Boston Cream Pie from Joy of Cooking

Yesterday afternoon I made a Boston Cream Pie from The Joy of Cooking.

Boston Cream Pie

As far as desserts go, we all loved it. I wouldn’t call it my favorite Boston Cream Pie recipe, but after looking around at all the variations, I think it would take me a year to find and pick a favorite. No two recipes are the same. Just Google Boston Cream Pie and you’ll see what I mean.

What most Boston Cream Pie recipes do have in common is that they are all cakes (not pies) with a cream filling and a chocolate icing. But that’s it. Some of the cakes are yellow cakes and others are sponge. Some call for eggs, some only use yolks. And every pastry cream filling seems different too. Some are made with flour and others use cornstarch. Some call for butter, some don’t. And the chocolate toppings run the gamut as well. Gale Gand uses a ganache. Emeril uses store bought chocolate fondant (?) and the Food Network Test Kitchen makes their chocolate topping with a touch of corn syrup for shininess and flow.

At the end of the day, I was happy I’d chosen this recipe (slightly haphazardly) because if I’d searched through the variations trying to find the best, I would have never been able to complete this in time for dessert.

I followed the directions below with a few minor changes from the original. I cooked the cake in a 9 inch round springform and split it down the center. I think it stacks a bit more neatly when made in one pan and split instead of two. As for the cake recipe, this one was rich and crumbly rather than spongy. It was good, but I think next time I’d go with a traditional sponge.

This pastry cream filling was beautiful and smooth, but pretty basic. I don’t own a double boiler, so I used a big metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. It didn’t seem thick enough at first, but was fine once it cooled and chilled.

The chocolate icing was very good, but make sure to sift the powdered sugar. I would definitely choose this icing over a ganache because in my mind, Boston Cream Pie should be topped with icing and not ganache.

I had so much fun with this recipe that I’m going to make a Boston Cream Pie Category and try to find a favorite. This will take quite some time and I do not plan on making one of these every day, but it’s a dessert Todd likes so all the recipe try-outs will get eaten.

Boston Cream Pie from Joy of Cooking
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Custard layered between golden cake topped with chocolate icing.
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour (measure after sifting)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (whole)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 to 4 large egg yolks, beaten (I used 3)
  • 4 oz. semisweet chocolate
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 6 tbsp. whipping cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar (sifted)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9 inch round springform pan with flour-added cooking spray. If you want, you may use two 8 inch pans instead.
  2. Sift flour again with baking powder and salt; set aside. Beat butter and sugar in bowl of electric mixer until light in color, about 2 minutes. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with milk, beating well after each addition. Pour batter into greased pan or pans.
  3. Bake until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes – will take less time if using 2 pans. Cool in pan(s) on wire rack 10 minute. Remove sides of pan and let cool completely, then carefully remove cake from springform bottom. When cake is cool, split it in half horizontally.
  4. Custard Filling: Heat milk and vanilla bean in medium saucepan over medium heat to just below boiling. Place sugar, flour and egg yolks in top of double boiler over simmering water. Add milk and scrapings from inside of vanilla bean. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat; stir. Cool mixture completely.
  5. Glaze: Melt chocolate and butter in top of double boiler over simmering water. Stir in cream and vanilla. Add confectioners' sugar; mix until smooth.
  6. TO ASSEMBLE: Place 1 cake layer on serving plate. Spread with thick layer of pastry cream. Top with second cake layer. Frost with icing.


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  1. says

    That looks so tasty! My grandma always used to make me Boston Cream Pie and everytime I have it now it makes me think of her.

  2. says

    Oh.My.God. Boston Cream Pie is one of my favorite desserts…one that no one else seems to have ever had. I haven’t seen it in many restaurants either so I’m left to dream. Yours looks so tasty!

  3. says

    I can’t TELL you how happy I am to see this recipe AND that it passed muster with your husband! My Dad has been begging for me to make my Mom’s Boston Cream Pie, but I’ve been avoiding this particular pie mission, since her version was…ah, how shall I say? NOT GOOD! I am sure he will be happy with this!

  4. Sue says

    Boston Cream Pie is a dessert that I’ve never made. This one looks very tasty.

    On a different subject. Do you own the Mrs. Field’s Cookie Book? I made my son’s all time favorite cookies out of there yesterday. They’re called Cinnamon Sugar Butter Cookies. I think of you everytime I make cookies, even if I didn’t get the recipe or inspiration from your blog.

    We’ve liked all of the cookies I’ve made from that book.

    Another question regarding leavening. I was reading the King Arthur baker’s blog yesterday when I was supposed to be working. They talked about using baker’s ammonia and vinegar as leavening in a recipe. I’ve never done that and wondered if you have? I wish I could remember which entry mentioned it. I’d link you right to it. They seemed to suggest that it imparts a different texture than other leaveners.

  5. Karen says

    I love Boston Cream Pie and have made a few. I like to use a hot milk sponge cake, baked in one pan and split. Martha Stewart has a good one. I tiny hit of almond extract in the pastry cream is nice. Can’t wait to see what you do next!

  6. says

    I’ve had kind of a rough morning and am really happy to come back to these positive comments. I like Boston Cream Pie too. It’s under-rated!

    This recipe was good, but there are a few more I want to try. Cook’s Illustrated has a version that starts with a hot milk sponge cake. However, the one that sounds really good to me is this one from Food TV. I think it will be next.,,FOOD_9936_16080,00.html

    Sue, yes! I do have the Mrs. Fields book. I may make something out of it today. I’ll check the butter cookie recipe too. Sounds good.

    I have baked with Baker’s Ammonia. There’s a recipe on-line called Swedish Dream Cookies. They have a very crisp and light texture thanks to the ammonia. That’s the only recipe where I really, really loved the results. The cookies give off an ammonia smell while baking.

  7. says

    This is one recipe I’ve always wanted to try, but have a real problem with making pastry cream. I always manage to scramble the pastry cream instead of thickening it!

  8. says

    If you have a fear of making pastry cream, this is a good recipe to try. It’s made with a double boiler which helps prevent scrambling. At first I thought using the double boiler (or in this case, metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmer water) would be a hassle, but it really wasn’t a big deal and it made a very nice smooth cream.

    I whisked the egg yolks, flour and sugar together in the bowl first, then got the water going over in the saucepan. One it was boiling, I just set the bowl on top, gripped it with a hot pad to keep it in place and keep from burning my fingers, then whisked.

    The metal bowl I used was pretty deep, so it kinds of sinks into the saucepan and ends up being about an inch or so higher than the simmering water. If the cream mixture doesn’t seem to be getting hot enough, you just increase the heat of the water underneath.

    Pastry cream is really kind of fun once you have the proper tools in place. If you actually own a double boiler, then it should be a piece of cake.

  9. says

    I’ve never made this but I’ve wanted to for awhile. I wonder if these would be good in cupcake form!

  10. Katy says

    Great post! Boston Cream Pie is truly an american classic. The Food Network recipe is disappointing. The cake is dry and not sweet enough. The Cook’s Illustrated recipe is a good one. Very similar to one I make from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great American Desserts. The cake really needs to be a sponge cake for the perfect textural combination, which is what the cake is all about. I omit the rum in the pastry cream and use a combo of vanilla and almond extracts. Cook’s Country came up with a fun recipe for Boston Cream cupcakes.
    If Todd finds himself in San Francisco one of these days, he MUST go to Scala’s Bistro on Powell right off Union Square and try their legendary “Bostini Cream Pie”.
    They bake a small individual sponge cake in an oversized porcelain ramekin,fill it to the brim with pastry cream and drench the entire thing in chocolate glaze and shaved chocolate. It comes to the table looking like a big tartufo. It was voted the number one restaurant recipe of 2006 by the SF Chronicle.
    (And the restaurant serves good italian for lunch or dinner)

  11. Sarah says

    This looks really good 🙂 Anna – I have a question (a bit off topic from cream pie, sorry!) I thought you might have some knowledge about. I’m trying to make a red velvet bar cookie (husband’s request) and I think using a mix in this case might be the best way to go. Do you know of any ‘formula’ for turning a cake mix into a bar? – Thanks!

  12. says

    Joe, there are some Boston Cream Pie Cupcake recipes out there. This particular cake probably wouldn’t work well as cupcakes, but I know you can find some good ones with a search.

    Duh, just read Katy’s post. Yes, try Cooks’ Country!

    Katy, thanks for letting me know about that BCP on Food TV. I will skip it. I posted another link to a Recipezaar Boston Cream Pie. Everyone gave it 5 stars, so maybe I’ll try that one.

    Sarah, I don’t have a formula, but what I’d probably do is use Cake Mix Doctor’s red velvet cake recipe (the one which starts with white cake mix) and make it in a 15×10 inch pan. The bars would still be cake-like and soft, but they would be be thin like bar cookies. If you don’t have that Cake Mix doctor recipe, here’s a link.

  13. says

    BCP is one of my favorite summertime dessert. I love the contrast of cool pastry cream with chocolate icing. Great picture. You’ve made me want a slice. I’ll be interested to see the follow ups in this category. Thanks for making!

  14. Emily says

    one must – put in the fridge for like an hour before serving. Boston Cream Pie’s always seem to taste better when cooler and since its summer it might be more pleasing!

  15. says

    I first heared of it a few months ago when the daring bakers made a dessert version of it (bostini cream pie), that was mentioned by Katy. It was back in Oct last year, I’ve tried to attach a link here on my comment but it’s not working.
    I’ve never tasted it, but I can imagine it tasting very good, like a comfort desert almost.
    Anna you know you can do pastry cream in the microwave, by just dumping everything in a bowl. But don’t tell anyone I told you! 😉

  16. says

    Agree with some of the previous comments — Boston Creme Pie is best with spongecake. Hot milk spongecake is a good one for it. I used to make it all the time, but haven’t made one recently. Easiest way to do the custard is dump everything in, whether it’s the microwave or a pan on the stove. Somehow, when you add the butter with everything, you won’t get any curdling; therefore, you can turn the heat up and get it done faster. I prefer not using the microwave whenever possible, so I do it on the stove usually.

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