Makin’ Whoopie Pies

Enjoy making four different kinds of whoopie pies: classic chocolate, peanut butter, vanilla inside-out, and pumpkin.

| November/December 2020

Photo by Adobe Stock/Alp Aksoy

Are you ready? We’re making whoopie today! Whoopie pies, that is. Let’s start with what they aren’t: a pie. Yes, I know, it’s in the name. No, I don’t know why. What I do know is that whoopie pie is a mouthwatering Pennsylvania Dutch Country treat. It’s a staple at bake shops, farmers market bakery stands, and even convenience store checkout counters.

Picture two chocolate sugar cookies, so dark they’re nearly black, and so soft they’re more like little cakes, sandwiching a layer of white vanilla filling. That’s the traditional whoopie pie. No need to stop at that, though. Some variations of classic whoopie pies include peanut-butter-filled whoopies, pumpkin whoopies with cream cheese filling, inside-out whoopies with vanilla cake cookies and chocolate ganache filling, and tiramisu whoopies. And that’s still just the beginning; the possibilities are endless. What better way to serve cake at a family reunion or backyard barbecue, or slip a piece of cake into a lunchbox without getting icing everywhere?

In fact, that’s where the name “whoopie pie” comes from. According to local legend, Amish mothers slipped whoopie pies into their children’s lunchboxes for a midday surprise. The kids would be so overwhelmed with excitement at discovering this chocolaty treat, they couldn’t help but shout, “Whoopie! Look what I’ve got!” Is that true? Try one and decide for yourself.

In western Pennsylvania’s coal country, these treats go by the name “gobs,” maybe because they reminded miners of black lumps of coal, also called “gobs.” One could even argue that a moon pie, a treat that originated in Tennessee, is a type of whoopie pie. In Maine, one of the first records of a whoopie pie — its official state treat — can be found in a 1930s recipe book titled The Yummy Book. In 1926, New York bakers began marketing an oblong cookie sandwich of devil’s food cake and white cream, called the “devil dog.” Meanwhile, the Amish and Mennonite bakers of south-central Pennsylvania kept quietly baking their own whoopie pies, slipping them into their families’ lunch kettles and selling them at farmers markets.

Who had it first? It’s hard to say with any certainty. However, the Amish have their roots in the early Mennonite church in Pennsylvania, and the Mennonites, in turn, immigrated to colonial Pennsylvania from 1700s Germany, where cream-filled cake recipes can be found.

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