“A good whoopie pie never expires”

Whoopie pie/courtesy of Flickr user andrewb823 used under a Creative Commons license

Maybe you’ve heard about the small tempest brewing in Maine over an attempt to designate whoopie pies the official state dessert. If you’re out of the loop, rest assured, members of the public have been speaking out: “A good whoopie pie never expires,” said a costume-wearing visitor to the Maine Legislature who identified himself as Sweetie Pie, 59.

I asked my mom–who’s been making whoopie pies for years but has never, to my knowledge, dressed up as one–to weigh in and to tell me about the origins of our family whoopie pie recipe. Although one set of great-grandparents made a pit stop in Maine for a few years along the well-traveled path from the west of Ireland to Dorchester, I didn’t think there was a Maine connection with our recipe. I also speculated that perhaps the lard accusation, which seemed strange to me, originated in a pre-shortening recipe. Here’s the word from Mom (emphasis mine):

“Mercy! First off, I never particularly associated whoopie pies with Maine–they were simply a dessert of my childhood (though I think the King Arthur flour catalog, which had a recipe a couple of years ago, mentioned Pennsylvania…)* We never made them with lard. I suspect you’re right about bakers switching from lard to shortening. But I can’t quite imagine people using lard in the filling, so I wonder if the recipe originated in the shortening era. Wikipedia says Crisco was introduced in 1911. (Could this be a Schlesinger Library research question?)

My recipe (which I assume is yours) is from Grammy. The copy in her recipe box is in my (kid) writing, and most likely came from Confidential Chat in the Globe, source of many recipes popular in the family. It’s not in Fannie Farmer.** I remember copying recipes onto index cards for Grammy because the newspaper clippings were deteriorating. A lot of Chat recipes used convenience foods of the day. There was a fudge recipe that called for a big dollop of marshmallow fluff*** to be beaten in at the end of cooking.

Btw, I saw an article recently (maybe in Bon Appetit) touting whoopie pies as the new cupcake and giving “gourmet” variations. Bah! There is only one whoopie pie!

P.S. Does Confidential Chat still exist? It was a regular feature in the Globe, a few days a week, eventually reduced to just Sundays. People contributed under pen names, not just recipes but all sorts of tips, instructions, how-tos. You could ask any kind of question; like asking Joan Hamburg. There were even occasional controversies (woman who claimed to feed her family on ridiculously small amount each week). I remember considering what name I’d use if I ever wrote in, but I can’t remember any of the candidates. I wonder if there’s a book about the Chat.

As the above link tells us, Confidential Chat no longer exists. Mom again: “Good article about Confidential Chat. That’s the way I remember it. It was touching how people helped one another, and pretty amazing how people came up with obscure items or information well before the Internets. And, as the article says, it wasn’t limited to recipes and household advice; over the years social issues played out in the letters. Btw, I remember Fireman’s Wife.”

*Follow-up email from Mom: “Found the King Arthur clipping. The headnote reads: ‘OK, we understand if you’re not from northern New England, you probably don’t know what a Whoopie Pie is. Well, read on…’ So I don’t know where I heard of Pennsylvania origins.” I’ve heard of Pennsylvania claims to the whoopie pie as well. When the New York Times discovered them a few years ago, they mentioned the (I think!) spurious Pennsylvania claim.

**Fannie Farmer would be a good cookbook to consult, given its origins as the Boston Cooking School cookbook.

***Marshmallow fluff is, of course, also a Massachusetts original. Maybe you already knew that if you live in Somerville.

Now that you’re hungry, here’s the recipe. Mom said in another follow-up email that she is checking with her cousin Eileen, who lived downstairs when they were kids, to see if she remembers the origin of the recipe. Let’s say for now that it’s from Confidential Chat, but I’ll update this if something different comes to light.

A few notes: I like to make smaller cookies than you are likely to see in many bakeries. They’ll spread and smooth out as they bake, and I’d aim for discs that are about three inches in diameter. They’re actually more cake-like than cookie-like, and you want to keep them soft rather than letting the edges or the tops crisp up.

You’ll want about a third of an inch or so of filling in each whoopie pie. If you end up with extra filling in the bowl once you’re done, go back and slap on some more where it seems needed. You’ll notice that this recipe features frosting made with powdered sugar. I know there are recipes out there that call for a fluff filling–there’s the New England connection again–but I can’t advise you on how to make those.

Whoopie Pies
From Mom, we think via Confidential Chat

½ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla

Sift dry ingredients together (if you don’t have a sifter, use a strainer, or stir the dry ingredients together to combine).

Beat the shortening, sugar and egg yolks briefly. Add the dry ingredients, milk and vanilla; beat until smooth. Drop the batter by tablespoons on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10 – 12 minutes at 375°, until cookies are set but not crisp. Cool cookies on wire racks. When cool, put together pairs of cookies with filling.

2 egg whites
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening

Beat filling ingredients until smooth and fluffy.

10 Responses to ““A good whoopie pie never expires””
  1. I thought that was really weird, too. My experiences with whoopie pies were all Pennsylvania dutch.
    And oh, lord help you if you get between me and an Amish made whoopie pie. LOL

    I don’t recall the whoopie pies that I had as a kid ever having lard in them. I know that my Grandmother, who comes in second only to those Dutch made pies I remember never used it.

  2. Mim says:

    I love this post. We’ve never really had whoopie pie in the UK but just recently I’ve started to see lots of books on them appearing, but with a gourmet attitude as you mentioned in your post – I’ve always wanted to try a good old-fashioned recipe. This is perfect and I shall definately be making it!

    • Katy says:

      Let me know how they turn out if/when you make them! This is definitely a traditional recipe and pretty no-frills as far as whoopie pies are concerned.

      I’ve heard from friends in Canada that Dutch process cocoa powder is much more widely available there than non-dutched cocoa, and I don’t know if that’s the case in the UK too. Either kind should work fine here. I would avoid self-rising flour, though–I remember seeing a lot more of that on supermarket shelves in Ireland than I’ve ever seen in the US, and again, I’m not sure if it’s as common in the UK, but since this recipe has separate leavening, I’d avoid it.

      • Mim says:

        I shall indeed!

        Thank you so much for the tips. From what I’ve read, I think all the common brands here in the UK are Dutch-processed. Self-raising flour is also really common here, but I read before that all-purpose flour in the US is called plain flour here, and we have plenty of that, so I should be fine! Thank you again.

  3. Macee says:

    (disclosure: native Mainer) My family recipe uses shortening in the filling as well as the cakes, but this sometimes turns the filling crnchy and grainy if the proportions aren’t attended to correctly.

    And *haughty sniff* Pennsylvanians call theirs “gobs.” On that basis alone, Mainers should be able to claim our melodious name as the One that Reigns Supreme. Wouldn’t you rather make whoopie (pies) than make gobs (spittle comes to mind) ?

    • Eeeeeeeeeeeeeew. I’d never heard of them called “gobs” but I wouldn’t doubt it. I remember first telling my husband- who is from Texas about these and he still cracks jokes about the innuendo-inspiring name.

      • Katy says:

        Ugh, that is an awful name! I don’t think anyone knows where the name “whoopie pies” came from either.

        Macee, I’ve never had a problem with the filling getting crunchy with these. I store them in an airtight container, and they’re still pretty good after a few days (if they even last that long).

  4. Jay says:

    C’mon, they NEVER last that long……..

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