Sometimes life places opportunities in your path to help you see things from a different perspective or re-evaluate what’s important; this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe for Banana Whoopie Pies (from the Banana chapter of Baked Elements) forced me to come to terms with a very jarring reality. I needed to face the cold, hard truth that I don’t make whoopie pies nearly enough, and it’s time I did something about it. Hey, I’m always trying to better myself as a person… one pastry at a time.
The origin of the whoopie pie is somewhat controversial, with both New England (Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts) and the Pennsylvania Dutch laying claim to their inception. They are similar to other creme-filled, sandwich-style American treats of the 1900s such as devil dogs and moon pies. Before I go any further with the specifics of this recipe, let me just put it out there that I am an enthusiastic supporter of most combinations of cookies, cakes, and frosting, regardless of what they are called, or who invented them. I feel like whoopie pies are at once whimsical and sophisticated– I have no trouble justifying them as a perfectly appropriate adult treat! I never know whether to refer to the baked portion of whoopie pies as “cookies” or “cakes”, as they possess the texture of a cake, but the shape and size of a cookie. After pondering this for what was probably an absurd amount of time, I decided to call them “cakelets” to honor both their cake-like nature and diminutive size.
Then there’s the matter of the bananas… I’ve made no secret of my dislike for the mushy, vile things; yet, after a number of successful and delicious banana-based recipes with Baked Sunday Mornings, I’ve had to reluctantly admit that they aren’t a complete affront to humanity. Whoopie pies are traditionally made with chocolate cakelets and a creamy white filling– no bananas in sight. But, as is common with BAKED recipes (and one of the reasons I love their books so much), this is a classic American treat with a creative spin– they’ve essentially turned the whoopies inside-out. The chocolate is now in the middle, and the cakelets are flavored with the addition of mashed banana. Mine weren’t quite as ripe as the ones I used for our amazing Bananas Cake last month, and I didn’t have time to roast them, but they were decently soft and mashed up just fine.
So, um, because I have a serious dessert problem, I was making these the night before leaving for my honeymoon in Italy (massive travel blog coming… soonish). I was relieved to see that the cakelets were quite easy to whip up– no mixer involved, and I didn’t even need to wait for butter to warm up to room temperature, since they are oil-based.
Two cups of brown sugar and a cup of sour cream ensure that only a delicious outcome is possible here! Whisk the dry ingredients in a separate bowl (including an unexpected hint of cinnamon), then whisk the wet stuff– brown sugar and oil, followed by the addition of sour cream and mashed bananas, and finally two eggs. (I was a little surprised that there was no vanilla extract, but it works.) Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula just until the white streaks disappear. The batter will be thick and a little chunky from the banana bits.
The whoopies can be made traditional-sized, which is about 3 inches across, or as mini-sized gems. I often opt for the mini option when given the choice, but I went with regular sort of inadvertently– they baked up much larger than anticipated. Use a spring-loaded ice cream scoop for the most uniform cakelets. While the batter is generally easy to work with, it is rather sticky and sometimes hard to drop into perfectly round mounds. Fortunately, whoopie pies are not prized for their element of perfection– when shoveling them into your mouth in just a short while, it really won’t matter if they were round or oval… 😉
Mine baked up just right in 12 minutes, on the upper end of the estimated baking time. Whoopie pies require a somewhat delicate balance: too soft, and they will fall apart against the creamy filling; too firm, and you will bite into something akin to a 3-day-old cupcake. In other words, you want sturdy, yet fluffy, cakelets. They should be puffed up and set on the surface, but still a bit soft to the touch when you pull them out of the oven. (They should slowly spring back if you lightly press the tops.)
While the cakelets cool, make your Swiss buttercream filling. This entails hand-whisking egg whites and sugar in a bowl over simmering water until the sugar melts, which took me about 4 minutes (you’re looking for a frothy, yet slightly syrupy consistency), then whisking them in a stand mixer. I was little apprehensive about all of this, as I hadn’t made a cooked frosting in a while, and I’ve notoriously struggled with BAKED‘s frostings. (One of these days, I hope to err on the side of frosting confidence…) When whipping egg whites, I’m never quite sure if my peaks have the right consistency, and if you over-beat them, they’re toast. BUT, to my delight, I saw this gorgeous, smooth meringue building up in my mixer– not a grain of sugar or egg white to be seen!
The mixture did separate a little when adding the butter (slightly soupy), but then magically before my eyes came together into a beautiful, silky cloud– success! With BAKED frostings, always pay attention to the temperature of the butter– it is generally very important to the success of your frosting. In this case, “cool but not cold”, which in my warm kitchen meant taking it out and cutting it up right before melting the milk chocolate and starting on the egg white/sugar mixture.
Fold in the chocolate by hand with a spatula. It was silky magnificence– I used TCHO SeriousMilk 39% chocolate discs because they have a luscious caramel undertone, and if I’m gonna eat anything banana-flavored, I wanna eat it with caramel. This turned out to be a nice choice, as the flavors harmonized beautifully, though I would probably use a little more chocolate next time because the chocolate flavor was very light. (Or maybe a darker chocolate would work better, even without the hints of caramel?)
I used a pastry bag to apply the frosting, as it was quicker and neater than using a scoop– I especially liked the star tip swirls. Make sure to let the assembled whoopie pies chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes to allow the frosting to set. By the way, do not stack these for storage– the cakelets will stick to each other and tear, and you will be sad.
I was thrilled with these heavenly little sandwiches, chocolate nitpicking aside. The cakelets are soft and fluffy, and the buttercream is a perfect creamy complement. They have a pleasant banana flavor, but it’s not overwhelming– in other words, just the way I like it! Incidentally, I would love to make these with a salted caramel buttercream filling… but there isn’t much I wouldn’t like to make with salted caramel, if we’re being honest. Also, peanut butter. Better yet, caramel and peanut butter….
If you, too, have had an epiphany about the lack of whoopie pies in your life, don’t panic; you can find the recipe for Banana Whoopie Pies at Baked Sunday Mornings any time you need a fix. Check out my esteemed baking colleagues’ little pies while you’re at it! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.