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Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Dark Truth About Whoopie Pies

I don't know if you've been following the burning controversy surrounding Whoopie Pies and the campaign to make them--not blueberry pie-- the official dessert of the State o' Maine. For sure, there are other things that might be catching your eye, like that little dust up in the Middle East. Or the nutsiness out in Wisconsin. Or the fact the end of the world is coming on May 21st. Or, well, let's just put it out there: The moth-to-flame adventures of Chuckie Sheen.

But being a baker and a bubble head, I've been keeping up with the aformentioned Whoopie Pie hoopla and the Tri-State Whoopie Pie mania that's ensued. And I can't help feeling just a little bit smug. Because I was onto these babies years ago, as a result of a trip up to Maine during which my obsessed family purchased Whoopies at virtually every deli, gas station, and market in the state. The kids and Paul bought them because--with all that creamy white yumminess oozing out between hockey-puck-sized cakes--the Whoopies all looked so utterly irresistible.

Here's the dark truth about why I personally kept buying them: I was hoping against hope I'd find one that actually tasted as yummy as it looked. And the fact is I never really hit pay dirt. The chocolate cake part was sort of bland and the cream was absolutely flat. When I got home, I got to work, scouring the Internet for a better Whoopie Pie. En route, I learned what Whoopie proponents are arguing about now: That both Maine and Pennsylvania lay claim to the cakes. I also learned why most Whoopies weren’t making me want to say “Whoopie”: The cake is often made with shortening. And the cream? It basically IS shortening. Whipped Crisco with lots of sugar and some vanilla if you’re lucky. Ew. Finally, though, I found a few promising prospects and I baked all of them. This one here is the best I’ve come upon. There’s still a nice, trashy touch: Marshmallow Fluff is the cornerstone of their filling. But there’s also a comforting amount of butter in the picture. Bring these to your next school bake sale and you will be a rock star. Bring these to Maine and maybe THESE will deserve the "Official Dessert" title campaigners have been angling for. In the meantime, I think Mainers should stick with blueberry pie and make nice with the peeps in Pennsylvania.

For the Cakes:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

(Dutch process, if possible, but not at all mandatory)

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 large egg


For the Filling:

(This is enough for two batches of Whoopies)

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar

2 cups marshmallow cream such as Marshmallow Fluff

1 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a handheld, then add egg, beating until combined well. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

Spoon 1/4-cup mounds of batter about 2 inches apart onto 2 buttered (or parchmented) large baking sheets. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack to cool completely.

Make filling:
Beat together butter, confectioners sugar, marshmallow, and vanilla in a bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Assemble pies:
Spread a rounded tablespoon or so of filling (not too much!!) on flat sides of half of cakes and top with remaining cakes. Cakes can be made up to three days ahead, separated by wax paper in airtight containers and kept in a cool-ish place or in the fridge (and let them warm up a tiny bit before serving).