Whoopie pies are equally a New England and Pennsylvania concoction, attributed both to Mainers and the Pennsylvania Amish. Some believe the pies were introduced in Maine by the Amish themselves while others believe they were conceived in Maine. The argument behind the birth of the sweet snack runs deep, a perennial “whodunit.” Many believe the legend that Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Amish children would shout a gleeful “whoopie!” when presented with the dessert, hence the quirky name.
No matter the truth, whoopie pies are considered classic comfort food, essential to Maine’s culinary history. For the uninitiated, traditional whoopie pies consist of two disc-shaped springy cocoa-flavored cakes filled with a sweet, creamy frosting often made with a combination of vegetable shortening, confectioner’s sugar and Marshmallow Fluff.
I recently had the pleasure of getting to know the ladies who run the famous Maine-based whoopee pie establishment Cranberry Island Kitchen. I had always wondered about the origins of the dessert on which my sister and I were weaned and they helped demystify the snack, which is virtually unknown in the non-Northeastern corners of the United States.
Carol Ford, one of Cranberry Island’s proprietors, says that Mainers and Pennsylvanians indeed have varying, conflicting opinions on the creation of the cakes. She says that while historians suggest the cakes origins may lie with the Amish, created as a way to use up leftover batter, Mainers steadfastly defend their state as the source of the sweet treat.
Ms. Ford and her business partner Karen Haas use only natural ingredients for their pies, which they sell in a variety of gourmet flavors. They use only fresh homemade butter, local eggs from free range chickens, Maine spring water, unbleached flour and organic vanilla.
Personally, I love the classic, traditional whoopie pie. I have tried both butter-based and shortening-based fillings and much prefer my cakes with shortening-based frosting. I find using butter yields a cloyingly sweet product, while shortening acts as a blank canvas for the sugar and marshmallow. The following is my favorite whoopie pie recipe….ever. The cakes are moist, springy and not too sweet. The frosting is miraculously creamy, fluffy and luscious, without being saccharine.
The recipe makes a large amount of pies. Cut down to desired proportions.
3 cups sugar
1 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
6 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shortening
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/3 cups marshmallow topping
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, and eggs together until well combined. Add the oil and vanilla and beat again.
3. In a separate bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Add half of the dry mixture to the egg mixture and beat or stir to blend. Add 1 1/2 cups milk and beat again. Add the remaining dry mixture and beat until incorporated. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk and beat until blended.
4. With a large spoon, scoop out circles of batter onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool. Repeat process until all the batter is used.
5. To make filling, combine all ingredients except the milk in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat well. Add just enough milk to achieve a creamy consistency. Spread filling across cooled cookie circles and place remaining circles on top to make whoopie pies.
Yield: Makes 32 pies.