Whoopie pies celebrate a sweet century
LEWISTOWN — Bev Kauffman can’t resist making her famous soft chocolate sandwich cookies for her family. Each cookie is filled with a layer of fluffy white frosting and seasoned with her secret ingredient.
The 59-year-old Kauffman has made her famous cookies for years. These cookies are viewed as pies, sandwiches or even cakes by some. To many in the Juniata Valley, they are commonly called “whoopie pies” and they are celebrating a century of deliciousness.
Happy birthday, whoopie pies!
“My secret ingredient is love,” said Kauffman, who ran a catering business for nearly 20 years in Juniata County when she lived in McAlisterville. “I love to bake. I enjoy sharing as much as the baking itself.”
Of course, these tasty treats never last long in her Lewistown house with her husband, Joe, three children and two grandsons around.
“My husband gets a lot of goodies in his cooler,” she said. “He’s an over the road truck driver. I pack food for days at a time. It saves money on the road eating.”
As far as her famous whoopie pies are concerned? “I make them several times a year,” Kauffman said. “Or when my kids throw hints for some.
“I was given a recipe by Joe’s aunt from Lancaster County,” she explained. “I have searched for nearly 30 years for the perfect recipe, and this is it!”
The Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau in Lancaster claims the whoopie pie recipe comes from the area’s Amish and Pennsylvania German heritage. Immigrants brought predecessors of the whoopie pie to communities throughout the northeast in the early 1920s. These origins are not likely to have an official paper trail — and the baking traditions have been handed down through generations.
Historians believe the first whoopie pies were made from leftover cake batter, and Amish legend has it that, when children and even farmers would find the delicious treat in their lunch pails, they’d yell out, “Whoopie!” — hence the name.
The recipes for whoopie pies created by the Amish and Pennsylvania German communities and have been handed down for years in home kitchens and small bakeries, from generation to generation.
Kauffman grew up in a large family — the fifth oldest child of eight — and has never had any formal training in the kitchen. “I taught myself cooking and baking,” she said. “I don’t follow directions well, so I just whip them up from imagination.”
Today, whoopie pies are sold throughout the country. At least five states, including Pennsylvania, still boast to be the birthplace of the whoopie pie. Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Virginia have similar historical accounts.
The only undeniable fact is that over the past century, whoopie pies have become one of the most loved comfort foods, especially around in the Juniata Valley.
Traditional whoopie pies — sometimes called gobs in Western Pennsylvania, where a Johnstown bakery has trademarked the name — are made using two round mound-shaped pieces of usually chocolate cake, or sometimes pumpkin, gingerbread or other flavored cakes, with a sweet, creamy filing or frosting sandwiched between them.
“I have a couple of different fillings,” said Kauffman, who likes to experiment with her frosting flavors. “One has whipped egg whites and sometimes a cream cheese filling. I have also made peanut butter filling and Nutella filling.”
While the chocolate cake with white filling is the traditional whoopie pie, bakers, including Kauffman, have used a wide selection of flavors including pumpkin, peanut butter, chocolate chip, vanilla, oatmeal, coconut, red velvet, gingerbread, banana and spice cake.
And just as family recipes vary, so do recipes for whoopie pies.
Want to try something unusual? Head to Juniata Valley Winery in Mifflin on Aug. 13 as they celebrate their 10th anniversary with a whoopie pie and wine pairing event (must be 21 or older, and tickets are required).
You can also follow your sweet tooth to the annual Whoopie Pie Festival in Ronks, Lancaster County, on Sept. 10. The Greatest Whoopie Pie Contest is a tradition at the state Farm Show each January.
Bev Kauffman’s Best Ever Whoopie Pie
(enough to make 120 cakes, or 60 finished whoopie pies)
1 cup half and half
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups oil
2 cups brown sugar
8 cups flour
2 cups cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Mix all ingredients together in order. Bake at 400 degrees for 7 to 9 minutes.
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup shortening
6 to 8 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla
Mix all ingredients together. Use ice cream scoop to proportionally divide the filling among the cakes. Spread the scoop to cover one of the cakes with filling. When finished, place another cake on top to form a sandwich.