Sunday, January 23, 2011

Boston Cream

On Friday, I spotted this headline on

Parker House will fete the Boston cream on Pie Day

According to the article, January 23 is National Pie Day. And since the Parker House Hotel invented the Boston cream pie, they were getting in on the celebration by offering free samples this weekend:
Actually, the Omni Parker House plans to stretch Pie Day into extra innings and make it a three-day event. Starting at 4 p.m., staffers plan to hand out free slices of this signature pie in the hotel's lobby — so long as the supply lasts. The staff thinks such a popular item could go fast.
Free Boston cream pie? I felt my ears pricking up alertly, cat-style. I love Boston cream pie and I've never tried the Parker House original.

Boston cream pie isn't really a pie, of course. It's cake: It has layers of yellow "sponge," a custard or pudding filling, and chocolate ganache frosting. I think I began to love Boston cream pie because I'm not crazy about pie in general, but here's this cake masquerading as pie, so I can pretend I'm eating pie like any pie-loving omnivore (dessertivore?) when, in reality, I'm enjoying my favorite food of all time.

I'm not picky: those flat-looking, plastic-shrouded Boston cream pies from the Shaw's bakery section are adequate for my needs. But I live for the mile-high slices that are sometimes on the dessert menu at Charley's on Newbury Street. Whenever I go there, I'm careful to ask if they have it that day, and plan my meal accordingly.

We walked to the Parker House yesterday, bundled up against the freezing cold, to see if they still had any free cake — excuse me, "pie," — left. The place was strangely deserted. I'd been expecting a mob scene: most Bostonians will respect and obey offers of free dessert. I expected to see the signature cake — excuse me, "pie," — handed out with fanfare from a buffet table in the hotel's elegant but cozy lobby. There was no sign of the pie anywhere, except for a poster advertising it at the entrance to their restaurant. But the restaurant was empty.

I went to the concierge and told him what I'd understood from the article. He looked puzzled. Then he made a quick phone call and explained that they'd only been giving out free pie on Friday at 4 pm. The rest of the weekend, the pie is on the restaurant menu, with a donation going to the Charlestown Boys and Girls Club for each slice sold.

Silly me. I thought they were offering extra slices for sale if the free sample wasn't enough.  I could easily imagine having a little taste, becoming desperate for more, and paying for another piece.

The concierge observed my half-frozen, disappointed self. Then he asked me to wait a moment while he went off to get me a free individual pie anyway. I quickly thanked him for his kindness but pointed out sweetly that my husband was with me, wandering the lobby somewhere. He would want one, too. One Boston cream pie could result in a fierce and possibly messy dispute in his lobby. He smiled and promised to bring two.

And he did: two round desserts, neatly fitted into plastic containers, arrived in a little shopping bag.

Remember when you believed that most, if not all, hotel concierges were always this charming and accommodating? This gentleman was a professional. As I was leaving, three people came up to his counter and said, "We're tourists, I guess, and we don't know what to do." He didn't even blink; he didn't have a molecule of hauteur in his system. Instead he offered them seats at a table where he said he join them with some brochures to help them plan their day.

I'll be advising all of our visiting friends and colleagues to stay at the Parker House from now on.

Anyway, the Parker House's cake/pie looks like this: 

That shadowy presence in the corner is Snalbert, covertly investigating. He’s a carb fanatic who specializes in cake, taking after me.

The taste is light, sweet, and satisfying. With almonds dusting almost every bite, which I like. It’s a “historic” flavor, I imagine, since they say they are still using the original recipe. For example, the sponge layer is made with lots of eggs to help it rise, instead of adding baking soda or powder. The taste seems pure. The pastry-cream filling has a spoonful of rum, which I can't taste. But I assume it's authentic.

The magic of Boston cream pie is that even a small amount is satisfying — although you can also eat a giant portion without feeling stuffed. It's like eating sweet air with chocolate sauce.

I was considering trying the recipe for myself, until I noticed that, for one 10" sponge layer, you make more than a quart of custard filling. Now, what would I do with all that leftover custard?


  1. At least ten years ago we took our daughter and her friend to Boston at Easter time. Yankee Magazine had featured a good article on family time in Boston, and recommended the Omni Parker House. We were very comfortable and perfectly located for our agenda. We treated my husband to a Red Sox game and walked to Fenway Park. I was impressed with the youngsters because they had walked the Freedom Trail the previous day. Thank you for the memory. We managed to surprise the girls Easter morning with the baskets we had secreted away. We had pastry in the North End, but somehow missed the obvious treat at our fingertips! mainemom90

  2. Oh, favorite dessert (or breakfast) right after cheesecake, is BCP.

    Thanks everso for the recipe--not that I cook much but I'll forward your post on to my mom so she can make it the next time I visit, lol.


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