A new book by Nancy Griffin explores Mainers' favorite indulgence.
Excerpted from Making Whoopies; Down East Books, Camden, Maine; paperback; 112 pages; $12.95. Available at www.DownEast.com
"Nobody can pinpoint the reason the whoopie pie finally broke into the national consciousness. But the snacks evoke a more homespun era that seems to provide some comfort. ‘Pure edible nostalgia’ the Williams-Sonoma catalog calls them."
—“Whoopie! Cookie, Pie, or Cake, It’s Having Its Moment,”
New York Times, March 17, 2009.
The moment of the whoopie pie is now. These sweet treats are the ultimate comfort food. They’re unpretentious and home-grown, nothing like highbrow crêpes and soufflés. Even the name is cheerful and uplifting. The definitions for whoopie (or whoopee) include “an exclamation of joy or excitement.” Making whoopie means to “engage in a noisy, boisterous celebration.” These definitions all aptly describe the human interaction with the whoopie pie: eating a fistful of whoopie pie in all its squishy, creamy sweetness is certainly joyful, can be exciting, and is absolutely celebratory.
Of course, the phrase “making whoopie” is also a euphemism used by the entertainment industry in the early days to suggest amorous activity while circumventing the censors. Some whoopie pie aficionados may in fact equate eating whoopies with its more salacious connotation.
The whoopie pie is a nearly perfect food, if you ignore pesky little details such as calories or cholesterol. For those who love sweets, especially dark, devil’s food chocolate cake and lush, creamy vanilla filling, the whoopie pie is the ultimate dessert.
It’s certainly not a pie, by any stretch of the imagination. But then, neither is a Boston cream pie.
A traditional whoopie pie consists of two soft, mounded, dark chocolate cakes, each resembling the top of a well-rounded chocolate hamburger bun, generously filled with creamy white filling. Sometimes the filling layer is nearly as thick as the cake around it, making for a gooey eating experience that leaves fingers, faces, and everything within reach streaked or coated with white stuff. And that’s half the fun.
There ends any agreement about what constitutes a real whoopie pie. Aficionados, however, argue over which ingredients were found in the “original” filling. Nowadays there exists a dizzying array of cake and filling flavors, and the occasional whoopie pie is not even round. Believe it or not, these treats have incited lots of discussion and passion in recent years as whoopie pie fame spreads across the country.
Even the name is not consistent, although it is not cause for dispute. In parts of Pennsylvania — residents say primarily in the central part of the state — whoopie pies are called gobs. (It’s clear why whoopie pie, and not that other name, is sweeping the country.)
Once upon a time, hardly anyone outside New England, parts of Pennsylvania, and relocated Amish communities in other states had ever heard of a whoopie pie, but now these delectables can be found as far away as California, Texas, and Michigan. Upscale Manhattan bakeries make them. A recipe even turned up on a food blog originating in Newfoundland, Canada. Celebrity chefs sing their praises. They have been featured in national publications, high-profile TV shows, and they’re on food sites all over the Web.
What Makes a Whoopie a Whoopie?
The Way It Is Eaten: By hand, so enjoy the confection while walking, driving, golfing, or mowing the lawn.
When It Is Eaten: Usually quite fast, but you can pop it in the freezer. The average whoopie will survive freezing unharmed.
How Much Is Eaten: Whoopies come in all sizes, but the hand-held, one-serving whoopie is usually around four inches in diameter.
What Frosting Is Eaten: One school of traditionalists insists that the original filling contains vegetable shortening. Another argues that the original filling includes marshmallow crème or Fluff.
What Flavor Is Eaten: Purists refuse to recognize many of the non-chocolate variants as whoopie pies at all. (We’re not that strict!)
Beatrice’s Chocolate Whoopie Pies
The following recipe is a favorite of the staff at Down East because Beatrice’s daughter, Linda Callahan, brings them in to share. This version of the classic whoopie pie is moister than most and not as puffy. You’ll gobble them up so fast, you won’t believe it.
Yield: 2 dozen small whoopie pies (about 2” diameter)
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
In a large bowl, mix together the cocoa powder and sugar. Stir in the oil, egg, milk, and vanilla. In a separate bowl stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the cocoa mixture.
Drop the batter by small spoonfuls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for approximately 8 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool.
Prepare filling by stirring the softened butter into the confectioners’ sugar. Stir in the vanilla, Marshmallow Fluff, and optional salt. To assemble, spread a generous amount of filling on the flat side of one cake and top with a second cake.
I remember Nana’s whoopie pies being THE dessert at family cookouts,” recalls Suzanne Conlon, Beatrice’s granddaughter. “In fact, I don’t ever remember eating them indoors. They seemed to be a summertime item, the seasonal counterpoint to caramels at Christmas. To this day, when I think of whoopie pies, I’m back at 55 Linden Street taking off the top and licking the icing. Handheld cake — it’s genius.”
A Perfect Pair
Donna Carrigan, a kitchen designer from Walpole who entered the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival competition, posted a sign beside her coffee brandy whoopie pies that read “Maine's Favorites, Together at Last” — a tongue-in-cheek reference to the state's largest-selling liquor, Allen’s Coffee Brandy. Some Mainers’ devotion to the dessert goes as far as having a whoopie pie wedding cake!
Whoopie Pie Festival
Celebrate the official Maine Whoopie Pie Day on the fourth Saturday in June when downtown Dover-Foxcroft goes whoopee for whoopie pies. Sample and buy whoopie pies from some of the state’s top bakers, vote for your favorite pie, browse Maine-made arts and crafts, laugh along with comedian Birdie Googins (the Marden’s Lady), and enjoy games, fun, and activities. Top the day off with a concert by American folk singer-songwriter David Mallet at the Center Theatre at 7 p.m. June 26. $3-$15. 207-564-8943. www.centertheatre.org
Nellie Moody Jones’ Molasses Whoopie Pies
Moody’s Diner on U.S. Route 1 in Waldoboro is one of those iconic Maine places — old-fashioned, but not pretentiously so. It’s not retro; it just hasn’t changed much since locals, truckers, and tourists started eating there in 1930. In 1999 Moody’s whoopie pies were chosen one of the hundred top food finds by Saveur magazine. Since Moody’s bakes many other items and cooks all the food for three meals a day from scratch, they don’t sell whoopie pies wholesale and they rarely have time to bake any flavors but the traditional whoopie pie. Dave Beck, an owner and manager at the diner and grandson of Moody’s founder, Alvah, says the following molasses whoopie pie recipe is rarely made at Moody’s anymore, so if you want it, bake it! The recipe comes from What’s Cooking at Moody’s Diner: 75 Years of Recipes and Reminiscences, by Nancy Moody Genthner (Down East Books, 2003). Yield: 8 to 12 whoopies.
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup molasses
1 teaspoon vinegar
4 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup hot, strong coffee
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
4 tablespoons Marshmallow Fluff
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
milk, as needed to achieve spreadable consistency
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine and cream the sugar, shortening, and salt. Add the eggs, molasses, and vinegar, and mix thoroughly.
In separate bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, and ginger and stir into batter. Dissolve baking soda in hot coffee and add to remaining ingredients.
Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake 15 minutes. Cool and fill with marshmallow filling.
To make the filling: combine the shortening, Marshmallow Fluff, sugar, and milk and beat thoroughly, using just enough milk to make frosting spreadable.
Maine has a festival to celebrate whoopie pies and their plentiful iterations. The first Maine Whoopie Pie Festival was held in Dover-Foxcroft in June 2009. One of the big winners was Betty Ree Zolla, who bakes her Betty Reez whoopie pies out of her Freeport kitchen and sells them at several venues, including Good Eats Boutique in Portland. She won first prize in one of the judged categories and third in the other two — the only contestant to place in all three. She also tied for third in the People’s Choice category.
Her first-place win was in the Most Original Whoopie Pie category, which she took with her Needham whoopie pie. (Needhams are a traditional Maine candy featuring a potato and coconut filling wrapped in dark chocolate.)
Other winners in the category, their flavors showing a definite Maine theme, were Cranberry Island Kitchen of Portland with a maple whoopie pie, and a Maine wild blueberry whoopie from Heather’s Whoopie Pies in Lamoine.
Flavors other than traditional are so common now that the second category in the competition (after traditional, of course) was Best Flavored Whoopie Pie, which assumes certain flavors are accepted and not “original.” Winning flavors were gingerbread-lemon, peanut butter, and almond.