Ex-Pittsburgher's book has gobs of recipes

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Most people who have grown up in the Pittsburgh area somewhere along the way have encountered gobs -- two chocolate cake-like cookies that sandwich a fluffy white icing. While gobs -- also known as whoopie pies -- have been around the Northeast for generations, only recently has the phenomenon taken hold of the foodie culture across the country. Like cupcakes, whoopie pies have become tres chic and are quickly becoming the focal point of many bakeries, as well as cookbooks.

The New York Times suggests that they may be the next cupcake in terms of trendy desserts, and Epicurious has named the whoopie pie as one of the big food trends in 2010. Much like the cupcake, there is wide appeal for these treats because they are small and portable, meant to be eaten with your hands. This makes them perfect for serving to kids and even at the fanciest of cocktail parties where sweets are served.

Sarah Billingsley, a Pittsburgh native and former Post-Gazette writer, co-authored the cookbook "Whoopie Pies" with Amy Treadwell. Both are cookbook editors at Chronicle Books in San Francisco and were in a meeting when the subject of a cookbook focused solely on whoopie pies came up. Ms. Billingsley and Ms. Treadwell volunteered to put their heads together and come up with recipes for the book, which Chronicle published earlier this year.

So what pushed the women to take the whoopie pie plunge? Ms. Billingsley explains, "I think it was a combination of the pure, happy silliness of saying 'whoopie pies' every day, as well as seeing an uptick in nostalgic dessert books in the market. Anything that's tasty and makes you smile is worth doing."

The whoopie pie is said to have originated in Pennsylvania Amish country (though one historian traces the recipe back to Germany) and also are popular in New England; Ms. Treadwell says they are at every school bake sale in Massachusetts, where she grew up. Where the more Western Pennsylvanian name "gob" came from is unclear, but the treats fit into the lunch buckets of miners in coal mines, where waste coal goes onto "gob piles." You'll find gobs everywhere in this region from church suppers to gas stations.

Ms. Billingsley first encountered the treats while skiing at Seven Springs and Blue Knob, where she says "they were most definitely called gobs!" After enjoying her first bites, she found an old church cookbook from her mom's hometown in northwestern Pennsylvania, which included a recipe for whoopie pies. Mostly she ate the "classic" chocolate with white filling as a kid, but also remembers a fabulous version that she had while visiting Lancaster County -- molasses spice pies with a cream cheese filling.

The book is packed with dozens of recipes for both the cakes and fillings, which encourages endless variations. If you're lacking in creativity, just refer to the mix-and-match section, where 42 combinations are already put together for you. Try your hand at the Fat Elvis, Root Beer Float and The Candy Striper.

While she may have out-whoopied herself in the process of making the book and is on whoopie-pie-eating hiatus, Ms. Billingsley says that one of the best flavors she made while testing was the tiramisu one. Other favorites include chocolate and red velvet cake paired with plain buttercream or salty peanut butter filling, and the pistachio cardamom cake with cream cheese or rosewater buttercream.

"Whoopie Pies" provides home bakers everything they need to make these irresistible treats. Whether you call them whoopie pies or gobs, you are sure to appreciate all of the delicious, nostalgic memories the book conjures up.


Tiramisu Whoopie Pies

PG tested

These pies aren't complicated but they do take a little time and organization. For the Marbled Whoopie batter, you make both batters below and then swirl them together. Make sure you do it in batches in a shallow bowl or you'll end up mixing instead of marbling the batters.

My kids found the tiramisu filling a bit too sweet but loved the cake-like whoopies. I ate the salted caramel slather with a spoon and imagine it also would be delicious on vanilla ice cream.

-- Gretchen McKay


Classic Chocolate Whoopie
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt onto a sheet of wax paper. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter, shortening and brown sugar on low speed until just combined. Increase speed to medium and beat until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes.

Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk to the batter and beat on low until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining flour mixture and 1/2 cup milk and beat until completely combined.


Vanilla Whoopie Pie
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (for a more intense, luxurious flavor, use the seeds scraped from a vanilla bean instead)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt onto a sheet of wax paper.

In work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat together the butter, shortening, and both sugars until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and the buttermilk and beat until combined.

In a measuring cup, combine the milk, baking soda, and vinegar. Add milk mixture to the batter along with the flour mixture and beat on low until just combined. Add the vanilla and beat on medium for about 2 minutes until completely combined.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

To marble batters: Pour half of vanilla batter into large, shallow bowl. Add half of chocolate batter. Draw rubber spatula or large wooden spoon gently through two batters, swirling them together to create marbling. (Do not mix them.) Repeat with remaining batter.

Using an ice cream scoop or a 2-tablespoon measuring spoon, drop the swirled batter one scoop at a time onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake 1 sheet at a time for about 15 minutes each, or until the cakes spring back when pressed gently. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool in the pan for at least 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Makes about 30 4-inch cakes.


Tiramisu Cream Filling

  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon espresso or strong-brewed coffee or 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon rum or Marsala (optional)
  • Sift the sugar onto a sheet of parchment paper.

In work bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat together mascarpone and butter. Add sifted sugar on low speed. Increase speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add espresso, vanilla, and rum (if using), and beat until combined.


Salted Caramel Slather

We like to use coarse sea salt for its texture. These large grains won't dissolve homogeneously throughout the caramel, and it's quite a tasty surprise to hit a salty pocket in a sea of sweet.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream
  • Coarse sea salt

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, swirling saucepan gently (DO NOT STIR, or sugar will crystallize). Allow mixture to darken until sugar turns a deep amber color, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cream. Be careful -- cream will sputter and bubble when added. Whisk caramel until smooth and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Add large pinch of sea salt, stir to combine, and let rest another 30 minutes before using.

To assemble

Spread the filling onto the flat side of one cake, spread the slather on the flat side of the other cake, and press the two cakes' flat sides together. Dust the edges with cocoa powder.

-- "Whoopie Pies" by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell (Chronicle, 2010, $16.95)


Jalapeno Cornbread Whoopie Pies
Try adding 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese and leaving out the jalapeno. For the filling, spread with chutney and top with a slice of ham for a whoopie lunch.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely chopped

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the buttermilk, butter, and egg on low speed until just combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until thoroughly combined, about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture and the chopped chiles to the batter and beat on low until just combined.

Using a spoon, drop about 1 tablespoon of batter onto one of prepared baking sheets and repeat, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for about 12 minutes each or until cakes begin to brown around edges. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Makes about 48 2-inch cakes.


Bacon-Chive Goat Cheese Filling
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 4 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

In medium skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool. When cool, crumble into small pieces.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the goat cheese, cream cheese, and milk on low speed until just combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the crumbled bacon and the chives and beat on low until combined.

To assemble

Spread filling onto flat side of one cake and then press the flat side of another cake on top.

-- "Whoopie Pies" by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell (Chronicle, 2010, $16.95)


Michelle Norris blogs as the Brown Eyed Baker: michelle@browneyedbaker.com . Find the recipe for S'mores Whoopie Pies at her browneyedbaker.com , where she'll give away an autographed copy of the book. First Published July 8, 2010 4:00 AM


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