A Sparkling Vintage Life

Retro Recipe Wednesday: Boston Cream Pie

bettina marchBoston Cream Pie is actually a cake, not a pie–and one of my favorites, too. A chef named M. Sanzian is credited with creating it at Boston’s Parker House Hotel in 1856. Most versions I’ve seen feature a chocolate frosting or glaze on top, but our friend Bettina’s version calls for meringue. Here’s a Bettina story from 1917 called “The Dixons Drop In for Dessert”:

“Come in! Come in!” cried Bob to the Dixons. “You’re just in time to have dessert with us! Bettina, here are the Dixons!” [ed. note: the authors of the Bettina stories were very fond of exclamation marks!]

“Do sit down,” said Bettina, “and have some Boston cream pie with us!”

“Frank won’t need urging,” said Charlotte. “Our dessert tonight was applesauce, and Boston cream pie (whatever it is) sounds too enticing to be resisted.”

“It looks a little like the Washington pie my mother used to make,” said Frank. “Only that wasn’t so fancy on the top.”

“Washington pie needs whipped cream to make it perfect,” said Bettina, “and as I had no whipped cream I made this with a meringue.”

“Dessert with the neighbors!” said Frank, laughing. “Charlotte read me a suggestion the other day that sounded sensible. A housewife had introduced a new custom into her neighborhood. Whenever she had planned a particularly good dessert she would phone a few of her friends not to plan any dessert for themselves that evening, but to stroll over after dinner and have dessert with her family. Wasn’t that an idea? It might lead to cooperative meals! We haven’t done our share, have we? We should have telephoned to you to have the main course with us tonight. Say, Bettina, I like this Boston cream pie! It’s what I call a real dessert!” (from A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron, 1917)

Interesting how folks used to talk about “telephoning to” someone, like “writing to” them. Somewhere along the line the “to” got dropped and we started simply telephoning, then ‘phoning, then calling.

Here’s the recipe:

Bettina’s Boston Cream Pie

3 Tbsp. butter
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 c. milk
7/8 c. flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Cream the butter, add the egg. Mix well. Add the sugar and mix thoroughly. Add the milk alternately with the flour and baking powder. Mix thoroughly. Add the vanilla. Bake in two layer-cake pans fitted with waxed paper, in a moderate oven for twenty minutes. Spread the following filling between the layers:


7 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
1 c. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Mix the sugar, flour and salt. Add slowly the egg yolk (beaten) and the milk. Stir well. Cook ten minutes in a double boiler, stirring occasionally to prevent lumping. Add vanilla and remove from the fire. When partially cool, spread part of the filling over one layer of the cake. Allow to stand five minutes and then add more filling. Allow to stand two minutes. Place the other layer on the top. Spread a meringue over the whole and place in a hot oven long enough to brown it delicately.


1 egg white
1/8 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. baking powder

Add salt to the egg, beat until thick and fluffy, add the sugar and baking powder, and beat one minute.



Sign up for my Reader Community