The American whoopie pie is a curious thing. Not a pie at all really, more like two pieces of cake stuck together with a sticky filling. Cake-y as it might be, we think of the whoopie as an indulgence similar to a cookie to be tucked into a child's lunch box or as a palm-sized afternoon pick-me-up.
Though Florida isn't whoopie pie country, you'll see more of these sweet treats if you're a Starbucks regular. The chain just rolled out a line of petite desserts, and a three-bite, 190-calorie red velvet whoopie pie is among them. Get your fill of them there, then head into the kitchen to bake your own. They are not difficult, and once you master the simple shell recipe, you can take off on your own for the fillings, going beyond the traditional marshmallow to peanut butter, honey or coconut. And don't forget the bacon, whose salty yin bounces off the sweet yang beautifully. I love that savory-sweet thing.
The whoopie pie is sometimes called a gob or scooter pie, but it's not a moon pie or a trendy French macaron. It's easy to get confused, because all three are baked goods sandwiched together by a filling, and for whoopie pies and moon pies, marshmallow is the traditional glue.
Here's the difference:
• Whoopie pies are like thin cupcake tops (remember the muffin tops of Seinfeld fame?), slightly rounded and spongy. The dough is wet compared to traditional cookie dough and baked to a soft finish. The filling is similar to frosting.
• Moon pies are graham cracker cookies held together with marshmallow creme then most commonly dipped in chocolate. They are thinner than whoopie pies, not as tender and more likely to be purchased at a convenience store than made at home.
• Macarons, which are threatening to supplant cupcakes as the "it" treat of the moment, are a French sandwich cookie. The cookie halves are made of almond flour (simply ground almonds) and egg whites, among other ingredients. The filling is often buttercream-based, and it's not unusual to see them in a variety of colors, thanks to food coloring. The macaron is lighter, drier and smaller than its sandwich cookie cousins.
All three have their place in the pantheon of indulgence, but today, it's the whoopie pie that gets my attention.
You may not want to be between a Pennsylvanian and a Mainer debating the birthplace of the whoopie pie. Maine legislators are considering a bill this session to make the whoopie pie the "state treat." The move to claim the whoopie is being called "confectionery larceny" by proprietary folks in the Keystone State. "Stick to lobster," some have said.
There's a Whoopie Pie Festival in Maine. But Pennsylvania has one, too.
The sparring has an element of good-natured fun. After hearing of Maine's effort to formalize its love affair with the whoopie, a Lancaster, Pa., man organized a rally to support Pennsylvania's claim. Some 100 people showed up, one carrying a sign that said "Give Me Whoopie, or Give Me Death."
The Great Whoopie Pie War makes our debate over authentic Cuban sandwiches (tomato or not? mayo or not? Ybor City or Miami?) seem tame.
I won't pretend to get to the root of the whoopie pie, but food historians believe the confection may have been born in Germany, which makes sense since it became a staple in Amish and Mennonite homes and bakeries in Pennsylvania.
Believe me, I am not taking sides, except to encourage you to try to your hand at homemade whoopie pies. That I know something about.
DIY whoopie pies
Using Whoopie Pies: Dozens of Mix 'Em up, Match 'Em Up Recipes by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell (Chronicle Books, 2010) as a guide, I mastered the "pie" and ventured on to develop a couple of original fillings. I like the idea of mixing sweet with savory, so turning chocolate filling into a Mexican Hot Chocolate with the addition of cayenne pepper was a natural. The spicy filling brings some sophistication.
Accompanying this story is the basic recipe for chocolate whoopies from Whoopie Pies. I followed it to the letter and the results were perfect. In fact, I was so pleased with the outcome, I considered, for a moment, quitting my day job to open an all-whoopie bakery. (Obvious name: Making Whoopies, but then there's Whoopie It Up or Whoopsies. If you've got a clever one, send it to me at email@example.com. Just for fun, I'll share the printable ones in an upcoming section.)
Back to Earth, here are some tips derived from my experience, with one caveat: I am from neither Maine nor Pennsylvania and thus have no wonderful childhood memory of whoopie pies eaten while watching summer fireflies by the lake. Still, I did pretty good.
• I usually use my handheld mixer when I make cookie dough or cake batter. I dragged out the heavy KitchenAid behemoth for this effort because the recipe called for a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. I used that plus mixed the ingredients for the exact times outlined in the recipe. The result was an extremely well-mixed, airy dough, which looked and tasted like cupcake batter. I am sure this is why the end result was so light and tender.
• Use a 1-tablespoon ice cream scoop to plop the dough on parchment-lined baking sheets (I bought a scoop at Walmart for about $6 earlier this month). The shells need to be the same size so they match uniformly for the sandwiches. Otherwise you end up with whoops pies. You can use a small spoon if you have a good eye; as long as each blob is the shape and size, it will spread perfectly as it bakes.
• I like the smaller whoopie pies — remember each one has two shells and that's a mouthful with the filling — but you can make larger ones by increasing the amount of dough to 2 tablespoons. Still, it's important to be uniform.
• To fill the shells, put the filling into a pastry bag or plastic bag with a small hole cut in the corner. Pipe a tablespoon or two of the filling on the flat side and then gently press the companion shell onto the filling to spread it to the edges. You can use a knife if you are very gentle. The shells rip easily, and I found the piping method worked best, though it's not conducive to sticky marshmallow filling.
• You shouldn't have to worry about storing whoopie pies for too long. They will be gobbled fast. However, after you make them, they'll keep in the refrigerator for a few days. The shells are sticky, so separate a layer with wax paper in a shallow container fitted with a tight lid.
Honestly, I haven't made anything this fun in quite a while. It's part cake, part cookie, and all whoop-it-up.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.