Boston is in our hearts this week. To celebrate the strength of the city (and America’s Test Kitchen’s hometown), we present one of our favorite local specialties.
We baked up the traditional recipe (shown above) and found three major challenges that we wanted to tackle in the test kitchen.
1. The original glaze dries to a hard, dull-looking shell that won’t bond with the cake. And who really wants brittle piped frosting on top?
2. The traditional sponge cake is too lean and sweet for modern tastes. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, it will bake up flat instead of airy.
3. It’s all too easy to create a pastry cream that’s too thin, leading to a filling that dribbles down the cake.
After much tinkering and experimenting in the test kitchen, we successfully revived this triple-component dessert into a modern-day showstopper.
Why This Recipe Works: A hot-milk sponge cake made a good base in our Boston Cream Pie recipe because it didn’t require any finicky folding or separating of eggs. Baking the batter in two pans eliminated the need to slice a single cake horizontally before adding the filling. We used butter to firm up our pastry cream, and we added corn syrup to heavy cream and melted chocolate for a smooth glaze that clung to the top of our Boston Cream Pie and dripped artistically down its sides.
SERVES 8 TO 10
Chill the assembled cake for at least 3 hours to make it easy to cut and serve.
2 cups half-and-half
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
Pinch table salt
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1. FOR THE PASTRY CREAM: Heat half-and-half in medium saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Meanwhile, whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in medium bowl until smooth. Add flour to yolk mixture and whisk until incorporated. Remove half-and-half from heat and, whisking constantly, slowly add ½ cup to yolk mixture to temper. Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to half-and-half in saucepan.
2. Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, whisking constantly, 8 minutes.
3. Increase heat to medium and cook, whisking vigorously, until bubbles burst on surface, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat; whisk in butter and vanilla until butter is melted and incorporated. Strain pastry cream through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Press lightly greased parchment paper directly on surface and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
4. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Heat milk and butter in small saucepan over low heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and cover to keep warm.
5. In stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip eggs and sugar at high speed until light and airy, about 5 minutes. Remove mixer bowl from stand. Add hot milk mixture and whisk by hand until incorporated. Add dry ingredients and whisk until incorporated.
6. Working quickly, divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake until tops are light brown and toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes.
7. Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool completely in pan, about 2 hours. Run small plastic knife around edge of pans, then invert cakes onto wire rack. Carefully remove parchment, then reinvert cakes.
8. TO ASSEMBLE: Place one cake round on large plate. Whisk pastry cream briefly, then spoon onto center of cake. Using offset spatula, spread evenly to cake edge. Place second layer on pastry cream, bottom side up, making sure layers line up properly. Press lightly on top of cake to level. Refrigerate cake while preparing glaze.
9. FOR THE GLAZE: Bring cream and corn syrup to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Whisk gently until smooth, 30 seconds. Let stand, whisking occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.
10. Pour glaze onto center of cake. Use offset spatula to spread glaze to edge of cake, letting excess drip decoratively down sides. Chill finished cake 3 hours before slicing. Cake may be made up to 24 hours before serving.
Straight out of the fridge, store-bought tortillas are lackluster in flavor, cold, and unbendable.
Warming Tortillas Using a Gas Flame
When you only need to warm up a few tortillas and you have a gas burner, simply place a single tortilla directly over the medium flame and toast it until slightly charred. This usually only takes up to 30 seconds per side.
Warming Tortillas Without a Gas Flame
If you don’t have a gas flame, you can get similar results by toasting tortillas one at a time in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until softened and speckled with brown spots, 20 to 30 seconds per side.
Warming a Stack of Tortillas
When you need to warm up several tortillas the oven is better for the job. Simply divide the tortillas into stacks of 6, and wrap each stack in foil. Heat the tortillas on the middle rack of a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes. Keep the warmed tortillas wrapped in foil or a kitchen towel until ready to use or they will dry out. (If your tortillas are very dry, pat each with a little water before warming.)
Many tortillas packages (especially corn tortillas) are sold in packs of 24 or more. To freeze corn tortillas, gently peel individual tortillas from the stack and place them between pieces of wax or parchment paper, then freeze up to 12 tortillas in a zipper-lock freezer bag. When you’re ready to use them, defrost stacks of four to six tortillas in the microwave at 50-percent power until thawed, 10 to 20 seconds per stack.
Why This Recipe Works: To develop a steak taco recipe with an indoor cooking method that yielded steak taco meat as tender, juicy, and rich-tasting as the grilled method, we chose flank steak, beefy and tender when sliced thinly across the grain. Pan-searing gave us the browned exterior and crisp, brittle edges characteristic of grilled meat. A paste of oil, cilantro, scallions, garlic, and jalapeño applied to the meat and scraped off just before cooking gave our steak taco recipe a flavor boost without sacrificing browning.
SERVES 4 TO 6
For a less spicy dish, remove some or all of the ribs and seeds from the jalapeños before chopping them for the marinade. In addition to the toppings suggested below, try serving the tacos with Sweet and Spicy Pickled Onions, thinly sliced radishes or cucumber, or salsa.
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
3 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 medium scallions, roughly chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 medium jalapeño chile, stemmed and roughly chopped (see note above)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 flank steak (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds), trimmed of excess fat and cut lengthwise (with grain) into 4 equal pieces
1 tablespoon kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
Fresh cilantro leaves
Minced white or red onion
1. FOR THE HERB PASTE: Pulse cilantro, garlic, scallions, jalapeño, and cumin in food processor until finely chopped, ten to twelve 1-second pulses, scraping down sides as necessary. Add oil and process until mixture is smooth and resembles pesto, about 15 seconds, scraping down sides of workbowl as necessary. Transfer 2 tablespoons herb paste to medium bowl; whisk in lime juice and set aside.
2. FOR THE STEAK: Using dinner fork, poke each piece of steak 10 to 12 times on each side. Place in large baking dish; rub all sides of steak pieces evenly with salt and then coat with remaining herb paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.
3. Scrape herb paste off steak and sprinkle all sides of pieces evenly with sugar and pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Place steak in skillet and cook until well browned, about 3 minutes. Flip steak and sear until second side is well browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, stand each piece on a cut side and cook, turning as necessary, until all cut sides are well browned and internal temperature registers 125 to 130 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 2 to 7 minutes. Transfer steak to cutting board and let rest 5 minutes.
4. FOR THE TACOS: Using sharp chef’s knife or carving knife, slice steak pieces across grain into 1/8-inch-thick pieces. Transfer sliced steak to bowl with herb paste-lime juice mixture and toss to coat. Season with salt. Spoon small amount of sliced steak into center of each warm tortilla and serve immediately, passing toppings separately.