Russell had oral surgery a few days ago and immediately developed quite a sweet tooth. Nothing like eating cookies and ice cream after spending hundreds on dental work! He was craving chocolate and peanut butter and asked me to make some buckeyes that I used to make when I worked for a cupcake shop. I thought it might be more fun to put a peanut buttery twist on traditional whoopie pies, and made a batch of chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies to satisfy his craving. Needless to say, they really hit the spot.
In case you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, a whoopie pie is a sandwich cookie made up of two cake-like cookies with a creamy filling between them. Whoopie pies are very popular in the Northeast and New England and, depending on the region, they sometimes go by the names black moon, gob, bob, or “BFO” for Big Fat Oreo. Although they probably originated in the Northeast, they’ve spread throughout the US in the past few decades and are well-known and well-loved all over the country. Traditionally they’re made of some kind of rich chocolate cake and filled with a creamy white vanilla or marshmallow filling. In recent years new varieties have popped up, including red velvet or pumpkin with cream cheese filling, or chocolate with fillings like peanut butter, mint, or caramel buttercream.
The history of the whoopie pie is something of a mystery. Many regions lay claim to their origins, but there is not enough evidence to prove any one area as their true birthplace. Handheld filled sandwich cakes were popular in Victorian era Europe, and whoever really invented the whoopie pie mostly likely borrowed the idea from these European treats. Victorian sandwich cakes were usually made of sponge cake filled with jam or cream, and were often cut into small slices or slivers and served with tea. Whatever their origins, America’s whoopie pies are decidedly less refined.
Many people agree that whoopie pies were invented by the Amish of Pennsylvania dutch country. The popular belief in this area is that these cookies were invented in Amish and Pennsylvania German culture and the recipe was passed down through generations without leaving any official paper trail. The legend has it that an Amish homemaker probably used some leftover cake batter to make cookies for her children, topped them with some buttercream, and liked the results so much that she shared the recipe with the surrounding community. The claim is that Amish mothers would pack the cookies into their children’s lunch bags and, on finding them, the kids would shout “Whoopie!”
Today these cookies are commonly sold in Amish country stores and farm stands throughout Pennsylvania and no trip to this region is complete without indulging on a traditional Amish whoopie pie.
The Berwick Cake Co. in Boston, Massachusetts also claims to have invented this treat. They claim to have started selling whoopie pies in the 1920s or 30, but the oldest printed reference to Berwick making whoopie pies is a newspaper ad from 1950. Although the bakery closed years ago, the brick building still has the words “Whoopee! Pies” painted on its side. Whether Berwick invented them or not, many people believe they have commercial, rather than Amish, origins. These people believe that a production bakery probably used up some leftover cake batter and came up with a handheld cake by baking the batter on a pan like a cookie.
The state of Maine also lays a claim to the origins of the whoopie pie. Labadie’s bakery in Lewiston, Maine claims to have been making the confectionery since 1925, but many others think that the idea probably made its way to Maine from another state. Some people believe that the cookie traveled with some Amish groups that left Pennsylvania and moved to Maine. Others say that the whoopie pie came to Maine in the 1930s when a cook book featuring a recipe for a whoopie pie with marshmallow cream filling was published and distributed in New England by the Durkee Mower Company, the manufacturer of Marshmallow Fluff.
Whether whoopie pies were invented in Maine or not, the people of Maine take this cookie very seriously. In 2011, the Maine State Legislature entertained the idea of naming the whoopie pie the official state dessert, but ultimately decided to name it the “Official State Treat”, choosing wild Maine blueberry pie as the state dessert instead.
The size of whoopie pies varies greatly depending on the region as well. Especially in Pennsylvania, some whoopie pies are huge sandwich sized confections that can feed two or more people. Other areas produce individual sized cookies, and recently some areas have started making bite sized mini whoopie pies.
The whoopie pies I made aren’t the huge Pennsylvania style, but they’re not the bite-sized variety either. I used a #24 portion scoop, about 3 tablespoons, and my pies ended up being about the serving size of a cupcake. This recipe made 12 finished sandwich cookies for me, but depending on the size you make them, your yield may be much different from mine. If you do decide you want to make your cookies a different size, you may need to adjust your cooking time by a few minutes.
This recipe produces a deep dark & chocolatey cookie. The addition of a healthy dose of coffee adds even more depth to the dark chocolate notes, and the combination of brown sugar, oil and buttermilk give it a wonderful chewy, moist and pillowy soft texture. Even without the filling, this cookie is phenomenal, and I “accidentally” baked an odd number of cookies and was forced, against my will I might add, to eat one on its own.
The real star here though is the peanut butter buttercream. It’s ultra smooth and creamy, just a little bit salty, a little more sweet, and crazy peanut buttery. It might be a bit too soft and loose to serve on super hot summer days, but this time of year it’s perfect. Briefly refrigerating the finished whoopie pies will help set the filling so it doesn’t smoosh out the sides when you bite down. The combination of these rich chocolate cakes with the sweet smooth creamy peanut buttery goodness of this filling is better than you can even imagine. Are you drooling yet? I am.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies
3½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
1¼ teaspoons baking soda
¾ cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/2 cup hot coffee
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cups peanut or canola oil
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature, shaken
Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda, and set aside.
In another large bowl, whisk together the cocoa and espresso powder. Add the hot coffee and 1/2 cup hot water and whisk until both powders are completely dissolved.
In a medium bowl, stir the brown sugar and oil together. Add this to the cocoa mixture and whisk until combined. Add the egg, vanilla and buttermilk and whisk until smooth. Using a rubber spatula to gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Make sure to scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl as you fold.
Use a portion scoop with to drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets about 1-inch apart. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean. Let the cookies cool completely on the pans while you make the filling (recipe below).
Turn half of the cookies so the flat side faces up, and distribute the filling evenly between the overturned cookies using a portion scoop, piping bag, or icing spatula. Top the buttercream with another cookie and press down gently so the filling spreads to the edges of the cookies. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set the filling, and let the cookies come back to room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Whoopie pies will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge, on a parchment-lined baking sheet covered with plastic wrap.
Peanut Butter Buttercream
1 cup creamy peanut butter
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
With the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, cream the softened butter and peanut on high-speed until completely blended and smooth. Add sugar and, on low-speed, mix until combined. Turn up to high and beat until fluffy.