I have 2 pet peeves when it comes to recipes: ones that don’t use enough vanilla beans and ones that don’t deliver – I don’t mean pizza. I think most every recipe that includes vanilla extract can be enhanced by a vanilla bean and some that don’t even call for vanilla. For example, I’ve been known to throw a vanilla bean in a jam pot and it really warms the flavor of the fruits. Vanilla beans are expensive and somewhat exotic. Since being out of the wholesale food purchasing industry, I’ve found my supply of the precious commodity to be dwindling. When a friend asked me to make a Boston Cream Pie for a celebration dinner she was having for friends, I knew that I had to incorporate vanilla beans and go to one of my all-time favorite dessert cookbooks, Baking with Jim Dodge, Simon & Schuster, 1991. I can’t believe I’ve owned this book for 25 years, but I checked the inscription to John and there it was “1995.” Apparently we had been looking for cookbooks with fig recipes, and this one has one of my favorites, a Mocha Fig Cake. I distinctly remember purchasing this book in a Barnes & Noble in Plano, Texas. I was working at a job I deplored and so far away from John and missed him so much. This book was my return home gift to him.
Anyway, I’ve used it for many recipes over the years and they all are truly flawless. The instructions are straight forward and the results are simply elegant. He also is dead on when it comes to portion and yield. When I say a recipe that doesn’t deliver, I mean one that leaves out crucial steps or just doesn’t produce the desired amount or results, say yield 12 cups of silky custard and it turns out to fill barely 6 egg cups. Well, never you mind with Dodge’s directions. I do however, like to add a pinch of salt to my cakes, which he does not even though he uses unsalted butter, and I also prefer a vanilla bean when making a pastry cream. So those are my pros and cons: Good yield and excellent results, use vanilla bean in the pastry cream to pump up that vanilla flavor in the custard. I made these dessert components in an afternoon, then the next morning assembled and glazed before church and delivered at lunch time. Done.
Boston Cream Pie ala Jim Dodge’s from Baking with Jim Dodge, pp. 46-48.
½ Cup Sugar
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 Teaspoons corn starch
2 large eggs
2 Cups milk
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
½ Teaspoon Vanilla extract
1 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped, optional but my choice
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter (soft)
1 Cup Sugar
1 1/3 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt, not in his recipe but definitely in my cakes
1 large egg
½ Cup milk
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, I use Guittard Chocolate , 74% Cocoa
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Sift the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and beat until light. Bring the milk to a boil with the vanilla bean in a heavy- bottomed saucepan. Stir half the milk into the egg mixture, and then pour the whole mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring vigorously with a wire whisk, until the cream thickens and the center bubbles. Continue cooking and stirring another 30 seconds. Remove the vanilla bean pod and save. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan. Cream the butter until soft and smooth. Sift the sugar, flour, and baking powder together.
Add the egg to the butter and mix until blended; they will not blend completely. Add half the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. The batter will be very thick. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and add the milk. Mix gently until blended. Add the remaining dry ingredients and the vanilla and mix until light and smooth. Spoon the batter in the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the top is golden brown, the sides have pulled away from the pan, and the center springs back when lightly touched, about 40 (I did 30) minutes, depending on your altitude. Cool in the pan on a wire rack then invert to continue cooling.
When the cake has cooled completely, remove it from the pan, turn it upside down, and split into two layers using a long-bladed, serrated cake knife. Center the bottom layer on the cake plate. [Here’s where I digress from Dodge’s recipes: I whipped 1 cup of heavy whipping cream with about ¼ cup of confectioner’s sugar then folded this into the chilled pastry cream using this as your cream filling. Plus you will have about a cup left over to fill doughnuts with on another morning.] Spread the cream over the cake layer. Invert the remaining layer flat side up and gently press down. You can use toothpicks or toothpicks in stunted straws to hold the layers in place if you would like. Be sure they don’t penetrate the top of the cake.
Cut the chocolate into small pieces. Put it and the butter in microwave safe bowl and place in the microwave for 30 second intervals, stirring after each until all butter is melted and incorporated into the chocolate. Maximum time this should take is 2 minutes. Spoon the glaze into a large pile in the center of the top cake layer well away from the edges. Use a flat, offset spatula to smooth the chocolate pressing from the center and allowing the chocolate to flow naturally out and over the edges. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. It is best to heat a sharp, serrated knife under hot water before slicing through the chocolate glaze.
Yield: 1 -9” Cake serving 8-12.
Amy’s Tip for this recipe and many others including vanilla beans. They are so expensive and they flavor is so pervasive that it lasts for more than just one use. My french pasty chef taught me to rinse the pod after using it in a custard, let it air dry overnight. You can then store it in your sugar or cinnamon sugar to create a sweet vanilla bouquet every time you use your sugar. Try it!
You’d think I was being sponsored by the Madagascar Vanilla Bean council. I’m up for a trip if they want to send me to the vanilla trees to do a little R&D. Perhaps one day. There’s no cost in dreaming!