Thursday, October 30, 2008

Essay: Cooking Silently: Liza Shore

By permission from cooking... silently (See original post: Whoopie Pies)

Ask anyone who even remotely knows me, and they'll tell you: for at least six months I have been proclaiming the whoopie pie as the next big dessert.

Why? Well, I'm glad you asked.

The whoopie pie has humble, but not very detailed, origins. A popular East coast treat, they are most commonly found in the heart of New England. They are often attributed to the Pennsylvania Dutch, but there is not much literature (perhaps this is my calling? Whoopie pie literature?) offering more than that. Regardless, I will forever have an image in my head of early American settlers walking across the landscape holding whoopie pies in waxed paper. There are plenty of urban legends circulating, too. Some say that whoopie pies were originally created to be easily transportable, individual cakes. Some say that they got their name from the exclamations of children who loved the treats. And I remember reading once that their popularity was somehow tied to the invention of Marshmallow Fluff. Wherever they were created and why, I'm just glad they're catching on.

The most wonderful thing to me about the whoopie pie is that it is completely antithetical to the most recent trend in baked goods, cupcakes. I think we're all starting to realize that it's actually very hard to find an exceptional cupcake. It's not hard to find one that LOOKS amazing, but usually the taste and/or texture disappoints. Cupcakes, plain and simple, try to win us over with their looks. Whoopie pies... don't.

Once I embarked on my whoopie pie crusade, it took quite a bit of tinkering to come up with what I felt was the perfect recipe. Part of my goal was to have a really good base recipe-- something that could be altered for flavor without changing texture or consistency. I wanted my dry ingredient proportions to stay essentially the same, so that only the wet ingredients would really vary. It wasn't all fun and games, landing on the perfect recipe. The chocolate batter alone went through several iterations. An attempt at a cinnamon cake resulted in something that tasted eerily similar to Cinnamon Toast Crunch. One crazed night, in an attempt to make perfectly uniform Whoopie Pies, I bought a plunger-gun that supposedly dispenses batter evenly. It didn't. These whoopie pies were turning out to be quite the endeavor, I tell you!

My other goal was to come up with a perfect, and shortening-free filling. For whatever reason, most whoopie pie recipes call for shortening in both the filling and in the cake. And, while I may tend to have shortening on hand in my freezer at all times, I know most people don't. It's an ingredient that people are scared of, hesitant to buy: "When else am I going to use that?" Lucky for us, there's butter!

So, regarding frosting, there are two options in my opinion. One is a simple butter/powdered sugar frosting. The key to this is creaming the butter forEVER, otherwise it will taste too thick. Cream it, cream it, and then cream it more, until it is super light and fluffy. Remember: when it comes to frosting, you really can't over-cream. Add a splash of vanilla and a pinch of salt with the powdered sugar. The other option is an italian meringue buttercream, a rich frosting lightened with egg whites. Recipes vary in quantities, and I haven't found one that I'm married to, but Martha Stewart and Dorie Greenspan will never lead you wrong.

And now, without further ado, my Whoopie Pie recipe-- fluffy, spongy, moist, and delicious slathered with frosting.

Chocolate Whoopie Pies

2 c flour
1/2 c cocoa powder
1 1/4 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 c buttermilk
1 t vanilla
1 stick butter
1 c brown sugar
1 egg

Whisk together dry ingredients. Add vanilla to buttermilk. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg. Alternate additions of wet and dry ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry. Bake at 350, until cakes spring back to the touch.

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