Here’s the deal with desserts: there’s a time for those pretty oh-la-la affairs, and then there’s a time for something squidgy that you can hold in your hand. Recently, I was craving something in the latter category and turned to Whoopie Pies. They remind me of being a little kid on the swing in our backyard. They remind me of Hi-C moustache stains and hunting for crabs and clam shells on the beach. There is nothing nutritionally virtuous about a whoopee pie—they’re loaded with butter and sugar, which is precisely why I was so drawn to the recipe printed in the NY Times last month.
According to said article, whoopie pies are experiencing a trendy resurgence, hot on the heels of that other kid-friendly dessert called the cupcake (remember those?). I don’t understand food trends. Everyone freaks out about bacon for the whole of 2008, only to completely denounce it the next year. Worse than all the here-today-gone-tomorrow twittering is the wad of cash some are willing to shell out in search of the most perfect specimen, especially when all of the ingredients necessary are already at home in the cupboard.
For me, this article conjured up the best kind of nostalgia. We ate whoopie pies every summer on the beach. My sister and I used to pool our change together and run down to the candy store where they sold whoopie pies in plastic wrap by the cash register. Barefoot and covered in sand, we’d walk back to our towels with sodas and whoopee pies in hand to watch kids dive off of the rocks into the surf. Traditionally, I ended up sharing my whoopie pies with my little sister, for as genetics would have it, I turned out to be more of a cake-eater and she an icing-only proponent. This has always been ideal when it comes to birthday cakes, wedding cakes, and cupcakes. We weren’t typically keen on sharing, but when it comes to cake, we have always had a seamless understanding.
Now, as humble as these pies are, I should warn you that the Time's recipe employs the use of Swiss buttercream frosting. Don't be frightened! Although it is a bit more high-maintenance, it is the perfect counterpart to the firm chocolate cakes. Swiss buttercream stays smooth and shiny, and doesn’t taste as sugary as most frostings because the egg whites and butter lend the structural heft usually provided by confectioner’s sugar. It also holds up well to piping (if you're feeling fancy), but it is the kind of frosting that makes even a cake-eater like myself cross over to the dark side. I like to add a bit more salt to my frosting, but then again, I like salt on just about everything. In short, when it comes time to make the frosting, be patient, use a stand-mixer and it will all turn out fine. Lastly, do not be alarmed by the quantity of butter in the recipe. Yes, it is a whole lot of butter, but clearly this is not diet food. Trendy or not, bring these pies to a picnic and you’ll have no trouble with pesky leftovers.
Recipe From Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, MIINGREDIENTS FOR THE CAKES:1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, at room temperature1 cup light brown sugar1 large egg1 teaspoon vanilla extract1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda1 teaspoon sea salt2 cups all-purpose flour1/2 cup cocoa1 cup buttermilkINGREDIENTS FOR THE BUTTERCREAM FILLING:3 large egg whites3/4 cup sugar1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), at room temperature3/4 teaspoon vanilla1/4 teaspoon sea saltDIRECTIONS:1. For the cakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until light and creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk together the baking soda, salt, flour and cocoa. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in three parts, alternating with buttermilk, and combining well after each addition.2. Using an ice cream scoop or a spoon, scoop out 12 1/4-cup mounds of batter and place about 6 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before filling.3. For the buttercream filling: For best results, follow directions carefully, paying attention to required temperatures. Fill bottom half of a double boiler (or a medium saucepan) with an inch or two of water, and bring to a boil over high heat. In top half of double boiler (or a metal bowl), combine egg whites and sugar. Place over simmering water and whisk just until sugar is dissolved and temperature reaches 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.4. Using a whisk attachment on a heavy-duty mixer, whisk egg whites and sugar on high until they double in volume and become thick and shiny. Continue to whisk until cool. Reduce speed to medium and begin to add butter about 1/2 tablespoon at a time, until all the butter is incorporated. Add vanilla and salt. If mixture looks curdled, continue to whisk until it is smooth. Increase speed to high and whisk for 1 more minute. Use immediately or place in an airtight container and chill for up to 3 days, whisking buttercream again before using.5. For assembly: Using an ice cream scoop or spoon, place 1/4 cup buttercream on flat side of each of 6 cakes, spreading it to edges. Top filled half with another cake to sandwich the buttercream. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or wrap individually and freeze for up to 3 months.Makes 6 pies.