Recently, I pondered making treats for my younger son’s birthday party that I could replicate for Valentine’s Day, just a few weeks beyond. Concerned with portability and mess control, I needed something I could do in advance. But cookies and bars were out: I’m a traditionalist, and I wanted cake.
I considered my options. I’ve made countless cupcakes, only to see their charmingly decorated tops marred in transit. It’s even more awkward to tote frosted layer cakes around, even if you own one of those dandy carriers. And the mess doesn’t stop at the destination — little kids can smear icing in the darnedest places.
But what about sandwiches? There’s a reason kids eat lots of them. They’re packable, versatile, and tidy, unless you overstuff them. Eureka! Cake x sandwiches = Whoopie Pies, the perfect solution to all my Valentine’s Day/birthday party/bake sale needs. The icing sits between two cake-like cookies (or cookie-shaped cakes?), so kids just might eat them without smearing goo all over the place (or so you hope). Even better, these confections improve if you make them a few days ahead and wrap them individually.
Legend has it that Amish moms made Whoopie Pies out of leftover cake batter. When dads in the fields and kids at school found them in their lunch pails, they’d holler “Whoopie!”
That’s pretty much the response I got when I brought a carton of Pumpkin Whoopie Pies to a 5K I ran with friends last fall. (Yes, it was perverse to replace all the calories we’d burned.) They can be made in any flavor cake comes in: the classic formula is chocolate with marshmallow fluff filling, but in honor of Valentine’s Day I’m going with Red Velvet and cream-cheese icing.
My Red Velvet recipe uses cultured buttermilk, lower in lactose than regular milk, so safe for my lactose-intolerant child. (Cream cheese icing will also be okay for him, though the ability to tolerate lactose varies widely amongst individuals; your kids may react differently.) He prefers vanilla to chocolate, and Red Velvet has a mild, luxurious choco-nilla flavor that should please most kids. Of course, there’s the issue of all the red dye that goes into this cake. But if you don’t feed your kids lots of processed, multicolored junk most of the time, there’s no evidence to suggest that an occasional splurge will do any damage.
On the plus side, this version contains white whole-wheat flour, adapted from my beloved Real Food for Healthy Kids (also from recipes on browneyedbaker.com and epicurious.com.
Red Velvet Whoopie Pies
Yield: a bakers dozen
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole-wheat flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon red food coloring
1 cup buttermilk
1 8-oz. bar cream cheese, soft
4 tablespoons butter (½ stick), soft
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Set oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 375. Line two baking sheets with nonstick mats or baking parchment.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar till fluffy (a stand or handheld mixer will do this in a few minutes). Add the egg, then the vanilla and food coloring, scraping sides before each addition and beating till incorporated. Stir in half the flour mixture and half the buttermilk till incorporated, then mix in the rest till no lumps remain.
Drop generous spoonfuls of batter onto baking sheets. (I used a small 1½” diameter ice-cream scoop, with a trigger for easy release. Adjust baking times if you make yours larger or smaller.) Bake 8-10 minutes, or until the middles spring back at a gentle press. Slide parchment off sheets and cool 5 minutes, then transfer cakes to cooling rack. While the first batch bakes, you can load another sheet or two of parchment with the next batch.
To make the filling, beat the butter and cream cheese together with a mixer till blended, then add sugar and beat till combined. Add vanilla and beat around 4 minutes, or till fluffy. (You’ll have more icing than you need.)
Once they’re cool, pair up cakes of similar shape and size. Spread one of each with a heaping spoonful of filling, then press pairs together. Wrap these in plastic wrap and store for up to three days.