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Omni Parker House
Omni Parker House
Rachel Leah Blumenthal

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How Omni Parker House's Boston Cream Pie Became a Slice of Local History

The stately Omni Parker House in Boston has played host to many important people, both guests and employees — and it has birthed two important food items, the Boston cream pie and Parker House rolls. Here, in honor of Classics Week, a look at the history behind the Boston cream pie and how it is made.

From the Omni Parker House's gilded lobby, full of intricately carved wooden details and twinkling chandeliers, there's a labyrinth of staircases down to a basement kitchen that produces 720 Parker House rolls every day — just for the restaurant. That's not counting all the extras made for banquets, and there's a banquet every day.

Dutchess dough divider

The dough to make those rolls goes through an antique Dutchess dough divider, a formidable piece of machinery (that the Smithsonian would love to snag from the hotel, thank you very much) that punches a ball of dough into 36 smaller balls in one swift movement. The Dutchess sits next to a marble table where a young Ho Chi Minh toiled as a baker from 1911 to 1913, decades before delving into politics and revolution back in Vietnam.

Down here, you can also find pastry chef Tuoi Tran, who has been at the hotel for 16 years, making the signature Boston cream pie — weighing out the dry ingredients, mixing them with the wet ingredients in an industrial-sized mixer featuring a whisk as big as your head, pouring the batter into pans, and guiding it into the oven. Then, the fun part: slicing the cake into two layers, piping a thick layer of rum-infused pastry cream between them, carefully frosting the top with chocolate fondant and white fondant, and coating the sides with toasted almonds.

The famous dessert, in reality more cake than pie, debuted with the hotel in 1856, and it was originally called "chocolate cream pie." Why pie, despite its sponge cake composition?

"At that time, pie and cake tins were often considered interchangeable, as were the words themselves," explains Aimee Seavey in Yankee Magazine. "This lax approach to labeling is likely why [chef and Boston cream pie creator] Sanzian's French-inspired concotion debuted as 'Chocolate Cream Pie' in 1856, and why subsequent versions continued to be called pies rather than cakes."

The recipe's no secret; it's simply a matter of making sponge cake, pastry cream, and two icings — chocolate and white — and then assembling it all just so, including a generous dusting of those toasted almonds around the outside.

A small round piece of Boston cream pie sits on a white plate, garnished with a strawberry, chocolate sauce shaped like a row of hearts, and whipped cream Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater Boston

A mini Boston cream pie at Omni Parker House/Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The creation of the now-widespread dessert is only a sliver of Parker's Restaurant's history. The grand dining room reportedly played host to John F. Kennedy's proposal to Jacqueline Bouvier, and chefs Emeril Lagasse, Lydia Shire, and Jasper White have all passed through the kitchen.

These days, executive chef Gerry Tice helms the restaurant; this will be his 15th year there. The Boston native "likes to enhance his plates with herb-infused oils" and "always has garlic, fresh herbs and French wine to prepare his favorite dishes." A Johnson and Wales alum, he has worked as executive chef at hotels around the country.

Gerry Tice

Gerry Tice/Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Tice's menu all but screams "New England," from the chowder to the lobster roll, the baked schrod to the Sam Adams-battered fish and chips. And for those in the know, it's an unexpected lunch option in Downtown Crossing, albeit a pricey one, featuring sandwiches from $15 and up. On the side, diners can order Boston baked beans, keeping it classic.

The classic menu has an ambiance to match, from the white tablecloths to the luxurious chairs, the heavy red curtains to the elaborate golden picture frames. There's fabric everywhere and carpet under foot, swallowing up every sound. A wide staircase twists behind a row of green plants and up to the more casual Parker's Bar, a place for the less tablecloth-inclined to gather.

Nowadays, Boston cream pie has become fairly ubiquitous around the city, whether plated fancily at a sit-down restaurant or sold in cake, cupcake, or even doughnut form at bakeries around town. Here are some places where you can grab a history-steeped slice.

The Boston cream pie has been Massachusetts' official state dessert since 1996, thanks to the efforts of a high school class from Norton. The ganache-topped titan conquered other noble contenders, such as Indian pudding and Toll House cookies.