dishes; codfish cakes, lobster rolls and other New England seafood dishes; cranberries and blueberries

I always loved Boston cream pie while growing up.  On my first trip to Boston (and as of this posting, not the only one) I wandered through the rain during a very long, eight hour layover en route to Amsterdam, into Boston's North End - the Italian neighborhood, and stopped at Mike's Pastry for Boston cream pie that was actually made in Boston.  It was a little on the frozen side, but despite that it was still one of the best pieces I have had in my life.

This is a daunting cake to make - yes, it's called a pie, but it's really a cake baked in a pie pan. It requires many steps.  True, it's not as complicated as the Smith Island Cake, but it is still in a lot of work.  Mind you, it is worth it.

The Recipe: Boston Cream Pie

Among many recipes I found for Boston cream pie, I was drawn to Sweet Dreams host Gale Gand and her recipe for Boston cream pie.  Gand's recipe can be found on the Food Network website, and was featured on the episode "Desserts from the Yankee Tradition".

You will make three separate things for the pie: the cream, the cake and the ganache:

For the "pie" (which is really just a cake) you need:

* soft or cake flour (I had White Lily on hand, a decidedly non-New England flour)
* granulated sugar
* baking powder, salt and cream of tartar
* milk
* vanilla
* cooking oil
* 2 eggs, separated

The cream filling also has a fair bit of ingredients: 

* more milk
* more sugar
* more vanilla (Gand calls for a vanilla bean, which I did not have on hand)
* 6 eggs - but just the yolks 
* unsalted butter and corn starch

The ganache doesn't have many more ingredients:

* sweet baking chocolate (yes I know, I have semi-sweet pictured.  I realized it was not only the incorrect kind, but was only half of what I needed.  I went out and got the sweet kind instead)
* heavy whipping cream

Although the recipe gives you the cake/pie recipe first, I found it much more productive to make the cream filling first, since you will need to chill that.  So make it, and chill it while you set to baking the cake/pie.

First, boil milk and vanilla (beans) over medium heat and immediately take it off the heat when it starts boiling.

While doing that, you might as well separate those egg yolks.  You won't need these whites.  Do whatever you want with them.

Whisk the yolks together with the sugar...

...and add the cornstarch, whisking until lump-free.

Add a quarter cup of the hot milk-vanilla mixture, whisking again

And then do the same with the rest of the milk.

At this point, I wasn't sure I was doing it right, but I slogged on, straining the mixture into a pot.

Next, you continue whisking over medium-high heat, until it gets thick.  This will happen in a few minutes.

Take it off the flame, and whisk in the butter until it melts.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

Now to the cake/pie: while preheating the oven to 350°F, sift together the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder.

Separate the last two eggs, this time setting the whites aside - you will need these soon.  Add to the sifted dry ingredients the yolks, milk, oil and vanilla...

...and beat until mixed, plus a few minutes after.

Next, you will make a meringue: beat the whites and the cream of tartar until soft peaks form

Like so.

Fold white into yellow.

Then pour the batter into a 9" pie plate.

Bake until the top springs up when touched, about 30 minutes.

Finally, you make the ganache.  Boil the cream until little bubbles form around the edges of the pan.

While you do that, roughly chop the chocolate into small pieces.

Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate, and stir until the whole thing melts together.

Again, like so.

You are now ready to assemble the whole thing.  When cooled completely, cut the "muffin top" off the cake, and set aside.

Once more, like so.

On the bottom half of the cake/pie, you will spread - or in this case, pipe - the cream filling on top.

Spread out the cream, and place the top over it, and finally pour the ganache over top the whole thing.  It will cover the sides as well as the top.

Sure, I'm not from New England by any stretch of the imagination, but I've eaten a lot of Boston cream pie in my lifetime.  This shows just how far and wide it has spread.  This pie certainly outdoes the many stale, store-bought versions we got from the store.  While I would have loved a little more cream, the pie is fresher, the ganache smoother and the cream sweeter and the whole thing is not the tacky-feeling stuff we get outside of Massachusetts.  It is a painstaking dessert to make (again, not nearly as labor-intensive as the Smith Island Cake), but well worth the effort.  I don't know if I can ever eat the store-bought kind again.

By the time this post goes up, I will likely have eaten my fill of actual Boston cream pie, made by real Bostonians (or at least Provincetowners).  Look for a post soon about that trip.  Meanwhile it is time to heave-ho from the Commonwealth for the Upper Midwest and the Great Lakes.  Our next stop on this State-by-State tour takes us to Michigan.


Dojny, Brooke.  The New England Cookbook: 350 Recipies from Town and Country, Land and Sea, Hearth and Home.  Also available in part on Google Books.  Harvard Common Press: Boston, 1999.

Gand, Gale.  "Boston Cream Pie".   Featured on the episode "Desserts from the Yankee Kitchen" of the show Sweet Dreams (Gale Gand, host).  Food Network, 2011.

Haggerty, Bridget. "Corned Beef & Cabbage - The Feeding of A Myth".  From the Irish Culture and Customs website, copyright 2001-2011.  All rights reserved.

Passos Duffy, Marcia.  "New England Boiled Dinner (Corned Beef & Cabbage)"  From The Heart of New England website, copyright 2004-2011.  All rights reserved.

Shields, John. Coastal Cooking with John Shields (the Companion Cookbook to the Public Television Series).  Broadway Books: Portland, Oregon, 2004. 

Yankee Magazine. "Annie's Corned Beef and Cabbage". From "Meat Recipes", March 2010. Copyright 2011 Yankee Magazine.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Massachusetts" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Massachusetts".