Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A Tale of Two Pies

Lately, I've been following this silly debate going on in Maine regarding the choice of the official state desert. There seem to be two camps: the fans of the Whoopie Pie and the fans of the Blueberry pie. NPR has a nice summary of the debate along with a list of other official state deserts.

Maine is known for its wild blueberries. The soil is acidic due to the numerous pine forest and the terrain is very rocky thanks to the last ice age moving great boulders about. While it makes for very poor farming, the native wild blueberries grow like weeds in this environment. These aren't the big, bloated watery cousins of the blueberry you find in the grocery store- those are known as "high bush". These are tiny, fragile gems that burst with an intense sweet-tart flavor. I try to coincide my summer trips up to Maine in late July and early August where the ground is carpeted with them. You can buy them at roadside stands pretty much everywhere, but any good Mainer would never waste dollars on these. They would grab a bucket, head out to the woods and hours later emerge with the fruits of their labor. You don't see these in the grocery store since they haven't been tinkered with to hold up to shipping and sitting on the shelf. They are best eaten out of hand immediately.

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I can not get enough of them and I can barely get to point A to point B when they are in season.

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Despite the blueberry supporting the local economy and being a product you can't get in too many other places, the whoopie pie seems to be winning the war. True, they are delicious. They are ubiquitous in the state- every gas station has a basket of them at the counter. But they are just that- a quick and easy hit of sugar from an ofttimes dubious source. A blueberry pie is something to share, something social, something special.

Really though, you can make a Whoopie Pie anywhere (rumor is they were invented in Pennsylvania anyway). I just did.

There are many variations of whoopie pie recipes out there. This is the one I've always used, and the one my mother used, and the one her mother I deem it authentic. The only big change is that while my Grandmother used Lard, my mom used Crisco, and I use butter. It's evolving with the food trends of the times I suppose.

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I would recommend using the best quality baking chocolate you can find.

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My recipe also seems to make what would be considered a double batch.

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It makes quite a lot- maybe 2 dozen total, depending on your cookie size. It could easily be halved. I've never halved it, even when I was whipping up batches in my bachelorette years. They make for appreciative friends and co-workers, and they freeze well. They are also excellent to gnaw on right out of the freezer. I sometimes prefer them that way.

There is some debate about the frosting. A lot of people use marshmallow fluff, but I find that too cloying.

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Ahhh, sweet success.

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There is also an autumnal pumpkin version with cream cheese filling that I'm quite fond of, but here is my purist version.

Whoopie Pies

2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups of sugar
4 egg yolks (save the whites for the filling)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 to 3/4 cup powdered baking chocolate- depending on how choclately you like them
2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350. Get the parchment paper out and line your biggest cookie sheets with it.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a standing mixer until it's completely smooth. Add the egg yolks.

Mix all your dry ingredients in a bowl. Alternating between the flour mix and the milk, slowly add to the sugar mix. Beat everything together until it's smooth and glossy. It will be a little thicker than cake batter.

Drop the batter onto the cookie sheet in rounded tablespoons with plenty of space for its neighbors to grow. Pop them in the oven for 9-12 minutes. They are more like cakes, and not cookies, so they will be soft and a bit spongy when you touch the tops. Use a toothpick to check for doneness. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

For the Filling:
4 egg whites
4 cups confectioners sugar
1.5 sticks of butter at room temperature
4 Tablespoons Criso
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using the mixer, whip the egg whites until they barely form soft peaks. Then throw everything else in and beat until smooth. One tip: try to find butter that hasn't been colored with annato. For some reason, consumers thought that a dark yellow butter was ideal, so a lot of brands add a natural orange colorant to their butter. It's not a big deal, but your filling will have a yellowish tinge. Aesthetics are pretty important when it comes to food, even if it doesn't effect the taste.

Once the cookies are cooled completely, dollop a healthy portion of filling in the center of one, make a sandwich with a second cookie and press slightly to distribute. I wrap them up individually in saran wrap. Because the filling has raw egg in it, I make sure to buy the best quality organic free range eggs I can find.

Eat within a couple days or freeze to eat at your leisure.


  1. Wait, crisco for the filling? I thought you said you use butter instead.

  2. A little crisco has been deemed ok- it's much more stable at room temperature then butter so it gives it more body (thank you hydrogenation). An all-crisco filling has a good amount of fluff, but it leaves a greasy feeling in your mouth. I compromise and add just a little, but beating the eggwhites beforehand makes up for the lack of crisco.