Boston has been in my thoughts a lot lately. I picked a strange time to travel back to America, with the horrific Boston Marathon bombing just a few days after returning to the homeland. As I followed the live news updates, I was shocked to see such tragedy in a normally happy and serene city. I went to college in Boston and those four years of my life are filled with such amazing memories. Boston was good to me during those years (despite the brutal winters) and I feel bad for only having returned once since graduating.
As the minutes passed and news crews struggled to figure out what was going on, I thought about all of my friends still living in Boston, no doubt out in the streets enjoying the annual revelry that is Marathon Monday, cheering on runners or running themselves, and wondered if any of them were hurt in the blasts. I turned to Facebook and watched the rest of the day as one-by-one they all checked in, letting family and friends know that they were okay. In that moment, I was truly thankful for Facebook and the instant connection it gave me to my friend network across the globe. Particularly once the Boston Police shut down the cell network to thwart any cell-based triggers of more bombs that may be lying undiscovered, the internet and social networks became a vital line of communication between Boston and the watching world.
As things seemed to calm down, the stories of heroism came out. Some runners crossed the finish line and kept running for several extra miles straight to the nearest hospitals to donate blood. Race volunteers, staff, and onlookers rushed to help the injured along Boylston Street, turning the finish line medical tent into a triage center. Boston hospitals were performing surgery on the first victims within 30 minutes of the blast, preventing any more tragic loss of life after the initial blasts. Friends in Boston sent out messages to those displaced by the explosion, offering a place to stay, with food, drink, and a safe environment to decompress. With the amazing response of Boston’s residents, students, and visiting runners, I was proud to have called that city my home.
With Boston in my thoughts, I baked a Boston Cream Pie this week as a tribute to all of those affected by the marathon bombing and to those who rose to the occasion and lent a helping hand.
If you don't have cake flour, you can make your own replacement with all-purpose flour and cornstarch. For every cup of cake flour that you need, measure out one cup of all-purpose flour. Then remove 2 tbsp of the all-purpose flour and replace it with 2 tbsp of cornstarch (bringing you back to 1 cup as your total volume). Sift the flour-cornstarch mixture 5 times, until thoroughly combined.
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The cream of tartar helps to stabilize the egg whites and keep the sponge cake light and airy. If you are not able to find cream of tartar, you can omit this ingredient.
- 2 cups (473 ml) whole milk
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (28 g) cornstarch
- 2 tbsp (29 g) unsalted butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (60 g) cake flour (see note above)
- 1/4 cup (35 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp (45 ml) milk
- 2 tbsp (29 g) unsalted butter
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (see note above)
- 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar, divided in half
- 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2/3 cup (160 ml) heavy cream
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) light corn syrup
- 8 oz (227 g) semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Bring the milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
- Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl, then whisk in the cornstarch until pale yellow and thick.
- Slowly whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture to temper, then return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick and glossy, about 2 to 5 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla.
- Transfer the mixture to a small bowl, press plastic wrap directly on the surface, and refrigerate until chilled and set, about 2 hours.
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans, then line with bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter together over low heat until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla, then cover to keep warm.
- In a large bowl, whip the 3 egg whites and the cream of tartar together with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and whip the whites until they form soft, billowy mounds, about 1 to 3 minutes. Gradually whip in 6 tablespoons (75 g) of the sugar. Continue to whip the egg whites until they are shiny and form soft peaks, 1 to 3 minutes.
- In a separate large bowl, whip the 3 egg yolks and the whole eggs together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for about 1 minute. Gradually add the remaining 6 tablespoons (75 g) of sugar. Continue to whip the mixture until very thick and voluminous, 4 to 6 minutes.
- Place the whipped whole egg mixture on top of the whipped egg white mixture, then sift the flour mixture over the top. Very gently fold everything together with a large rubber spatula until just combined (a few streaks of flour can still show at this point).
- Pour the warm milk mixture against the side of the bowl and continue to gently fold the batter until evenly combined and no streaks of flour remain.
- Immediately divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake the cakes until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 12 to 18 minutes.
- Remove the cakes from the oven, run a small knife around the edge of the cakes, then flip them out onto a parchment-lined plates. Peel off the parchment paper bottoms, flip the cakes right side up onto wire racks, and discard the parchment.
- Let the cakes cool completely before filling or glazing, about 2 hours.
- Bring the cream and corn syrup to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- Remove from the heat and add the chocolate and vanilla extract. Whisk gently until smooth, 30 seconds.
- Let the glaze cool, whisking occasionally, until it is thickened but still pourable, about 5 minutes.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and place a wire rack on top.
- Place one of the cake layers on the rack.
- Whisk the pastry cream briefly, then spoon it onto the center of the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread the pastry cream evenly to the cake's edges.
- Place the second cake on the pastry cream, bottom side up, making sure the layers line up properly. Press down gently.
- Pour glaze onto center of the cake. Use an offset spatula to spread the glaze to the edge of the cake, letting excess drip decoratively down the sides.
- Chill the finished cake, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, until the chocolate has set, before slicing. Cake may be made up to 24 hours before serving.