Gluten-free Living: It’s town meeting season; bring on the whoopie pies!
The origins of the whoopie pie are far from clear: Both Maine and Pennsylvania purport to be its birthplace, a town outside of Boston lays claim to its signature filling and the Wikipedia page devoted to its history has long been a subject of debate.
One thing is certain: At no time of year are these frosting-stuffed treats more ubiquitous around here than mid-March. It’s town meeting season, and that means every deliberative session, polling location and public hearing is prime turf for a bake sale. And those bake sales almost always include whoopie pies.
Perhaps it’s the whoopie pie’s contentious beginnings that make it so appealing to voters spreading a picnic lunch across some folding chairs and hunkering down for an hours-long municipal debate. Or maybe it’s the treat’s perfect balance between gooyness and portability, or how it goes equally well with morning coffee or an afternoon carton of milk.
No matter the origins or appeal of whoopie pies, I’m pleased to say that they can be made gluten free with fantastic results. The filling requires no adaptation at all and the cakes bake up nicely with just a few small changes. For flour, I use Pamela’s Baking & Pancake mix, which is available at most local grocery stores.
Conventional whoopie pies are usually baked on a regular cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. I tried that with the gluten-free batter and ended up with a half dozen fudgy pancakes. They tasted great, but looked a little weird. Thicker cakes require special equipment. I’ve seen whoopie pie pans in the baking aisle, but if – like me – you don’t have room for any more kitchen gear, try a jumbo muffin tin. Fill each greased cup with a few tablespoons of batter and, when the cakes are finished, let them cool a bit before removing them.
No matter what kind of pan you use, the cake part of a gluten-free whoopie pie will be thinner than its traditional counterpart, so it’s important to make sure each crumb packs a chocolate punch. That’s why I upped the amount of cocoa powder and used the dark chocolate variety. If that’s still not enough for you, consider mixing in a handful of shaved semi-sweet chocolate or mini chocolate chips.
A moist cake is important, but let’s face it: The whole point of the whoopie pie is the filling, and that filling must include at least one entire jar of Fluff. Although some recipes for the Pennsylvania version of the whoopie pie call for a whipped cream frosting, just about everyone in New England agrees that Fluff and shortening are required ingredients.
The reason dates back to 1930, when the Durkee-Mower company of Lynn, Mass., decided to market its signature product, Marshmallow Fluff, with a recipe collection called The Yummy Book. The original edition included detailed instructions for whoopie pies.
For the cakes:
¼ cup butter, softened
¼ cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1∕3 cup cocoa (I used dark chocolate)
2 cups Pamela’s baking/pancake mix
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter, shortening, sugar and egg. Continue beating until fluffy. Slowly add the dry ingredients, then the milk and vanilla. Mix on high for 1 minute.
Bake in the greased pan of your choice for 10 to 12 minutes or until the centers are set and edges are a bit crisp. Cool thoroughly before filling.
For the filling:
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup shortening
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 jar (71∕2 ounces) Marshmallow Fluff
1 tablespoon vanilla
Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the fluff and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Use right away or refrigerate tightly covered for up to several days.