Much to the sorrow of my extended family of in-laws, I have never embraced ‘the Italian’ with the same level of passion. It’s not the food of my childhood, so it doesn’t set loose a flood of Proustian associations, the way it apparently does for them. But although I can’t enter into their tradition, I can understand it – I am a person, after all, who attempts to incorporate at least one visit to a particular North End pizzeria into my every trip to Boston.
So I’m willing to be supportive of the food obsessions of others. A few weeks before we moved to Australia the first time (ie in 2008), the three of us spent a week at the beach in Maine, about 30 minutes south of Portland. I knew there’d be at least one trip into town, timed so that we could not only buy Italians for on-the-spot consumption, but purchase a stash to bring back to Boston for DP and assorted siblings and parents. It was on this trip that I discovered, on my umpteenth trip, that Italians weren’t the only specialty available: there were also locally made whoopie pies for sale.
Whoopie pies are a Maine specialty (although whether they originated there or in Pennsylvania is a source of ongoing debate). They are a sandwich cookie, traditionally made with two cakey, chocolatey cookies stuck together with a creamy frosting. Imagine what an Oreo wants to be when it grows up and you’re probably not far off.
These whoopie pies were huge, gooey, and delicious. Miss B (then age 4), who remained dubious about the virtues of the Italian (despite an enthusiastic sales pitch from her father), latched on to these right away, and we shared several over the course of the week. She was quite downcast to leave them behind, knowing that they were unlikely to be readily available in Australia (or Boston, for that matter), and I promised her that I would figure out how to make them.
It’s only taken me four and a half years, but I’ve finally kept my promise.
Classic whoopie pies
People have come up with all sorts of combinations for these, but I’ve stuck with the classic chocolate/vanilla flavor pairing. I did dye the filling on these pink, though, because I made them for Valentine’s Day. Feel free to ignore.
From Hannaford Fresh magazine, July/August 2008*
¾ cup/1½ sticks/6 oz/180 g butter at room temperature
¾ cup/5 oz/150 g packed dark brown sugar
3 cups/12 oz/360 g all-purpose/plain flour
¾ cup/3 oz/90 g unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp/10 g baking soda
1 tsp/5 g salt
2 tsp/10 g baking soda
1 tsp/5 g salt
1½ cups/12 oz/360 ml buttermilk**
1½ tsp/7 ml vanilla extract
½ tsp/2 g instant coffee**
Filling – Seven-Minute Frosting
1½ cups/10 oz/300 g sugar
1 Tbsp/15 ml golden syrup
1/3 cup/3 oz/90 ml water
2 egg whites
1 tsp/5 ml vanilla
4-6 drops red food coloring (optional)
To make cookies:
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix butter and sugar with an electric mixer until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing each in completely before adding the next.
In a small bowl, stir together flour cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a jug or liquid measuring cup, stir together buttermilk, vanilla, and instant coffee until coffee is dissolved (this may take 1-2 minutes); set aside.
Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until smooth, then add half the buttermilk mixture and mix in thoroughly. Repeat sequence with remaining flour and buttermilk mixtures, scraping the sides of the bowl once or twice during the process to ensure that all ingredients are completely incorporated. Batter will be thick and fluffy when completely mixed.
Scoop 2-Tbsp or equivalent portions of batter onto prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 in/5cm between to allow for spreading. Bake for 11-13 minutes, until puffed and set, but still soft when touched. Let cakes cool for 3 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling, 15-20 minutes.
To make filling:
Half-fill a small saucepan with water and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Combine sugar, water, golden syrup, and egg whites in a bowl that will sit in the saucepan without touching the water, creating a makeshift double boiler. With an electric mixer, beat the mixture on medium continuously until it forms soft peaks, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and add vanilla and food coloring, if using; mix in thoroughly. Set filling aside to cool briefly.
To assemble whoopie pies:
Spoon a heaping teaspoon of filling onto flat side of a cake, then top with another cake, flat side to filling. Repeat with remaining cakes.
Serve immediately, or wrap pies individually in plastic wrap. Can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days, or in freezer for up to 2 months.
Makes about 2 dozen pies.
* This recipe is from a free magazine I picked up in a Hannaford’s supermarket; it has been shipped from Boston to Canberra, from Canberra to Missouri, and then back to Canberra again - all to compel me to keep my promise.
** I substituted Greek yogurt thinned with milk for the buttermilk, and ground coffee for the instant coffee, because those were what I had. Both worked perfectly well.