Sunday, August 21, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Maine III - That's what you get folks for makin' whoopie

The last stop on my tour of the Down East takes me back to a topic I have visited once or twice over the last few years: the whoopie pie. Now found in various forms throughout the country, from the Mid-Atlantic to the West Coast to even the South (so long as you have a Starbucks nearby selling adorable little mini-whoopie pies for $1.50 a pop), it is still classic Yankee food.

Official Name: State of Maine
State Nicknames: The Pine Tree State
Admission to the US: March 15, 1820 (#23)
Augusta (9th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Portland (largest); Lewiston (2nd largest); Bangor (3rd largest)
Northeast, New England; New England (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Maple Syrup; Clambake
Bordered by: New Hampshire (west); Québec (Canada) (northwest); New Brunswick (Canada) (north, northeast), Bay of Fundy (due east), Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Maine (southeast)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: wild blueberry (fruit); Maine wild blueberry pie (dessert); whoopie pie (treat); Moxie (soft drink); landlocked salmon (fish); moose (animal)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: New England foods; seafood, especially lobster, haddock, swordfish, salmon, clams; blueberries and apples; fiddle head ferns; whoopie pies; foods in common with southeastern Canada, including poutine

As I wrote a few years ago, the whoopie pie is relatively new to this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Up until 2009, I thought it was just some type of Moon Pie, which it's not. It has its origins, it seems, in two cultures: upper New England (read: Maine) and the Amish. Legend has it that whenever New England children knew what their mothers had just made for them - or when an Amish farmer opened his lunch pail to see what his wife had put into it - a cry of "Whoopie!" would ring out, hence the name. I can't determine where it came from first, but Mainers love it so much that they made it their official state "treat" (since wild blueberry pie is already the official state dessert).

There are many variations on the whoopie pie, but most of them are still found in the Northeast: maple, vanilla, red velvet, peanut butter, and so on. Here in the Mid-Atlantic it's mostly just the traditional whoopie pie that you can find, and it's still not that common here (yet). I decided to do the standard whoopie pie and see how that turned out. For this, I went back to Brooke Dojny, who gives a seemingly pretty standard recipe in her cookbook The New England Clam Shack Cookbook, which I also used for my first New England recipe for this series, the semi-clear, very un-creamy clam chowder that you find along the coast of Connecticut.

Dojny gets this whoopie pie recipe, on pages 218-219 of her cookbook, from the Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster Company in South Freeport, Maine.

Recipe: Whoopie Pie

Whereas the previous recipe for fiddle head ferns was very simple, this is very not - there are a lot of steps, so block out a few hours in your schedule to make these things.

The ingredients and procedures are listed in two separate sections - first the cakes, then the filling. However, several of these ingredients overlap, so note that when you are shopping or searching for them.

For the cakes you will need the following (I ended up having most of this on hand):

* granulated sugar (mostly have it, and picked up a little extra just to be on the safe side)
* unsweetened cocoa powder
* eggs
* vanilla and salt
* vegetable shortening (just enough in the pantry - I ended up using Crisco)
* white vinegar
* whole milk
* baking soda

In addition, you should have at least one cookie sheet and parchment paper, and at least one wire cookie rack.

For the filling you will need:

* confectioners sugar (picked up an extra one pound box - you will use the whole box)
* vanilla
* butter (one stick will do)
* vegetable shortening (again, Crisco)
* marshmallow creme (by most accounts, New Englanders use Marshmallow Fluff from Lynn, Massachusetts, which has several recipes for whoopie pies on its website)

Before all else, you will need to cover the cookie sheet or sheets with parchment paper.

First, the procedure for the cakes:

The first thing you need to do is combine whole milk and white vinegar.

After about 10 minutes, the milk-vinegar mixture should become slightly thickened and foamy (mine did not). You will then add baking soda to this mixture.

Meanwhile, cream together the sugar, cocoa and shortening.

Now creamed

Add eggs and beat until smooth.


Next, sift the flour and salt together, and add it alternately with the milk-vinegar mixture.

What I did was to add the dry, then the wet, then dry, wet and dry.

Blend vanilla into the batter.

When you spoon the batter onto your baking sheet, Dojny recommends using a 2 ounce ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measure, and keep the blobs of batter two inches apart from each other. I found the ice cream scoop to work better, as it yielded a smaller whoopie cake. (Did I just type that?)


Bake in a 350°F oven for 12 to 15 minutes, and transfer to wire cooling racks. Because my milk-vinegar mixture never foamed up, my whoopie cakes wound up being, well, flatter than I had expected. They still worked out fine, but they didn't get the visual puff-up that I was anticipating.

The filling was frighteningly sweet and fatty, and I could taste this even while I was mixing the ingredients.

First, mix together the softened butter and the Crisco.

You will next add the marshmallow creme. An easy way to measure this out, as Dojny notes, is to grease the inside of the measuring cup (the residual Crisco in the cup is really all you need). You will add this, along with the powdered sugar and vanilla.

This is not health food.

Now you are ready to assemble the whoopie pies.

Take a spatula and spread a more or less generous amount, to your liking.

When I got to my final whoopie pie, I decided to test out a different flavor, and added just enough maple syrup to get a maple flavor (to New Englandize the recipe even more).

What to say about this incredibly sweet dessert? When I made my first one, I ate it immediately. I gotta tell you: it made my teeth hurt. This is sugary and sweet, and tasty and delicious and evil all at once. This is a dessert that I have to eat in pieces - I have not been able to eat any of these whoopie pies whole, instead needing to eat a half a pie here, a bite there. But even as flat as mine turned out to be, these were still worth the effort. Will I do this again? Well, it IS a lot of work, and whoopie pies are becoming more common down here. Perhaps again, later on down the road. The end result is very tasty.

We have gotten to the point on this state-by-state journey where I am ready to explore the state whose food is by far the most familiar to me, not to mention many of my readers. In crossing back below the Mason-Dixon Line, how do I address the unique cuisine of my own home state? This is the issue I will tackle over the next few weeks, as I head back home, to the Chesapeake - to Maryland, hon.


Dojny, Brooke. Dishing Up Maine: 165 Recipes That Capture Authentic Down East Flavors. Storey Publishing: North Adams, MA, 2008.

Dojny, Brooke. The New England Clam Shack Cookbook. 2nd edition. Storey Publishing: North Adams, MA, 2008. Portions also available on Google Books.

El-Begearmi, Mahmoud. Facts on Fiddleheads (Bulletin #4198, Facts on Fiddleheads). Updated by Alfred Bushway, Beth Calder and David Fuller. Cooperative Extension Publications (University of Maine): Orona, ME, 1995 & 2010.

Greenlaw, Linda, and Martha Greenlaw. Recipes From a Very Small Island. Hyperion: New York, NY, 2005.

Yankee Magazine. "Dijon Fiddleheads". From "Weekly Wisdom", May 2002. Copyright 2011 Yankee Magazine.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Maine" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Maine".