Making Whoopie Pies

whoopie pieAre whoopie pies the next big thing in desserts? Cupcakes have certainly had their run, and some argue that unusual ice cream flavors are still king. My vote is for the gourmet doughnut craze to reach Sacramento, but in the meantime, I’m hedging my bets with whoopie pies.

What are whoopie pies, you ask? They’re basically inside-out cupcakes. You make little cookie-shaped cakes and sandwich them with icing. Brilliant! Easy to eat, slightly different, but the same wonderful creamy icing and soft cake combo. They seem to be native to the Mid-Atlantic and New England states, but are gradually going national. Some friends of mine recently wrote a whole book on the subject–Whoopie Pies: Dozens of Mix ‘em, Match ‘em, Eat ‘em Up Recipes.

Being a good friend, I offered to test some of the recipes (and taste them too, of course). The classic combo is chocolate cakes with a marshmallow fluff-based filling. I’ve made that kind before, so I started with the Pumpkin Whoopie and Classic Cream Cheese filling. The photo in the book is on the left, and mine are on the right:

Hmmm. Mine were much more lumpy. I asked Amy Treadwell, one of the authors, if I had done something wrong. She said the pumpkin whoopies dome up higher than the other varieties. She also pointed out, “The stylist did the ones in the photo, but I think they were piped. Mine are usually a lot more freeform. I use two spoons or sometimes a melon baller to make the small ones.” They were well spiced and slightly sweet, rather than sugar bombs. On some of the pies, I pressed chopped candied ginger into the sides of the filling. That was a great addition.

Next, I made the Classic Chocolate Whoopie with Mint Buttercream filling and pressed crushed candy canes into the side (leftover from last Christmas, but still good!). With the last of the batter, I made hearts since today is my ninth wedding anniversary. I used teaspoons to make two ovals, meeting at the bottom. They were very exaggerated heart shapes before baking, and became rounded as they cooked. Chocolate and mint are always great together, and I’ll probably make these again for Christmas. Since the pumpkin version is more unusual, I’ll give that recipe below. For the mint filling, just add 1/2 teaspoon mint extract to a vanilla buttercream.

Just keep in mind that whoopies are for eating quickly! They don’t hold for long, as the cakes get sticky, so if you want to make them ahead, just wait until shortly before serving to fill them. Whoopie!

Pumpkin Whoopie

Makes about 30 four-inch cakes

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (packed) brown sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups solid pack pumpkin

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the brown sugar and butter on low speed until just combined. Add the pumpkin, then the egg, beating well. Add the vanilla and beat until combined.

Add the flour mixture and beat on low until just incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

[Note: I added 2 tablespoons warm water to loosen the batter a bit, which made the second batch of cakes a bit less lumpy.]

Using a small ice-cream scoop or 2-tablespoon scoop, drop about 2 tablespoons of batter onto one of the prepared baking sheets and repeat, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for about 15 minutes each, or until the cakes begin to crack and are firm to the touch. Let the cake cool on the sheet for at least 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Classic Cream Cheese Filling

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups (one 16-ounce box) confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter on medium speed. Add the sugar and beat on low speed until combined. Add the vanilla and increase the speed to medium; beat until creamy and smooth, about 4 minutes.

Match up similar-sized whoopie cakes. Fill them using an offset spatula or a piping bag. Sandwich the cakes and roll the sides in garnish, if desired.

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