The Given Day by Dennis Lehane is one of the best books I have read this year. It takes place in Boston, my hometown, during the Boston Police Strike of 1919. An obvious choice for a recipe to go with this book is Boston Cream Pie, which is no named because it was created by a chef at the Parker House Hotel on Tremont Street in the 1850s. I decided to "Boston up" the recipe by adding Irish Whiskey to the pastry cream and the chocolate glaze. This final cake was my second try, it was worth the effort. For book review and recipe,
THE GIVEN DAY BY DENNIS LEHANE
The Given Day is an epic historical novel set in the time leading up to the Boston Police Strike in 1919 which caused the city to erupt in riots and violence. Although I am a lifelong Bostonian, I was not familiar with the Boston Police Strike or much about the history of the City in the time between WWI and WWII. The novel is mainly told from the perspective of two people – Danny Coughlin, a young Boston policeman and union leader, and Luther Laurence, an African American man from the Midwest who recently moved to Boston to escape the wrath of a drug dealer/gangster in Tulsa, where he was living with his wife. At the beginning of the book and at select places throughout, Lehane turns his attention to Babe Ruth (at a time before “the curse”) when he was a player for the Red Sox. The Prologue of the novel is told from Ruth’s perspective, when a the train carrying the Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs from Chicago to Boston during the 1918 World Series breaks down in Ohio, conveniently next to a baseball field. As the Red Sox players wait for the train to be fixed, they get involved in a pickup baseball game against a team of African-American players who were involved in a game of their own. The white players end up winning the game by cheating. As it turns out, Luther Laurence, who eventually becomes a main focus of the book, was a player in that game and the Babe shows up a few times in the novel.
The heart of Lehane’s story is Danny Coughlin, whose father Thomas Coughlin is a powerful Captain in the Boston Police Department. Danny thinks differently than his father; he is more open to new ideas like starting a policeman’s union and befriends people outside his South Boston Irish immigrant circle. Danny’s more modern world view is likely shaped by his status as a second generation American versus his father’s status as an Irish immigrant who had to climb his way to the top from nothing (in contrast Danny was given every advantage an Irish-Catholic boy could be given in 1919). The tension between Danny and his father is a central theme in the book and you get the sense that, to some extent, Danny follows the path he does to rebel against his father.
Danny exerts his independence in many ways: by living in the North End, a neighborhood populated by Italian immigrants rather than South Boston where his family lives, by befriending Luther, who works in the Coughlin household, and by holding a torch for Nora, an Irish immigrant who works in the Coughlin family household and is dating Danny’s brother Connor. But the main source of Danny’s rebellion from his father is through is his involvement of, and eventual leadership of, the effort to unionize the Boston Police Department. At the time the novel takes place the American labor movement was in full swing, but the national labor unions had not accepted many police or fireman unions. Most policemen in Boston were of Irish descent and were veterans of World War I. The police were paid below the poverty level – their salaries had not been adjusted in many years and did not account for inflation. The police worked long hours, often having to spend the night in station houses that were vermin infested and sometimes did not have proper plumbing. In addition the police had to pay for their own uniforms and were not given any benefits if they were injured in the line of duty. Danny becomes a leader with the rank and file in the effort to establish a police union and the main negotiator with the police department leadership and the national union. Throughout the novel, the efforts to create a police union are crushed by the villainous police commissioner – Edward Curtis. The novel builds to a climax where the union supporters decide to strike, resulting in several violent, lawless nights in the city.
There is so much going on in this book I can’t get to it all or this review will go from long to epic: “Bolshevik” terrorism, dirty cops, race relations, love stories, family issues, crooked politicians, inept politicians and more. In my opinion, this book is the ideal historical novel. The story and characters are completely and totally engrossing in the way of the best traditional novels and at the same time the historical setting and descriptions are equally engrossing. In the end, you get a great book with a hefty history lesson thrown in. Go get this book and read it, as these few words can’t do it justice.
Irish Whiskey Spiked Boston Cream Pie
Adapted From the Joy of Cooking, Irma Bombauer (1997 Version)
So I guess the obvious choice here was Boston Cream Pie. A classic dish associated with Boston because it was created at the Parker House Hotel in Boston in the 1850s. As you likely know, Boston Cream Pie is not a pie, but a yummy pastry cream stuffed, chocolate glazed cake. You don’t see it that much these days except in Dunkin Donuts form. I was going to make the original Parker House recipe, but it looked a little weird (8 eggs and 1 cup of flour), so I decided to go with Martha Stewart’s version. Unfortunately, that was a big failure, I doubled the cake recipe and it just did not turn out well – caved in, sticky and too eggy. So on my next try I went with Joy of Cooking – instead of a sponge cake, which I had failed with already, I went with the 1234 cake. I used the basic pastry cream recipe and the chocolate ganache recipe, and added irish whiskey to both. I actually think this is the first time I have cooked out of the Joy of Cooking, I usually go with more current cookbooks, but I have to say this cake turned out great, the recipe was easy to follow and did not involve difficult techniques or ingredients. I will definitely turn to this cookbook more often.
Ingredients 1234 Yellow Cake (makes 3 cake layers, I only used 2)
2 2/3 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 and 3/4 cups sugar, seperated into 1 1/2 cups and 1/4 cup portions
4 eggs, seperated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
1 1/3 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 teaspoons whiskey
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon whiskey
Preheat oven to 350, grease three 9 inch cake pans and line with parchment paper (I used pam and it worked great). Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. A couple of times is best but one is fine. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla.
In a large bowl (I used my Kitchen Aid) beat until creamy (about a minute) butter, gradually add 1 and 1/2 cups of the sugar and beat on high speed till light and creamy, I did about 5 minutes.
Beat in egg yolks, 1 at a time (I did it all at once and it was fine). Then add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk/vanilla. Mix until just combined, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.
Now, I don't know about you, but I only have one standing mixer, so I did the next part by hand using a large bowl and whisk. It wasn't so bad, try it. Take the 4 egg whites and cream of tartar and beat until they hold soft peaks. Then add the 1/4 cup sugar (I did this in two parts) and beat until the egg whites hold stiff peaks but "are not dry" - I took this to mean still glossy.
Fold 1/4 of the egg white mixture into the cake batter, then fold in the rest of the egg whites. Divide among the three pans, smooth out, and bake for 25-35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. My cake took about 32 minutes. Let cool on wire rack in pan for 15 minutes. Then run a knife around the edge and flip cakes out. Let cool completely.
While cake is cooling you can make the pastry cream, or you can do it a day ahead and keep in fridge.
In a medium bowl, beat the sugar, flour, cornstarch and egg yolks on high speed until thick and pale yellow (2-5 minutes). Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan bring the milk to a simmer.
Pour about 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg mixture (I used a ladle), stiring to combine. Then transfer the egg/milk mixture into the saucepan and cook, whisking constantly over low to medium heat until it thickens and begins to bubble. Once it bubbles, cook and whisk for 45 to 60 seconds more. Transfer the custard to a bowl, and stir in the whiskey. Cover with plastic or wax paper to prevent a skin forming and cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate.
Bring the heavy cream to boil in a saucepan. Take off heat, stir in chocolate till almost melted. Then cover and wait ten minutes. Then stir and whisk until ganache is smooth and stir in the whiskey. Let cool a little bit more so that it is pourable but not hot.
To assemble, place one cake layer on a cake plate to stand. Pour about a cup and half of the pastry cream on top and spread evenly.
Place second layer on top. Pour chocolate ganache over the cake and spread so that it spills down the sides.
I did not frost the sides.
I also added a white chocolate decoration like they do at the Parker House. I melted about half a cup of white chocolate chips in the microwave (30 seconds, stir, then 15 more seconds). I put the white chocolate in a small plastic bag. Cut a whole in the corner, then drew spirals on the cake, starting in the center. I think took a toothpick and drew lines through the spirals starting in the center. Very easy and so pretty!