Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Original Boston Cream Pie

Hang around Boston long enough, and you will find the title "Boston Cream Pie" applied to everything from doughnuts to martinis, which has left the Babe a little fuzzy on what exactly a Boston Cream Pie is. Luckily, the birthplace of the BCP (yes, it even has its own acronym) is just a few steps from the Commons. The Omni Parker Hotel has been around long enough that First Lady Roosevelt asked to have their famous buttery roll recipe for the White House, and Charles Dickens spent two years living there. Curious what Dickens drank while ensconced at the Parker House? Look no further than the menu at the Last Hurrah, the hotel's whiskey bar. The "Dickens' Punch" is a gin punch that is reputed to have been Dickens' regular libation. It is even said that this is the place where Dickens gave the first reading of A Christmas Carol. And as I walked by the Granary Burying Ground across from the hotel, swirling in fat flakes of snow, I wondered if this wasn't the sort of scenery that gave Dickens the tone for Ebeneezer Scrooge in the bitter midwinter.

In my opinion, knowing the history of the Parker House is the key to enjoying it. The wood-paneled lobby, while not overly glitzy, still has the echoes of grandeur that drew JFK to have his bachelor party here.

And the Boston Cream pie here must be enjoyed in the same vein, as a piece of history as well as cake. There are three parts of the hotel where you can enjoy the BCP: The Last Hurrah, the Parker bar, or the Parker restaurant. If you're like me, then you might feel a little tentative about stopping by on a weekend afternoon, with no reservation, and asking if you can come in for a single piece of cake. But rest assured, the hotel is used to it, and very gracious in welcoming visitors who are there in particular for the culinary history. Although I'm sure that the Parker restaurant absolutely requires reservations for dinner, I was very welcome at the tail end of brunch. And for those rolling solo, you'll be happy to hear that the waiters in the restaurant will make you feel right at home...for all of the chandeliers and oil paintings and wood paneling of the restaurant, the staff exude a welcoming, attentive, and happy demeanor. This is not the sort of well-to-do hotel where the waiters are looking at you over the end of their long noses and gasping if you use the wrong fork. And what's more, they are genuinely enthusiastic about the BCP.

All of the warm attention and fanfare left me wondering, just what in the world would the BCP look like? A BCP is normally a full-size cake consisting of yellow cake, pastry cream, and chocolate ganache on top, with some almonds patted around the edges. But all told, it's certainly not a neat affair to cut. The Parker House has gotten around this by making individual BCPs, presented with creme anglaise, more chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a strawberry.

 With a pot of tea, I can think of few nicer ways to spend a cold, snowy afternoon in Boston. This may well be the cake that Longfellow, Dickens, Eleanor Roosevelt, and JFK ordered. If you ask me how the Parker House BCP stacks up on taste, I will say that this is a recipe concocted in 1856, and as such, it has a quiet presence that doesn't have the razzle dazzle of vanilla extract or liquor-soaked this-n-that. You will find a soft cake, a satisfying pastry cream, and a very chocolatey ganache. There is no mistaking this flavor combination as anything other than a Boston Creme Pie. If you're curious how they make it, the Parker House has been gracious enough to post the recipe on their website.

On a last note, I will say that Boston will never lack for places to sight-see and appreciate. But when the weather is bad (and it often is), the question of how to enjoy Boston becomes a little trickier. So, on days when the Commons look like this:

 I would recommend lounging for a few hours in the Parker, imbibing the history with a Dickens' Punch and  a plate of Boston Cream Pie.

Parker House
60 School Street
(617) 227-8600

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Austrian Cheese Soup, Oh Glory to Thee?

Normally, I restrict my blogging to sweets, and usually something that I've purchased from bakeries. But for January and February, the Babe is on a soup kick. Having purchased a Cuisinart pressure cooker on mad sale (I call him R2-D2) as well as an immersion blender, I'm all set to sally forth into Soup Land. Cooking shotgun this evening was Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette, in the form of "Twelve Months of Monastery Soups."

I was interested to see that several of the soups in this book have cheese as an ingredient (well, who isn't in favor of cheese?), and picked Austrian Cheese Soup as my first try.

I was intrigued by the fact that the cheese soup had no cheese in it! No cheddar, no emmental...just cream cheese and yogurt. Looking at the recipe, it seemed to me that potatoes, leeks, and cream cheese would turn out to be...pretty dang bland. So I decided to deglaze the leeks with Vermouth and add a cube of vegetarian bullion. After sticker shock at the liquor store (16$ for vermouth?), I had all the ingredients assembled.

And was off at scratch with the saute.

After staring at R2-D2 bubbling and hissing for ten minutes, I realized that I had it on the wrong setting. But all told, it had about 17 minutes of high-pressure cooking before I mixed in an entire packet of cream cheese and a small container of Greek yogurt. The result was very rich and comforting, with a sour pucker from the yogurt. However, it did not taste like cheese, and it was a tad on the bland side. I added 1/4 cup vermouth to prink it up and was pleased with the result.

I will say that it's the sort of soup you really don't want to eat in large quantities...I'm never against indulgence, but a heaping bowlful took several hours to recover from. And when I heat this up for dinner tomorrow, I am definitely going to add some actual cheese.