Introducing the whoopie pie to the West Coast
Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES
Though three states argue over its point of origin, each claiming rights to this delicious dessert, I have met only a handful of people in California who have heard of whoopie pies. Even Microsoft Word spell check refuses to recognize it. However, this hybrid of cake and cookie is very real. A favorite among those living in the Northeast, the whoopie pie is two cake-like cookies sandwiched with creamy frosting.
Traditionally, the cookies are chocolate and filled with either marshmallow fluff or vanilla frosting made with sugar and vegetable shortening. Personally, I have a violent dislike for the vile creations that are hydrogenated vegetable shortening, more commonly known as Crisco, and jarred marshmallow fluff. My inner California hippie shrinks back from processed and fake foods, a by-product of my home-cooked upbringing — and besides, marshmallow fluff tastes way better from scratch. When I do not have the time to make my own fluff, my stand-by for whoopies is cream cheese frosting, with which you can almost never go wrong.
Its origin is foggy with the name as its only unifying factor. Pennsylvanians attribute the creation to Amish mothers who would put the treat into the lunch pails of their children. The children were said to shout “Whoopie!” when they discovered their lunchtime dessert. This is a very cute story of mothers’ invention with leftover cake batter to delight their children, fitting of the quaintness often bestowed upon the Amish.
The Berwick Cake Company in Boston is said to have made whoopie pies from the 1930s until its demise in the late 1970s. As fervently as they defend their sports, Bostonians are also fierce about their part in whoopie pie history.
Maine, however, took the boldest step in staking their claim. In April 2011, a bill naming the whoopie pie as the “state treat” of Maine became law. Somehow the governor felt that such a bill was a waste of his time, so it was voted into law by the state's legislature instead.
If this extreme measure is not enough testimony to credit the scrumptious nature of the whoopie pie, both Maine and Pennsylvania throw annual whoopie pie festivals. Full of contests, fun runs to work off the whoopie pies consumed, rides, games and farmers markets, these festivals celebrate this beloved treat with friends and family. We should follow their example by baking and eating pumpkin whoopie pies with many friends this autumn.
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Frosting
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups canned pumpkin puree
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease or spray one or two cookie sheets. This will help make it easier to reuse the cookie sheet and prevent the cookies from sticking.
Although using an electric mixer would be a little quicker, a whisk will work just as well for all parts of this recipe.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a separate bowl, mix together all of the wet ingredients: granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla extract and pumpkin puree.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until the mixture is completely homogeneous. Do not continue to mix the batter after it is well combined, as this results in over-mixing. When an item is over-mixed, it will not be as tender as intended and there will be large, uneven air pockets called “tunnels” throughout the cookies.
Spoon out 4 tablespoons of batter and drop it on the cookie sheet in a neat pile. Space evenly, at least half an inch apart. Even though the batter seems on the loose side, they will not spread very much. Put the whoopie pies in the oven and bake for eight to 10 minutes. Checking the cookies to see if they are completely baked is similar to checking a cake. Lightly press on top and it will spring back if it is done. If it is undercooked, there will be a dent in the place you touched.
Let them sit for a couple minutes and then move the cookies off the cookie sheet to a plate, paper towel or rack to finish cooling. While you wait, prepare the cream cheese frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
3 cups powdered sugar
13 1/2 ounces (1 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons) cream cheese, room temperature
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Tips: Most cream cheese packages have lines marking ounces, just like sticks of butter mark tablespoons, for easy measuring. Also, using an electric mixer – either hand or stand – reduces time and effort on your part. A rubber spatula and some elbow grease also works; just make sure the butter and cream cheese are very soft. Although it might take a little longer, such efforts will be rewarded with fantastic frosting.
Beat the butter and cream cheese together until light and creamy. Add the powdered sugar in three separate additions. Mix the sugar in well after each addition, scraping the bottom of the bowl well. This frosting should be smooth, creamy and delicious — no lumps allowed.
Let the finished frosting chill in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before using. This time will allow the cream cheese and butter to firm up, making the job of filling the whoopie pies significantly easier. Frosting that is too soft will escape out the sides when you sandwich them together, creating a very messy dessert.
Take a whoopie pie and spoon 2-3 tablespoons of frosting onto the flat surface, spreading it evenly. Sandwich with a second whoopie pie, the flat side in contact with the frosting. Eat one, or two, or three...