This past weekend the Tufts’ student theatre group—Pen, Paint, and Pretzels; affectionately abbreviated to 3Ps—put up an amazing production of Eric Bogosian’s “SubUrbia.” The play was incredibly powerful and scarily relatable. The acting was great and the set was phenomenal. So at the end of the show I enthusiastically applauded the cast. I decided that I would treat them to a little something extra. Some people give bouquets of flowers, I give baked goods. Because after all, flowers are nice to look at, but their beauty is short lived. Food is equally temporary, but at least you get to eat it. Booyah roses.
In one scene, the hyperactive Buff (played brilliantly by Greg Berney) waxes poetic about Oreos. The show’s producers got really into the whole Oreo thing; they even placed a Technicolor Oreo on the posters. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no. I didn’t make them oreos. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So I decided to make Whoopie Pies, which are kind of like Oreos on sterioids. Instead of crisp cookies, the creamy center is sandwiched by two moist chocolate cakes. I decided to swap out the normal buttercream filling with a salted caramel frosting. This added some depth to the cookies, befitting the play’s intensity.
Whoopie Pies originated up here in the Northeast, specifically in Amish-country, Pennsylvania. The Whoopie Pie’s popularity has reached an all-time high. Swanky dessert places hawk reimagined whoopie pies for ridiculous prices (think Finale). Even Nabisco has hopped on the bandwagon, selling a bastardized Whoopie Pie in the form of “Oreo Cakesters.” This version requires the use of Dutch-process cocoa powder. This gives the cake a more distinct flavor. If you don’t know the differnce between Dutch-processed and non-dutch cocoa powder, then check to see if the box specifies. If it says “Natural,” then you probably have non-dutch. Go for European brands, such as Valrhona. Hershey’s Special Dark is partially dutched. Generally, brands will label accordingly, saving you the time and trouble. If you want to learn more, check out David Lebovitz’s encyclopedic FAQ about cocoa powder.
But enough cocoa-powder musings. Back to “SubUrbia!” The entire play takes place in front of a 7/11. The characters saunter in and out of the parking lot and pass the days and nights by loitering out front. So I figured that I would re-create the Giant Hostess Cupcake for the cast. Hostess is the quintessential convenience-store snack food, so it would only be right to make that.
RECIPE FOR WHOOPIE PIES
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1/4 cup DUTCH-PROCESSED cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets.
In a large bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, and egg. In another bowl, combine cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the milk. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture, alternating with the milk mixture; beating until smooth.
Drop batter by the 1/4 cup (to make 18 cakes) onto prepared baking sheets. With the back of a spoon spread batter into 4-inch circles, leaving approximately 2 inches between each cake.
Bake 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
MAKING THE FILLING
* 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
* 1 cup marshmallow cream such as Marshmallow Fluff
*1 cup salted caramel (see recipe below)
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat together butter, caramel, marshmallow, and vanilla in a bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Shmear the inside of halve the cookies, and then top them off.
ASSEMBLING THE WHOLE THANG
When the cakes are completely cool, spread the flat side (bottom) of one chocolate cake with a generous amount of filling. Top with another cake, pressing down gently to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with all cookies.
Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce
(this makes way more than a cup, but believe me, you won’t mind one bit)
1 cup sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) salted butter,
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature
Melt the sugar over medium high heat in a large pot (at least two or three quarts) whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. If the sugar begins to clump, then you’ve been over-stirring. Should this happen, let it sit for about twenty seconds, before you continue to stir. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice, dark copper color. Add the butter all at once and stir it in. Once you turn off the heat, pour in the heavy cream (The sauce will foam up quite a bit when you add it; which is why you want the larger pot), whisking it until you get a smooth sauce. If any pieces of hardened sugar remain, they can be strained/picked out.
You use it right away or pour it into a jar and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you take it out, it will likely have thickened a bit but 30 seconds in the microwave brings it right back to pouring consistency.