Boston Cream Pie is not what you’d normally think of in English as a pie — because it’s actually a cake.
It is a layer cake consisting of two round cakes, one on top the other, with a filling in between of thick custard or pastry cream.
The cake part can be butter cake or sponge cake; Boston Favourite Cake was a typical cake to use for the layers.
There are many more elaborate versions now, some having three layers. Some have the cakes soaked in a rum syrup or sprinkled with liqueur first.
It is served in wedges.
Boston Cream Pie is presumed to have evolved from a dessert called “Pudding Pie Cake”, for which a recipe appeared in 1855 in the New York Herald. It had a layer of custard in the middle, and icing sugar sprinkled on top. Custard and cream (particularly Bavaroise) fillings in cakes were nothing new; they were quite common.
In 1856, “Pudding Pie Cake” was put on the menu at the restaurant in the Parker House Hotel (now the Omni Hotel) in downtown Boston. But instead of using icing sugar on top, they put on a chocolate glaze. Later, they called it “Chocolate Cream Pie” and then “Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie.” This may perhaps have been done by the pastry chef there in 1856, a Monsieur Sanzian. Sanzian also put almonds around the outside of his.
In 1882, Marion Harland, in her “Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery” published a recipe for what she called “Boston Cream Cakes.” They were individual sponge cakes, with a batter prepared something like a Genoise, dropped by large spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet and baked, and then split and filled with a custard filling. A similar recipe was printed by Marion Cabell Tyree in 1879 in her “Housekeeping in Old Virginia.”
Literature & Lore
Boston cream pie is the official dessert of the State of Massachusetts. It was proclaimed on 12 December 1996 in the General Laws of Massachusetts (Part I, Chapter 2, Section 41: “The Boston cream pie shall be the official dessert or dessert emblem of the commonwealth.”) The bill was sponsored by a civics class from Norton High School of Norton, Massachusetts.