Vanilla Bean Boston Cream Pie

When I think about Boston Cream Pie, I just think about college. Going to school in a city full of history like Boston, I cannot help but think of that aforementioned classic American dessert. Layers of fluffy vanilla cake, a vanilla pastry cream, and chocolate ganache. Depending on the rendition, there are also almonds encrusting the sides of the cake, such as the original Boston Cream Pie from the Omni Parker House. The reason why it is called a pie, and not a cake, even though there is no pie in this cake whatsoever, stems from when it was first made. The dessert was baked using a pie tin, so even though it is a layer cake, it was considered a pie because of the shape that the cake came in. I know. It’s stupid. But the name has been what is has been for over a century now, so I guess no changing it now. For this rendition on it, I went with a vanilla sponge cake soaked with a vanilla milk, a vanilla pastry cream, dark chocolate ganache on top, almond flakes, and the topper is made from modeling dark and white chocolates to resemble a vanilla bean and flower, to tie back in with the fact that there is vanilla and chocolate in almost every component in this recipe. I used vanilla bean paste throughout this recipe, as well as vanilla bean pods in the actual pastry cream(because I love the little speckles of it throughout the creamy pale custard), though you can use vanilla extract if you want. The difference between vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste is that the paste is a thicker version of the extract, blended with vanilla beans to give it a richer, more vanilla-y flavor. If you are unsure of what vanilla flavor is, think perfume-y and sweet. I feel like we often overlook the taste of vanilla, just because it tastes sweet, but there is almost a complexity from that fragrance, which is what I was trying to embody in this recipe by featuring it so prominently.

With the cake, I went with a standard chiffon cake, and opted to assemble the Boston Cream Pie Milkbar style with the ring mold and acetate. I did get the idea to infused a large quantity of milk with vanilla bean pods, since I’m using the actual vanilla beans themselves in the pastry cream, and that vanilla milk could then be used in the cake batter, the cake soak, the pastry cream, AND the ganache on top, just as a way to REALLY stretch that expensive AF ingredient to its maximum potential – honestly, vanilla beans are bloody expensive, so it’s best to do everything you can to optimize that yield. I figured that would be the best way to guarantee that the layers in the cake stay distinct and clean. One fear I always have when assembling this kind of cake is that the weight of the sponge will weigh down the pastry cream and force it out the sides. But with the usage of sponge cake and the ring molds, this keeps the custard in place for the setting process, minimizing the risk of any filling oozing out! I love making my own modeling chocolate, and figured it would be an appropriate way to garnish the cake, since the top layer of a Boston Cream Pie is always chocolate ganache anyways. Ironically, I had the dark chocolate to resemble vanilla beans, although fittingly, used white chocolate(which contains vanilla anyways) to appear like an actual vanilla flower. With this cake, it is a complete homage to vanilla, with a tinge of chocolate and almond just to bring it all together.

For the vanilla milk:
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean pod(beans scraped and reserved for the pastry cream recipe)
a pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Steep the ingredients together until the milk comes to a simmer. Pour everything into a deep container and allow it to cool down before using throughout the recipe! Reserve about 1/2 cup for the soak.

For the sponge cake:
6 egg whites
3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vanilla
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
a pinch of salt

In a bowl, whip up the egg whites with sugar to stiff peaks. In another bowl, mix the egg yolks with canola oil until combined. Then sift into the egg yolk mixture the flour. Pour into that the milk, vanilla, and salt. Then fold in the egg whites to form a batter. Spread the batter onto a parchment-lined quarter sheet tray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 18 minutes. Allow the cake to cool down before cutting out 2 perfect 6-inch rounds of the cake, and fabricate a third from the scraps.

For the pastry cream:
1 cup vanilla
vanilla beans from 1 pod(can also sub with 1 tsp vanilla bean paste)
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter

In a pot, heat up the milk on medium heat. In a bowl, whisk together the other ingredients, sans the butter. Remove the vanilla bean pod, squeezing it to release any additional liquid back into the milk. Pour half of the hot milk over the egg yolks while whisking. Then pour the egg yolks back into the milk mixture and whisk everything together on medium heat until thickened enough to cling to the sides of your whisk. Take off heat and whisk in the butter. Then pass the pastry cream through a sieve to remove any lumps. Finish with the vanilla beans.

For the ganache:
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup vanilla milk
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter or canola oil
1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Heat up all of the ingredients until the chocolate is fully melted into the milk. Allow the chocolate to cool down to just above room temperature before adding in the vanilla bean paste. You still want the ganache to be relatively fluid, but not scalding hot, for the initial assembly.

For initial assembly:
Line a 6-inch ring mold with acetate. Start by placing down your scrap layer of cake. Pour onto that 1/3 of the soak. Then about 40% of the pastry cream. Repeat those steps with your next stay. For the last layer, place on the cake, then the soak. Pour your ganache over the top layer of your cake and spread into a thin, even layer. Allow the ganache to set over the top of the cake for at least 2 hours before attempting to unmold.

For the white modeling chocolate “vanilla flower”:
1/3 cup white chocolate chips
1 tbsp corn syrup
a pinch of salt

Melt ingredients together over a double boiler. Once combined, transfer the mixture to the refrigerator and allow the modeling chocolate to cool down completely – it needs to be cold to the tough, but not frozen solid. Once so, roll it out on a nonstick surface and cut out 5 petals using ring molds and a center section of petals using a smaller circular ring mold(I cut out 2 smaller circles and pinch them together to form a “cup” shape) Press your petals together and place into a small bowl. Transfer to a freezer to keep the flower in shape and cold.

Optionally, you can also brush the “cup” of the flower with turmeric for a more realistic appearance. With my leftover white modeling chocolate, I used turmeric and spirulina powders to dye it a nice shade of green and made some leaves to accompany the flower with as well!

For the dark modeling chocolate “vanilla bean”:
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tsp corn syrup
a pinch of salt

Literally repeat the same steps as with the vanilla flower. Once the chocolate is cold, roll out into thin strips on a nonstick surface and pinch the ends. Using the back of a butter knife, gently press down along the length of the “beans” to give them similar wrinkles to an actual vanilla bean. Keep these cold for the final assembly.

Final assembly:
Almond flakes

Unmold your cake and remove the acetate. Smear your remaining 20% of the pastry cream on the sides, scraping it into a smooth layer to help seal in the cake so it will not dry out. Garnish the sides of your cake with the almonds and the top with the vanilla beans and flower to finish.

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