through kitchen windows: whoopie pies, old-school maine style

whoopie pies

My friend Mary is one of those bright lights who can whitewash a dark sky. Could convince you that the sky would be much better pink and you’d believe her. For as long as I’ve known her she’s been in a constant chrysalis, and I have to confess it’s a beautiful thing to see. We found one another at Columbia, and while I tend to write around my heart, Mary has a way with words that yanks that beating heart out of your chest and lays it out to pasture. While I prattle on incessantly about clocks under the floorboards {my fear of time, of death}, she’s spare, honest — unflinchingly so, and you want to be cast in her light, feel the warmth of it.

It occurs to me today that I now know why I’ve always loved The Shining the way I do, with an intensity that sometimes even hard for me to articulate. The whole movie is allegedly a fantastic journey into the heart of darkness, a macabre tête–à–tête, when really it’s about an alcoholic, abusive father who happens to be a terrible writer. As he attempts to write his way out of the mirror that is his own story, his son travels into the recesses of his imagination and he too conjures his way out. In the end, the son is the calculating architect of his father’s demise, while we all walk away and talk about the twins, the bloody elevators and Redrum. The Shining is a series of literary diversions from real, raw pain, and I tend to pick up words like cross-stitch to create a wall between me and you.

It’s not personal.

Perhaps this is why I adore Mary so much. There is no pretense, she plays out her hand. And this is perhaps also why she’s the first subject {perhaps unknowingly} of my mini-series, Through Kitchen Windows. Over the next year I’ll bake and cook the recipes that are near and dear to my friends’ hearts. I also learn the story behind the food {and share what my friends feel comfortable sharing} on this space.

My friend Mary hails proudly from Maine, and today we talked about a different sort of Maine. Not the one we think we know — all L.L. Bean, lobsters, glinting waves and whip-white sails — but of the poverty, the wrecked economy, of the folks who have lived in Maine their whole lives but will never own a boat. But my friend’s pride and passion for her home is infectious, so much so that she radiates when she talks about whoopie pies — a childhood treat. And although I’m tempted to alter this recipe, hide the Crisco, futz with Dutch Process cocoa, I would be doing my great friend a disservice.

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Because this is exactly how she remembers home, and one should never alter that…

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe {and words} courtesy of my sweet gal, Mary Phillips-Sandy, who culled this from two old New England
recipes I found online and some consultation with my mom
.
For the shells
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
1 c. light brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 tsp. salt
1 egg, room temp
1/2 c. cocoa powder (Mary uses and recommends Hershey’s, for that you’re-back-in-grade-school flavor)
1 c. milk (whole, or almond — unsweetened plain)
10 oz. all purpose flour OR 10 oz. Authentic Foods Multi-Blend gluten-free flour*

*Note: if you are using AP flour and don’t have a scale, it’s about 2 1/3c. if you use the gf blend, use a scale for best results. I have not tested this recipe with other GF blends so can’t vouch for them. if you want to experiment, note that the AF multi-blend is made with xanthan gum, so you’d have to add that if you are using a gf blend without it.

For the filling
1 c. Crisco (YES. CRISCO. MUST BE CRISCO.)
1-1 1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 c. Marshmallow Fluff (if your store doesn’t carry this, you can order it online from Amazon)
2-3 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt dissolved in 2 tsp. of warm water

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DIRECTIONS
For the shells
Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter till fluffy. Add sugar, cream well. Beat in baking powder, salt, soda and vanilla. Cream well. Add egg. Guess what? Cream well again. Add the cocoa. Cream it. Add the flour and milk, alternating, beating well between each addition. Start and end with flour. Why? I have no idea but recipes always tell you
to do that.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or Silpat and drop batter on it in scant 1/4 c. scoops. Leave room- these will spread as they bake. You can also use a tablespoon or smaller cookie scoop to make smaller pies. Bake 15-18 minutes (baking time will vary depending on whether you use regular or gf flour, and how big you made your pies). The tops should be dry and firm to the touch. Use a spatula to lift shells onto a wire rack to cool.

Cool completely before filling them, or the filling will melt and you will regret your impatience.

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For the filling
Beat Crisco and Fluff together at high speed until creamy and fluffy. Add dissolved salt and 2 tsp. vanilla. Beat well. Beat in 1 c. confectioner’s sugar. Taste. You might want to add another teaspoon (or even two) of vanilla, depending on how strong your extract is. Beat in another 1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar if the mixture is not stiff enough–it should look like very stiff buttercream frosting. If it gets too thick, beat in another 1/4 c. Fluff. This filling is very forgiving–you can add more sugar/Fluff/vanilla to your taste, as long as you maintain the right consistency.

For assembling the pies
Pair shells in twos; try to make pairs of roughly equal sizes/shapes. Spread a healthy amount of filling on the flat side of one shell. Don’t spread all the way to the edge, or it will ooze, but you want the filling to be pretty thick. Sandwich the second shell on top of the filling and press lightly to adhere. These will keep for a day or two. For best results, wrap each pie in plastic wrap and refrigerate in an airtight container.

As we say back home: wicked good.
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whoopie pies