Moms

Whoopie pies make a comeback as build-'em-yourself party treats

Want to be the life of the next party? Get busy making whoopie pies!

Sandwichy-treats that toggle the culinary line between a cookie and a cake, whoopie pies (aka "moon pies," "black-and-whites," "gobs" and "bobs") are de rigueur on dessert trays these days.

Whoopies have been an East Coast phenomenon for generations and most likely have Amish or Mennonite roots reaching back to medieval Germany, says Sarah Billingsley, a Pennsylvania native and co-author of the cookbook Whoopie Pies (Chronicle Books, $16.95), due out in April. Historians say Amish women packed the highly portable dessert in their farmer-husbands' or children's lunchboxes, prompting the recipients to exclaim "Whoopie!" when they discovered the treats. Coal miners called them "gobs" because they resembled chunks of coal, Billingsley added.

Whatever their beginnings, the cream-filled cookies have made their way into culinary pop culture: Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma recently rolled out whoopie-pie mixes and pans, food blogs are abuzz about them and Food Network Magazine features a recipe for a red velvet whoopie it its February edition. Locally, Central Market stores make and sell whoopie pies in their bakery departments. And they're on the dessert menu at Cafe Modern.

"We started seeing whoopie pies everywhere, and that's why we wrote the book," said Billingsley, who now lives in San Francisco. "... We're getting the gospel out there."

The whoopie hoopla touches on two important dessert trends these days, she says -- small desserts and nostalgic desserts. And while the most classic version is chocolate-marshmallow, the whoopie-cookies and fillings can be assembled in countless combinations -- sweet or savory. Whoopie Pies includes such creative recipes as The Happy Pilgrim (pumpkin-maple), Fat Elvis (banana-peanut butter-bacon), Rock the Casbah (cardamom-pistachio-rosewater buttercream) and jalapeño cornbread with bacon-chive-goat cheese filling.

Billingsley offered these whoopie-pie tips:

Vegetable shortening, not butter, will help the pies achieve their characteristic lightness, lift and rounded shape.

Use an ice cream scoop or a rounded tablespoon and push the dough out with your finger onto the baking pan. The dough should be the consistency of muffin batter.

When you're putting the cookies together to fill, match ones that have roughly the same circumference.

Use a resealable plastic/pastry bag to pipe the filling between cookies quickly and elegantly.

Jazz up your pies by filling them with Nutella, peanut butter or whipped cream, in addition to the classic filling. Roll them in sprinkles or crushed candy, or dip them in ganache.

They're best eaten within a day of making them because they can be a challenge to store. Best to store them in a single layer or wrap them individually. They can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days; freeze them for up to one month.

Get the kids involved! Have them help spread the filling onto the cookies and let them eat with their hands -- fun!

Classic chocolate whoopie

Makes about 48 two-inch cakes

12/3 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

11/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 tablespoons vegetable shortening

1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup milk

Classic marshmallow filling (recipe follows)

1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt onto a sheet of wax paper. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, shortening and brown sugar on low speed until just combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for 2 more minutes.

3. Add half of flour mixture and half of milk to batter and beat on low until just incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add remaining flour mixture and 1/2 cup milk and beat until completely combined.

4. Using a spoon, drop about 1 tablespoon of batter onto a prepared baking sheet and repeat, spacing at least 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes each, or until the pies spring back when pressed gently. Remove from oven and let cakes cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

To assemble: Spread filling onto the flat side a cake using a knife or spoon. Top it with another cake, flat-side down. Repeat with the rest of the cakes and filling. Alternatively, you can use a pastry bag with a round tip to pipe the filling onto the cakes, which will give you a neater presentation.

Nutritional analysis per cake: 136 calories, 8 grams fat, 15 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 7 milligrams cholesterol, 70 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 52 percent of calories from fat.

Classic marshmallow filling

11/2 cups Marshmallow Fluff (or other prepared marshmallow cream, which will do in a pinch)

11/4 cups vegetable shortening

1 cup confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together Marshmallow Fluff and shortening, starting on low and increasing to medium speed until the mixture is smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

2. Reduce mixer speed to low, add confectioners' sugar and vanilla, and beat until incorporated. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes more.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 69 calories, 5 grams fat, 6 grams carbohydrates, no protein, no cholesterol, 3 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber, 66 percent of calories from fat.

Jalapeño cornbread whoopie

Makes about 48 2-inch cakes

11/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large egg

2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and finely chopped

Bacon-chive goat cheese filling (recipe follows)

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the buttermilk, butter, and egg on low speed until just combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until thoroughly combined, about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture and the chopped chiles to the batter and beat on low until just combined.

3. Using a spoon, drop about 1 tablespoon 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 12 minutes each or until the cakes begin to brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Note: Try adding 1/2 cup of shredded Cheddar cheese and leaving out the jalapeño. For the filling, spread with chutney and top with a slice of ham for a whoopie lunch.

To assemble: Spread filling onto the flat side of one cake using a knife or spoon. Top it with another cake, flat-side down. Repeat with the rest of the cakes and filling. Alternatively, you can use a pastry bag with a round tip to pipe the filling onto the cakes, which will give you a smoother, neater presentation.

Nutritional analysis per cake: 59 calories, 3 grams fat, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 12 milligrams cholesterol, 104 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 47 percent of calories from fat.

Bacon-chive goat cheese filling

6 slices bacon

4 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, at room temperature

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

1. In a medium skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool. When cool, crumble into small pieces.

2. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together goat cheese, cream cheese and milk on low speed until just combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the crumbled bacon and the chives and beat on low until combined.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 24 calories, 2 grams fat, trace carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 32 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 79 percent of calories from fat.

Red velvet whoopie pies

Makes 18 sandwich cookies

For the cookies:

1 ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 ounce milk chocolate, chopped

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup sour cream

2 large eggs

11/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon red food coloring

21/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

21/2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped

1. Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the semisweet and milk chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave at 50 percent power until melted, about 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth.

2. Whisk the melted butter, sour cream, eggs, vinegar, vanilla and food coloring in a bowl until combined. In another bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

3. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in four equal batches, whisking each batch completely before adding the next. Stir in the melted chocolate.

4. Scoop heaping tablespoonfuls of batter onto the prepared baking sheets and smooth the tops with a damp finger. Bake until the cookies spring back when lightly pressed, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

5. Meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the cream cheese and butter with a mixer until smooth. Beat in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla seeds. Sandwich a heaping tablespoonful of filling between 2 cookies; repeat with the remaining cookies and filling. Refrigerate 30 minutes before serving

Nutritional analysis per cookie: 330 calories, 17 grams fat, 43 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 66 milligrams cholesterol, 182 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 45 percent of calories from fat.

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