A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from my sister-in-law asking for help. She had been coerced into being the team representative for a company bake-off and needed help in finding a recipe for something tasty, easy to make, and award-winning 😉
I sent along 3 recipes – one for cupcakes, and two for cookies – along with a few encouraging words and the offer to make something for her if all else failed. A couple of hours later, she messaged me again, this time asking if I would, in fact, make something for her to bring in for the bake-off. Along with having just moved into a new house with an oven that she has yet to test out, she’s also currently in the middle of training for a fitness competition, and this training includes a strict workout regimen and diet that doesn’t include sugar, butter, or flour. (This sounds like my personal hell. This girl has the discipline of a warrior, and the body to match.) She would have had to go out and buy all of these ingredients specifically for this project, and then she wouldn’t have even been able to taste what she was making.
Of course, I happily agreed to be a part of this devious plan. (Cue sinister laugh). She gave me free reign and told me to make whatever I wanted.
I pondered. Flipped through my recipe collection. Looked through my ingredients to see what I had in stock. What could I make?
I finally settled on Oatmeal Lace Cookie Sandwiches. Thin, delicate, buttery oatmeal cookies, with a smear of chocolate in the middle. These cookies smelled heavenly while baking – the sugar and butter caramelising and giving off a gorgeous nutty aroma. I didn’t have regular baking chocolate on hand so I picked up a few bars of dark chocolate Cadbury’s to spread onto the cookies. The result? The cookies were buttery with a crunchy, yet slightly chewy texture, and the thin layer of dark chocolate was a nice complement to the delicate cookies. They looked pretty…but…hmm, would my sister-in-law like them, and would they win a bake-off?
Hitting my recipe collection once more, I looked for something that had a little bit more of a “wow” factor in terms of looks. The oatmeal lace cookies are pretty and would look right at home on a fine china plate during tea time, but in the end, they’re just cookies.
I decided to make a batch of whoopie pies as the second option. Nothing like something so completely American to serve up in a South African bake-off! Chocolate cake-cookies with marshmallow filling. Like jacked-up Oreos.
Looks-wise, these dark cocoa colored cake-like confections with white, glossy, fluffy filling oozing out of the sides kind of take the cake (pun intended).
(Blogger fail – I forgot to take a picture of the whoopie pies.)
When my sister-in-law came over to pick up the goods the night before the bake-off, her husband in tow, we forced her to break her strict diet in order to have a taste of each item so that she could decide which one to bring into work. Unable to make a decision between the two, we packed up both for her, the oatmeal cookies being the backup for the whoopie pies. You know, just in case.
The next day, I eagerly waited to get a message from her…and lo and behold, my sister-in-law won the contest with the whoopie pies! I had quickly jotted down the ingredients for her beforehand, so she said she had a ball that day, making up stories when her co-workers asked her how she made the cookies. I’m like a ghost writer for baking…a ghost baker…?
Anyway, below is the recipe for the whoopie pies.
Barely adapted recipe from Dulce Dough
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour**
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda***
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
*The brown sugar that I’ve found here in Joburg is more granular and not as moist like what you find in the US – I just measured it out as I would with white sugar and it worked out just fine.
**Also know as “cake flour” here in Joburg.
***If baking at a high altitude, only use 1 tsp.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C and line baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined.
4. Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the mixture until everything is fully incorporated.
5. Using a scoop or a tablespoon, place uniform scoops on the baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart. Remember, these will spread a bit!
6. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes or until the top of the cakes spring back when touched.
7. Allow cakes to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet; remove and let cool the rest of the way on a rack.
Barely adapted recipe from Blogging Over Thyme
4 large egg whites (4 ounces)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Place egg whites, sugar, and lemon juice in a (*very clean) stainless steel bowl and place over a pot of lightly simmering water (double broiler).
2. Whisk constantly until sugar has dissolved and whites are lightly warm to touch. You can use your fingers to test this, but the best way would be to use a candy thermometer and get the temperature to 165°F. The original recipe notes that it should take about 4-5 minutes, depending on how cold your egg whites are.
3. Transfer into the bowl of a stand mixer (if using), or into another large, clean bowl and beat over low speed for 1-2 minutes. Increase speed to high and continue to beat for another 5-6 minutes until frosting is thick, shiny, and stiff. (You’ll know it’s ready when you take the beaters out of the frosting and it holds its peak.) If using a hand mixer, add on an extra minute or two to each stage.
4. Add the vanilla extract and beat for another couple seconds until incorporated.
*Why a very clean bowl? Traces of fat or oil in the bowl could prevent the egg whites from whisking and frothing properly. This goes for any time you’re dealing with egg whites that need to be beaten into light airiness. Meringues, marshmallows…
1. Match up pairs of the whoopie pies, making sure each pair is of the same or similar size/shape.
2. Scoop the marshmallow frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a large tip, and pipe onto one side of each whoopie pie. Be generous with the frosting – you want it big, fluffy, and visible.
3. Sandwich them all up. Eat. Enjoy.
A couple of notes:
1. I found and used this particular marshmallow frosting recipe because it uses granulated sugar instead of confectioner’s sugar, which I didn’t have on hand at the time. It’s great, and works just as well!
2. To store them, I found that it was best to stand them on their sides, and place a square of parchment or wax paper in between each one to prevent sticking.
3. Speaking of storing, these really are best on the same day, but they will keep in the fridge for a few days. Just note that the cakes will get a bit harder. Because of the egg whites in the frosting (even though they’ve been heated through), I wouldn’t recommend keeping these at room temperature for a long time.