A TALE OF TWO BOSTONS
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Off we flew to Florida, hearts heavy thinking of leaving Marty behind, yet hearts light assuring ourselves that we had left him in good hands, highly recommended, a place where he could spend his days out of doors, dashing in and out of the trees with furry companions, getting dirty to his little heart’s content, basking in the warm summer sun of Nantes. We said our goodbyes, turned away and left for vacation.
Fast forward 24 hours or so. Open the door and walk into mom’s house to be greeted by Buster, her own little Boston terrier. Pudgy butterball to Marty’s spindly elegance, Buster barrels through the house, little clown face barely large and round enough to contain his toothy grin, he is a happy little dog basking in the joy of four weeks of constant attention, tummy rubs and playing companions. Yes, we feel just a little guilty each time we snuggle with Buster, toss the ball with Buster, pamper and spoil Buster, feeling guilty that at that very moment our own poor Marty is in some cage, all alone on the other side of the Atlantic without our constant show of love, without his daily ration of treats, but we smile and reassure each other that he must be having a ball.
And Buster deserves this attention. Poor little Boston is an orphan; he was my brother Michael’s dog and after having lived through the horror of my brother’s illness for close upon two years, of having been neglected and abused by one who could do no better under the circumstances, who knew no better as he was, he was welcomed into my mother’s house a year ago last June when they brought my brother home. He lost his master and gained a mistress; my mother the self-proclaimed dog hater clung onto this little creature as a way to hold onto her son. And she has fallen in love. My mom, independent and set in her ways, is in total sync with pudgy Buster now: their daily rhythm filled with doggie treats given like clockwork, ball toss sessions in the backyard, even walks around the block! She takes him to work where he lies at her feet only jumping up to greet visitors. He is a good little dog, calm and funny. As we watch him plod through the house then plop down onto the cool tile floor, legs splayed out looking for all the world like a large black and white frog, or suffer through one of his sneezing fits that lifts his entire body off of the floor, or laugh as he juggles his little red ball, rolling it across his back and down his nose, we realize how lucky the little devil is to have ended up in this funny Odd Couple relationship with my mom, to have found peace… the Spring of Hope.
Close to four weeks of activity, constant attention and spoiling, we left Buster content, happy and having to go back to finding his daily rhythm again with mom. Anxious to get back home to our own beds, our own kitchen and our daily habits, we suffered through the long three flights and airport layovers with only one thought in our minds: bust Marty out of prison…er, um, I mean: pick Marty up from camp! We arrived home 24 hours later, dropped our bags in the hallway and rushed out to the car and off we dashed! And then… heartbreak…
To make a long story short… I had started to tell the whole disturbing story but will spare you the gory details. Needless to say, while we were pampering his cousin, Marty was suffering. While it was the Best of Times for Buster, it was heartrendingly the Worst of Times for Marty: on close inspection once we arrived home, we saw that his body was littered with bite marks and scars, he was limping in obvious pain, bleeding still from fresh bites and he lay down on a clean sheet and cried for 24 hours. Some of it may have been for show, to make us feel our guilt, milk it for all it was worth, but poor baby did not enjoy camp, did not make friends, did not have a good time. He had been bullied and bitten; it was indeed his Winter of Despair…
A week has gone by and his wounds are healing and he seems close to normal. It is his turn to be spoiled and pampered,, cuddled and hugged. But our hearts have been ripped out of our chests and we swore on his tiny, scarred head that he will never be left alone again. He is part of the family and vacations will be planned accordingly.
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
I have made one fabulous Boston Cream Pie before, traditional in it’s light-as-air sponge layers, its luxurious vanilla pastry cream filling, it’s dark chocolate ganache icing. In honor of Marty’s pudgy cousin Buster, in all of his clown-like glory, I have made tiny, plump, individual Boston Cream Pies, baking the sponge in muffin tins, filling the split cakes with a wonderful, rich chocolate pastry cream and draping each in a fantastic orange-infused semisweet chocolate ganache frosting. For the ganache I used a special Dark Chocolate with Orange Zest made by Monoprix Gourmet which gave these cakes, as it says on the package, “un petit air de fête”, a festive quality, like our time spent with Buster.
The sponge batter made 12 individual Boston Cream Pies. I baked a dozen mini-Bundt sponge cakes with the rest of the batter, delicious and delightful at breakfast or as a light snack.
So, here is to our Bostons, those charming, loving, funny little dogs, so different yet so alike.
BOSTON CREAM PIE
With Chocolate Pastry Cream Filling and Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache
5 large eggs
¾ cup (150 g) sugar, divided
½ tsp vanilla
3/4 cup (95 g) flour (I use cake flour)
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
3 Tbs milk
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter
1/8 tsp cream of tartar or few grains of salt + drop or two of lemon juice to stabilize whites
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter and line 12 muffins tins. Butter 12 mini-Bundt pans.
Carefully separate 3 of the eggs, placing the yolks in a large mixing bowl and the whites in a medium-sized mixing bowl, preferably plastic (ideal for whipping whites). Add the remaining 2 whole eggs to the yolks and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour with the baking powder and the salt.
In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the milk and butter just until warm enough for the butter to melt. Once melted, stir together, remove from the heat and set aside.
With an electric mixer, beat the eggs and the yolks together with 6 tablespoons of the sugar on high speed for 5 minutes until thick, light and fluffy and the batter drops off in a slow ribbon when the beaters are lifted. Beat in the vanilla.
In a clean mixing bowl, preferably plastic, and with very clean beaters, whip the egg whites with either the cream of tartar or a few grains of salt and a drop or two of lemon juice on low speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high and continue beating, gradually adding the remaining sugar. Beat only until soft, moist, shiny peaks form.
Gently fold in half of the creamy egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining beaten whites. Sift or spoon half the flour mixture over the batter and gently fold it in before adding the remaining flour and folding that in just until incorporated. Do not over mix.
Make a well on one side of the batter and pour the warm melted butter/milk mixture into the bowl. Gently but thoroughly fold the butter/milk into the batter. Again, do not over mix.
Ladle the batter into the prepared muffin or mini-Bundt pans, filling about 2/3. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes. They should be puffed up, golden brown and set. Remove from the oven, loosen with a sharp knife and lift out. Allow to cool on a cooling rack before Filling.
Chocolate Pastry Cream:
1 ¼ cups (300 ml) whole milk
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 large egg yolks (keep the whites for macarons!)
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
1/8 cup (20 g) flour
Scant 3 Tbs (20 g) cornstarch
2 oz (50 g) semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled to room temperature
In a medium bowl, stir the egg yolks and sugar together with a wooden spoon until thick and creamy. Sift the flour and cornstarch together then stir into the egg/sugar mixture until you have a paste.
Place the milk and the split vanilla bean in a saucepan and heat over a low flame just until boiling; the milk will start to foam up around the edges. Remove from the heat and add the melted chocolate, stirring until smooth. Add the hot chocolate milk mixture to the egg mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly so the eggs do not curdle, until all of the milk has been whisked into the egg paste. Remove the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds adding the seeds back to the chocolate cream mixture.
Place the chocolate milk/egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium low heat just until boiling, whisking constantly. When it comes to a boil allow it to cook, still whisking non-stop, for an additional 30 – 60 seconds until it becomes very thick.
Remove from the heat and immediately scrape out of the pan into a clean glass bowl or large measuring cup. If you like, you can stir in a tablespoon or two of Amaretto, Grand Marnier or whatever you like, to taste. But for this cake it really is not necessary.
Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic onto the surface of the pastry cream, and refrigerate until cool. You can keep the pastry cream in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache:
4 oz (120 g) Dark Chocolate with Orange Zest, finely chopped *
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
1 tsp unsalted butter
* Feel free to use any flavored dark chocolate
Place the finely chopped chocolate in a heatproof medium-sized bowl. Bring the cream and the butter just to the boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it comes to the bowl, pour the liquid over the chocolate and allow it to stand for 2 or 3 minutes. Stir until smooth and continue to stir until creamy and thick enough to spread. If you need to (as I did) place the bowl in the fridge until the desired pouring/spreading consistency is reached (not too thick or it won’t spread), taking the bowl out of the fridge and stirring every few minutes to check.
Individual Boston Cream Pies:
Using a serrated knife, carefully slice each sponge muffin in two horizontally. Gently spread a tablespoon or two – as much or as little as you like – of the Chocolate Pastry Cream on the bottom half of each cake. Sandwich. Drizzle Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache over the top of each cake and serve.
Serve the mini-Bundt sponge cakes with warm Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache drizzled over the top with ice cream for an elegant dessert or as is for breakfast or coffee break.