Whoopie Pies, Part 2 Make Sure You Get a Good One
So, as I have already explained, I run a small, no, a tiny…maybe a MICRO-bakery out of my home during the summer months. Each year, it seems, something different is the big seller. This year's random popular items were ginger cookies, French-style bread, and whoopie pies. I made a lot of whoopie pies.
Evidently, the whoopie pie, with straight face and no quotation marks, is well-known only in northern New England and in Pennsylvania. A recipe very much like the one I use appears in “From Amish and Mennonite Kitchens” by Good and Pellman, a great “comfort food” cookbook, by the way. I always assumed they were simply called by different names in other parts of the country but I've been told that no, they are sort of a local specialty. I'm assuming I don't need to explain to my readers exactly what this particular pastry tastes like. Are you reading this from away? It's sort of like a homemade “devil-dog,” only round and considerably larger.
The ubiquity of the whoopie pie in the convenience stores and diners of Maine does not indicate that all whoopie pies are alike, or even equal, however.
I have had some odd whoopie pie customers this year. One assured me that she had single-handedly introduced the whoopie pie to Okracoke Island. One lady sidled up to me, as we stood beside the bakery rack, and asked in her best tight-lipped, spy-movie whisper: “Is that filling…the real kind?”
Beats the stuffing out of me. I suppose that depends on where you live.
There are whoopie pie lovers, whoopie pie aficionados, and, I fear at least one whoopie pie fascist out there. “I,” said one man, fresh from his pleasure boat, “am checking out all the whoopie pies to see which ones are the good ones.” OK, put the pressure on. I hope these pass muster. Has he been to Red's Eats? Has he been to Moody's Diner?
The whoopie pies I sell during the summer on Matinicus are most assuredly not the “gourmet” variety, and yes, there is such a thing. You can get them in just about any configuration…varied cakes with the usual white filling, or chocolate outsides with a variety of elegant middles. Look online; you might be surprised. I am seriously thinking about doing up a batch of off-season, private-stock, high-end whoopie pies for some special occasion this fall, just for chuckles. Are they still really whoopie pies if they lose their childish spirit, if they get too dressed up? I'm not sure. Traditional Maine whoopie pies are not delicate, they are not subtle. They are never understated. They do not fear the nutrition police; in fact, like the doughnut, to eat one may soon be an act of defiance. Anyway, would you buy a whole-grain, flaxseed-laced, heart-healthy whoopie pie with a tofu-based, non-dairy, no-refined-sugar filling? OK, OK.
My own summer-trade recipe makes use of a structurally sound white filling which is basically an artery-clogging goop of confectioner's sugar, whole milk, top-quality real vanilla, and some of that politically incorrect partially-hydrogenated you-know-what. Yes, it tastes even better if you make it with real butter, but when the customer intends to toss the thing into the day-pack, walk around in the sun for a few hours, go to the beach, maybe have a nibble of it, eventually go back to the rental camp or the sailboat, leave the half-wrapped pastry around until it is remembered later and then eat it, the filling holds up better if it contains…Crisco. Sorry. It's that indestructibility thing.
No, don't think of that lesson with your eighth-grade science teacher and the 20-year old Twinkie. They aren't that indestructible. The filling may not be made of hand-churned organic butter but it contains not one speck of marine colloids. This is the whoopie pie of the Middle Path.
These get mailed to boarding school, and to Maine Maritime, and soon to some other college, wherever that may be. They go to haul. They get quartered and frozen and rationed over days. They need to be tough. They are still better than store-bought.
I had a few special requests this summer for whoopie pies with ice cream in the middle; these were judged an undisputed hit, but I'm not sure that's still really a whoopie pie. If you are making them for home consumption, or trying to raise the tone of the place just a little, by all means go with real butter in the filling.
Some recipes specify a marshmallow “Fluf”-based filling. I don't care for the stuff, but some people think that's the “real” recipe; your call. Don't think I'm being elitist or even all that adult; I didn't like Fluf as a little kid, either. That's just me. I had a beer the other day with a few of the local air service pilots and one of them asked me if I might make some whoopie pies with marshmallow. Yeah, I might.
There is a small baking company based in southern Maine which sells very elegant mussel-shell-shaped gourmet whoopie pies with a wide array of specialty fillings. You can get these mail-order, suitable for even the most glamorous of occasions…weddings, garden parties, coronations, Martha Stewart's visit, whatever. I got just a bite of one of these once, and it was delicious. Are they “authentic?” I say, wrong question. To insist that they must be the usual shape and filled only with the usual stark white stuff slips into the same snobbery as any who says the fancified version is “better.” Do not stoop to that level. There is no “better,” assuming we aren't even talking about cheapo industrial pastries made with artificial chocolate flavoring and filling that resembles Sheetrock mud (and comes in a large white bucket that looks as though it contains precisely that.)
One summer visitor asked me if I would consider an order for 50 whoopie pies. “Sure,” I said, a bit too soon. She continued: “…a year from September, to be sent to Louisiana for John's wedding. They're having a sort of a Maine theme.”
I explained that the lack of real express mail, next-day-air, or UPS off Matinicus Island, where weather easily confounds all such things, might result in some rather expensive hockey pucks being served, unfortunately representing both Maine and my little island business. She'd be better off engaging a mainland baker. Maybe they'd like to try those fancifully-shaped “pies” made from eggs laid by happy chickens and flavored with Myers rum. I'm sure I would.
My nameless little operation is a nostalgia-inducing, comfort-food, low-on-the-sophistication-scale sort of bakery, offering lard-fried doughnuts, blueberry pies baked grandma-style with no unexpected elegant touches, and American soft loaf bread which, when sliced, fits in the toaster. My whoopie pies surprise nobody. That seems to be what my customers like.
I think I will try making a few whoopie pie with the specialty fillings off-season. Maybe I'll order some of those really classy ones online first. Research and development, don't you know. It's a rough life.