I’ve missed writing about food. I’ve been filling all my blog posts with holy, dramatic, competitive, child-based content (or, holy dramatic, competitive child-based content—the wondrous comma, oh how I love it) and neglecting to tell you about any gustatory pleasures. Part of the reason is that I’ve slapped a lid on my culinary creative streak in an effort to empty the freezers, and the other part of the reason is that I’ve been either out-and-about (gardening and meetings) or in-and-reclining (Kinky Boots [I want a pair of bright red, crotch-high boots!], Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Dumbing Us Down, The Endless Steppe).
All that is about to change.
I have three new recipes for you. The dessert one comes first, of course, and the other two may or may not follow, depending on how much more gardening and reading I feel pressured to accomplish in the next several days. But first, I must tell you about Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.
Have you read it, this hit book by Rhoda Janzen? My book club read it last month (except I didn’t start it till after the meeting—I’m all wonky these days), and they did not give it good reviews. I already had some pretty strong biases towards it, even before the group tore it to shreds, so it was with a begrudging, resentful attitude that I finally got around to cracking the spine.
And then I cracked up, giggled, snorted, and guffawed. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t really like the book (or the author, or something) but not for the same reasons as the book club ladies. And don’t get me wrong—I really like the book (or the author, or something) for some of the reasons the book club ladies don’t. Capiche?
Rhoda is a non-Mennonite who grew up Mennonite. (Problem number one: the title is a lie.) Her life slams to a halt when her husband leaves her for a guy named Bob, so she heads home to her Russian Mennonite family to recuperate. Leaping ahead so I can get to what I want to talk about: in her book Rhoda recounts the “shame-based” Mennonite foods she was raised with, foods that I, another ethnic Mennonite, have never even tasted. (Problem number two: she portrays her Mennonite culture as The Mennonite culture.) Even as an adult she admits that she is reserved about serving these weird (but delicious! she claims) foods to non-Mennonites. Embarrassed by food? Still? At forty-three? (Problem number three: pervasive immaturity.) All that said, and knowing I’m not done with the book yet, I haven’t found it nearly as offensive as I thought I would. In fact, I find it rather endearing.
And I happen to find Mennonite food to be endearing too, especially when it involves chocolate and cream. Me, embarrassed by ethnic cooking? No sirree! I’m so cocky-proud about it that I’m liable to fall kersplat on my face if I don’t watch where I’m going.
I grew up with whoopie pies. They are a classic Mennonite dessert (keep in mind I’m speaking for the East Coast Mennonite groupies), and they were always a huge treat since they take considerably more prep time than, say, brownies. But oh my, there is something delightful about two cookies mortared together with fluffy vanilla frosting. Each whoopie pie comes wrapped in plastic so you get what amounts to a brand-spanking-new dessert—from an unjaded child’s point of view, it’s almost as good as a candy bar! And then there is the two-in-one factor—you’re getting two cookies for the price of one! A veritable boon, this is indeed, one that quickens the heart of frugal Mennonites-in-training.
Since whoopie pies involve a couple extra steps (icing, joining, and wrapping), I like to make a lot at one time. And when you take into consideration that a dozen cookies will disappear in just one serving (look, I’ll do the math for you: twelve cookies make six whoopies, see?), it’s important to err on the side of too many. Not that that’s ever the case. Keep in mind, the whoopies freeze well. Not that they get a chance to hang out in their chilly box for all that long (in less than twenty-four hours, I’ve already run down to the basement two separate times to fetch me more pies), but we can pretend, right?
Now, classic whoopie pies call for a fluffy vanilla filling. The main reason that I don’t make whoopies all that often is because I’ve never liked my filling. It called for an egg white, two teaspoons of flour, and an excessive amount of beating; it was picky, finicky, and unpredictable.
But then I saw Pioneer Woman’s latest frosting—one that reduced her to a gushing, raving, blithering fanatic. I was skeptical. I crossed my arms and thought happy thoughts about chickpeas, but man! that woman is convincing. I held out for about five days before ducking my head obediently and whipping up a bowl of (to die for!) frosting…and putting it on chocolate cupcakes and covering it with sprinkles for my delighted chillens, just like she did. Like I said, she’s convincing.
Once I realized that the frosting was perfect for a whoopie pie filling, well, I was sold. And that’s the simple truth.
P.S. I have a little black dress in my closet. Think I ought to write a book?
This recipe yields a fair amount of cookies (but it’s not even close to being too much), so if you decide to halve the recipe, simply use one egg yolk in place of the whole egg (Or, you can be bold and employ the old Mennonite egg-cutting trick.)
Note: Whoopie pies invite variation, and while the chocolate cookie with vanilla cream filling is a classic, I did fill some of my cookies with some leftover peanut butter frosting (because I only made a single batch of the cream fluff frosting and consequently ran out—horrors!). The peanut butter-chocolate combo was really, really, really, reallyreallyreallyreally good.
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup sour milk
5 tablespoons water
1 cup cocoa
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
double recipe Cream Fluff Frosting (recipe follows)
Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and beat some more. Beat in the milk and water.
Sift together the dry ingredients and add them to the wet. Beat briefly to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough for an hour (or longer, if you’re not yet ready to bake).
Scoop out the dough (a smallish amount) and drop it on a greased baking sheet, keeping the dough blobs a couple inches apart. If the dough sticks to your fingers, slightly dampen them first.
Next, dampen a finger tip or two and lightly shape the cookies into smooth circles and press down on the centers a bit. (This keeps the cookies from rising too high and ensures that their tops stay crack-free and smooth.)
Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes (depending on the size of your cookies) until the tops hold firm when lightly pressed. Transfer to a baking rack and cool completely.
Upturn one of the cookies and spread its bottom with a thick (thick, THICK!) layer of filling. Find a similar shaped cookie and set it on top of the filling. Once all the cookies are filled, wrap them in individual pieces of plastic wrap, set the whoopie pies in a large, airtight container and transfer them to the freezer.
Cream Fluff Frosting
From Ree Drumond, The Pioneer Woman
When I told my mom about my new whoopie pie filling, her comment was, “Oh yes. That’s the recipe for red velvet cake frosting.” She’s always known about this recipe and yet never taught it to me? How could she!
This icing is delicious and note-worthy, addicting and dangerous. I’m tempted to keep a batch in the fridge at all times. I just know it would be good on anything and everything: muffins, bread, pancakes, scones, pot roast…
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
5 tablespoons flour
Put the milk in a small saucepan and whisk in the flour. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, till the milk thickens. Stir in the vanilla and set aside to cool.
In the meantime, cream together the butter and sugar in a separate bowl.
When the milk has cooled to room temperature (set the pan on snow or ice if you’re in a hurry), add it to the creamed mixture and beat it all together till it is light and fluffy and resembles whipped cream. Taste it. Do you detect any sugar crystals? If so, beat some more, tasting frequently as you go. When the mixture is completely smooth, stop mixing. And for crying out loud, stop tasting, too. Or else you’re not going to have any frosting left.
One batch of frosting will ice a sheet cake or fill a little more than half a recipe of whoopie pies.