Tuesday, July 3, 2012

working title - I'm giving up the goods. or, The Whoopie Pie Recipe

Be prepared for pretentiousness, the whoopie pie is my thing. Also be prepared for a lot of commas.

There has been a sweeping trend of whoopie pies over the past few years, going along with the bigger trend of general handheld mini desserts like cupcakes and macarons, but to my dismay so many of the so-called whoopie pies disappoint.  Most of them are made like little cupcake sandwich cookies, and while better than regular cupcakes (since my main upset with cupcakes is that the ratio of frosting to cake is underwhelming and really, the frosting is the whole reason why i'm eating a cupcake in the first place) they should be ashamed of themselves by claiming to be whoopie pies.

I only lived in maine for a few years but some of those years were one of the several fatty mcgoo periods i've had in my life and aside from dunkin donuts vanilla creme-filled doughnuts, whoopie pies satisfied the sugar-and-shortening-shaped hole in my heart during that time.  I don't claim to be an expert on most things but, well, I ate a lot of them.  I still do.

With macarons you either make them right or they simply aren't macarons, and with cupcakes there are no real rules deciding what's considered a cupcake except that it has to be an individual serving of both cake and frosting (unless you are on Cupcake Wars and apparently individual cheesecakes can be considered "cupcakes" but you probably won't make it to round three) (i mean your frosting could be made from avocados for goodness' sake), and it seems that most of the nation has a similar idea about what constitutes a whoopie pie as they do cupcakes which is "anything goes" and that is sort of okay for the rounds part so long as they are cakey yet not too sweet, like instead of traditional chocolate you could have carrot cake or something, but you have to have the right filling.  There are a couple variations bastardations of the filling out there, and the filling is really what sets a whoopie pie apart from everything else.  If you use just a buttercream or regular frosting they are no better than an oddly put together cupcake. If you use marshmallow creme in the center then you basically just made a moon pie.  In my opinion a real whoopie pie has a thickened milk* and shortening/butter filling, and in my family if you make and eat them the day of it can have a wonderful grainy sugar texture too, probably because we made it wrong once and liked it the way it turned out.  I have vague memories of us once reading the recipe and just seeing "sugar" in the ingredients, and my dad just saying let's use half powdered half granulated so we can be at least half right. 

I am about to share with you a family secret, more secret than Secret Sauce which i have likely already explained to everyone i've made it for.  It is even a secret within the family because i think only myself and my dad has the recipe, which was originally clipped from a Portland Press Herald newspaper article**.  I have been dragging my feet in posting this because holding the key to such an amazing creation makes me feel special, important, and if i give up the secret then what good will i be? Why keep me around anymore? What else will be my contribution to the world if anyone and everyone can easily make these?  I am willing to take the risk of obsolescence because apparently i have been (probably drunkenly) promising to post this for some friends and i like to live up to promises made so long as they are actually doable, and not like "make the bed everyday" or something else impossible or illogical.  Posting a recipe i think i can manage alright.

Whoopie Pies - Makes 12 giant pies or a billion little ones 
For Cakes:   
1 cup shortening
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 c plus 2 Tblsp cocoa, sifted
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups flour
2 tsp salt
2 cups milk
For Filling: 
2 Tblsp cornstarch
1 cup shortening
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups milk
1 cup butter, softened
3 cups sugar (i usually use just over half powdered, half granulated but all powdered is good too, without the grainy sugar texture)
For the cakes: cream together shortening and sugar until light.  Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until just combined, then add vanilla.  Separately, stir together the cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to shortening mixture while alternating with milk in small amounts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined. 
Using a 1/4 c measuring cup, spoon batter onto parchment lined sheet pan, spacing about two inches apart.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Removing pan and reversing position in oven after 7 minutes of baking helps keep cakes more uniform.  Cool on pan, then fill.
For the filling: heat milk and cornstarch in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook while stirring constantly until mixture boils and becomes thick.  Refrigerate until completely cooled. (after this is fully cooled you can press this through a sieve in order to remove any cornstarch lumps you might have). Separately, cream butter, shortening, and sugar until light, then add vanilla.  Stir in the cooled milk mixture and beat until smooth and creamy.  Fill cakes.
Since i don't have any "making of" pictures (which i think is key when you have something vague like "mixture becomes thick") here are a million and one pictures of these defrosted but still incredible whoopie pies, showcasing my penchant for blurry focus and bizarre lighting!

look at those beautiful saran wrap indents

*This recipe's milk is thickened with cornstarch, but a few Tablespoons of flour can be subbed in for the cornstarch if preferred.  According to the article, most traditional would be made with flour-thickened.
**Recipe originally credited to Amy Gullicksen of Aurora Provisions in Portland, Maine.

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