Photos and Words by Tori Beringer
Even in a city full of national history, tradition can get lost amongst the ever-changing trends. In Boston, desserts are no exception. Yet amidst the cronuts and cupcakes, fro-yo and gelato, a classic slice of history can be found at any self-respecting Boston bakery.
The Boston cream pie - a beacon of city treats, the grandfather of Bay area baked goods, a symbol of sweet American heritage. It consists of a light sponge cake, layered with plain custard and topped with chocolate ganache. It’s simple enough, yet each bakery’s subtle differences make a citywide ranking absolutely necessary.
1. Omni Parker House
While the city’s contenders can try their best, in the case of this hometown dessert, nothing tastes quite like the original. Parker House boasts the creation of the cake in the hotel’s restaurant by Chef Sanzian in 1856, and although other establishments have tried to dispute the story, the astounding superiority of their dessert speaks for itself. The past 158 years have allowed them to cultivate their recipe to perfection.
Omni House could probably patent the ideal ratios used in their Boston cream pie. The hotel kitchen has set a high bar with a light topping of marbled chocolate ganache, and precisely portioned rounds of spongy cake, held together with decadent custard. For added texture and a practically golden sheen, each personal-sized dessert is rolled in thin almond shavings, creating a crunchy crust and elegant presentation. While Boston cream pie is always a dessert option after a meal at Parker’s Restaurant, it can also be purchased to go at the hotel’s gift shop and café, Morsel’s.
2. Bova’s Bakery
It seems inevitable that Boston’s famous 24-hour Italian bakery excels in its execution of the city’s original treat. Sandwiched between two generous layers of fudgey chocolate frosting, rather than glaze, the bakery’s take on this so-called pie is by far the richest. A heavier version of the classic, this dessert delivers multiple thick pudding layers between three sizable wedges of cake. Bova’s breaks from conventional Boston cream pie standards of lightweight fluffiness, making its own claim on the tradition with a double stack. I’m not complaining.
Creating a contemporary interpretation of the old-American dessert, Sweet has innovated the Boston Cream Pie Cupcake. The city’s fast-growing cupcake chain brings a homemade simplicity to the luscious dessert, filling an airy chiffon cupcake with a liberal dollop of pastry cream. Playing upon the dessert’s traditional display, the bakers at Sweet even top the silky surface of chocolate ganache with a red frosting “cherry.” Successful in both sentiment and taste, Sweet’s interpretation is a small sample of Bostonian nostalgia.
4. Mike’s Pastry
The North End’s bakery king, Mike’s Pastry, provides a decently sized and decently priced slice of the Massachusetts state dessert. Aiming for tradition, the slice features their sugary sponge cake, an intensely sweet base. The bakery’s rendition is topped with milk chocolate frosting rather than a rich ganache, slightly disrupting the delicate balance of the Boston cream pie. However, the heaps of their famously delectable pastry cream round out the recipe, elevating Mike’s version of the classic treat to melt-in-your-mouth status.
Omni Parker House
60 School Street, Boston, MA 02108
134 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113
Multiple locations, see link above
300 Hanover Street, Boston, MA 02113