Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Makin' Whoopie......Pies

It's hard not to pay attention to foodie trends when your life is all about food, like mine, most of the time. And, in the Midwest, we seem to join those trends part way through the game. So, what's new and exciting to us might be old news to our coastal friends. Cupcakes have been at the forefront for the last few years (trend spotters should already know that cupcakes exploded onto the scene in 2003, with the opening of Sprinkles in Beverly Hills, CA). Here in the Twin Cities, where the trend has been very strong for a few years,we have no less than a dozen bakeries featuring the single-serving sweet treat. (Here's a great article from Slate.com on the cupcake bubble, written in 2009, a lifetime ago when talking about fads: http://www.slate.com/id/2227216/)  

French macarons have been tres chic for several years, too. Personally, I've been hoping for a Coconut Macaroon renaissance, myself, and have seen them showing up at many local bakeries. But, maybe I'm just hyper-sensitive to those little toasty delights since I've been immersed in them for the last year.

Whoopie Pies have been around since the 1930's, if stories out of Maine are to be believed. Or, are they originally from Pennsylvania? Or Ohio? No matter where they originated, they're here and they're teeth-achingly sweet and super easy. They're not quite a cookie, but are best described as two little mounds of cake with frosting in between. 

I recently picked up a new cookbook, whoopie pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell (Chronicle Books, 2010) and tried the recipe for chocolate whoopie pies. I ended up varying the recipe, since I found the cake a little dry. Their combinations are interesting, though, and there are quite a few recipes to try. The traditional filling is made of Marshmallow Fluff, Crisco, and powdered sugar (find the recipe in the book above), but I love buttercream frosting. As long as it's fairly stiff, any frosting will work. I'm not always a fan of frosting, so I sometimes to eat the little cakes all alone.

Here's my version:

Chocolate Whoopie Pies
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 unsweetened cocoa powder (I like the cocoa from Trader Joes)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, room temperature (I use salted butter - I know, I know, not what a real pastry chef would use!)
2 tbsp vegetable oil (I use canola)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1tsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375 . Line 2 pans with parchment paper.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Stir with a wisk or sift to remove clumps. In the work bowl of a mixer, beat butter and oil until combined. Then add brown sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes. 

Add the vinegar and half the flour mixture. Beat on low and add half the milk. Beat until just combined and scrape down the beater and the bowl. Add the rest of the flour and the milk. Beat on low until combined. Don't beat on high, as this will add air pockets. Let the batter rest for 5 minutes.

Drop by spoonful, or for best results, use a small ice cream scoop. You can even fill a pastry bag and squeeze more than a half dollar sized amount on the parchment paper. There should be at least 2 inches between each dollop. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until they spring back to the touch. Cool before filling.

Buttercream Filling
3 cups powdered sugar
1 stick butter, room temperature (again, I love salted butter for this)
3-4 tbsp heavy whipping cream (milk works, too - it just won't be as stiff)
1 tsp vanilla, or any flavoring you like (almond, rose flower, orange flower, peppermint)

In a medium size bowl, use a hand mixer (or a stand mixer) to mix the powdered sugar and the butter together (be careful not to turn it on too high or you'll be covered in white!). Add 3 tbsp of cream and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the last tablespoon of cream if the filling is too thick. The easiest way to put the filling on the cakes is to put it in a thick plastic bag (like a Ziploc freezer bag), squeeze it towards one corner, cut the corner so the opening is about 1/2 inch wide, and squeeze gently (the sides will split, if you're not careful. Been there, done that).

The variations I have in the photo are Coconut Rose Buttercream and Malted Milk Buttercream. For the first one, I added sweetened shredded coconut, a pinch of dried, roughly ground rose petals (only use rose petals that haven't been anywhere near pestisides or other nasty non-food sprays - best to get some at a co-op) and about a tablespoon of rose water. If you want to be a coconut purist, use coconut milk instead of cream. For the Malted Milk Buttercream, I added a few tablespoons of Carnation Malted Milk (you can use the plain or chocolate version, or you can use Ovaltine). There are recipes for these and others in the whoopie pies cookbook.

To Assemble:
Turn half of the cakes bottom side up. Squeeze enough frosting on to cover the bottom (I work in a slight spiral to cover the surface). Top with another cake and gently press so the filling shows at the edges. If you want, roll the sides in toasted coconut or mini chocolate chips.

Share your yummy treats with friends, co-workers and neighbors, or hoard them all to yourself (that's fine with me. I like to know I'm not the only one not sharing). But, be sure to eat them up quickly. They don't have a long shelf-life. I'm in the process of testing one of my whoopie pies in the freezer to see how it holds up. I even have some plain cakes in there, which I'll defrost and then fill with fresh frosting at a later date, when I need a sweet treat. Which means, they'll be in the freezer just long enough to get solid before I yank back them out. I'm sure the fresh ones won't be around for long.