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I love me a whoopie pie. I adore the happiness of the name itself (and I strongly feel it should always have an exclamation point behind it—it just feels right). I thoroughly enjoy that it’s handheld, the ultimate easy, portable, fun-to-eat dessert. I love that it’s super-simple to make, and I love that I can dress it up in so many ways. And while I enjoy them year round, I can’t help but associate them with back-to-school time: crunchy leaves, freshly sharpened pencils, and BFF lunchbox swaps. While I haven’t been in school in several years, I use this time of year as an excuse to make whoopie pies for those who are. And also just because, you know, WHOOPIE!
So how do you jump on this super-happy-fun-time-dessert train? Here’s what you need to know:
Whoopie pies are an American tradition—the idea and recipe originated here. Where exactly it originated is a bit of a mystery, as several New England states want to claim they’re the birthplace. Traditionally, the recipe consists of two disks of spongy (but moist) chocolate cake sandwiched together with a creamy filling (usually vanilla). They can be traced back as far as the early 1920s, and various versions were sold commercially in packs as some of the earliest "snack cakes."
Despite the name, whoopie pies aren’t pies at all, but rather small cakes with frosting in the center. By this definition, you could really make a whoopie pie out of nearly any cake recipe you love, just like classics are commonly turned into cupcakes.
Note that your recipe might need slight adjustments to help it achieve perfect whoopie status. Traditional whoopie pies are flat enough to be easily bitable, even once they’re stacked two high. That said, they have a nice, mounded look in the center. This look is something I like to maintain with my whoopie pies, even when I'm tweaking with flavors and base recipes. To achieve this, a lot of traditional cake batters will need additional chemical leavener. A higher amount of chemical leavener will increase the initial oven spring (the amount a cake will rise before it’s set), but because the cakes are baked without a pan, they don’t continue to rise up (because there's nothing to support the sides), and instead set to be chewy on the outside, and soft and airy in the center. Also, the batter itself has to be firm enough to be easily scoopable. A really liquid batter won’t have enough structure, and will be too moist (i.e., sticky and overly tender) to handle filling and sandwiching.
The filling was traditionally a very aerated frosting or, very often, marshmallow. This texture pairs super nicely with the aforementioned cake I love so much. That doesn’t mean, however, that it can’t be played with. Really, anything you love paired with cake could be great inside a whoopie pie (ganache, jam, fruit curd, custard, and caramel, just to name a delicious few). Or you can even use multiple fillings to achieve different looks and textures (more on that later).
The exact method for making these treats can vary, but it’s always simple:
- Prepare cake batter and scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Be sure to leave a decent amount of space between each cake to allow it room to spread. Again, the lack of a pan means that the cake has no barrier until it’s crumb structure is set, so it will spread more in the initial stages of baking. (This is also worth noting when deciding what size of scoop you want to use!)
- Bake cakes until the edges are golden and the cakes spring back slightly when touched in the center (you can use the toothpick rule, if you prefer). Underbaking can lead to lightly sunken centers and a slightly gooey texture to the cake. Overbaking can lead to dry, overly chewy cakes.
- Cool the cakes completely before sandwiching. I find that it’s much easier to handle the cakes once they’re totally cool, so I let them cool completely on the baking sheet. Once they’re cool, I can peel them away from the parchment easily without risking breaking or denting the perfect, rounded shape.
- I usually prepare the filling while the cakes are cooling, but depending on what you’re using, you can always make it earlier—and in some cases, significantly earlier (things like caramel, curd, or custard will need to cool completely before they can be used). Marshmallow fluff, meringue, and whipped cream are some of the main exceptions here: They need to be made at the last minute to ensure they don’t lose volume (or weep, etc.) before they are used.
- Turn half of the cakes over and add filling to them. (If you want to be super precise, you can match up your cakes visually before you bring the filling into it to make sure they’ll sandwich nicely.) You can use spoons or a scoop to mound filling in the center, but I prefer to pipe the filling in a spiral shape inside. There’s no need to be precise—this just ensures the filling is in an even layer without having to spread it around. I stop piping about 1/4 inch from the edge; that way, when I place the second cake on top, I can press them together a little bit. This helps adhere them and oozes the filling perfectly out to the edge. Win-win!
Normally, I don’t mention garnishing until the end of an article, but with whoopie pies it’s applicable sooner in the process. For example, the cake itself may have a garnish: You could use multiple colors or flavors of cake batter (scooped alternately or swirled together) to achieve a multi-colored or marbled cake (Vanilla/chocolate swirl! Neopolitan!). Or the cake may have garnishes added before baking, either folded into the cake batter or added to the surface (Sprinkles! Fresh fruit! Nuts! Spices!).
The frosting can also be a place to play with garnishes. You can use different fillings to achieve different looks, textures, and flavors in the final whoopie pie. Textural components like crushed candy, sprinkles, nuts, fresh fruit, etc. all apply here, too—they can be added on top of the frosting and pushed in before the cakes are sandwiched. Fun tip: Piping alternating rings of different fillings will make a striped look when you bite into the whoopie pie!
Finally, the finished whoopie pies can be garnished a few ways: You can roll the exposed filling at the ends in things, like you would the sides of an ice cream sandwich. Or you can sift ingredients over them, even using a stencil to create a pattern on the surface!
I found that I like to chill my whoopie pies for a bit after I sandwich them. Chilling allows the filling to set a bit, which makes the whoopie pies easier to eat—the filling is less likely to ooze out the sides when you bite into them. But I don’t like to serve them super cold, since you can’t enjoy the great contrasting textures if both the cake and the filling are too firm. If I’m making them just before I want to eat them, I just throw them in the fridge for 30 minutes after I sandwich them, then bring them out to eat. If I want to make them ahead, I’ll keep them in the fridge (up to 2 days), then let them soften for at least 20 minutes at room temperature before I serve them. Chilling is totally optional and if you want to skip it, it’s totally fine to eat the finished whoopie pies just after you sandwich them.
Store the finished whoopie pies in an airtight container. I usually keep them in the fridge (see previous bullet), but many filling/cake combos would be fine at room temperature. I find that after 3 to 5 days they’ve usually dried out a bit, but they generally keep pretty well. I like to think that’s because they’re made to be made in a big batch, then put in lunchboxes all week long.
- 1 1/2 sticks (6.00 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups (9.35 ounces) dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 2 large (3.50 ounces) eggs
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) vanilla extract
- 3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (15 grams) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (4 grams) salt
- 1 cup (8.00 fluid ounces) buttermilk
- Flaky salt, as needed for garnish
- 1/2 cup (4.00 fluid ounces) water
- 1 cup (7.50 ounces) dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup (2.75 ounces) corn syrup
- 1/4 cup (2.75 ounces) molasses
- 5 large (6.00 ounces) egg whites
- 1 1/2 sticks (6.00 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup (4.00 ounces) powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons (10 grams) vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
Whoopie! Tell us about cake and filling combinations you want to try in the comments below.