Our dear, dear friend, Cindy, has a big birthday this Tuesday. She and her Dad are down from Worcester, pronounced “Wuh-stah”. Her brother, Jimmy Kal, and his fire-cracker wife, Sally, invited us over to watch the Superbowl with them today. I wanted to take a little pre-birthday surprise, my way of making one of those BIG birthdays more tolerable. I love Red Velvet cake and thought how can I make this more portable? Whoopie pies are the answer! Moon Pies have marshmallow in the center…I don’t do marshmallow. I do Whoopie pies. I started the cake part yesterday as some cakes are actually better the next day, Red Velvet being one of them. I took inventory of my ingredients, pulled out three or four cookbooks to compare recipes and notes I had written in the margins, and sort of got lost in my thoughts. When Jimmy took me to Boston to meet his family and friends, Cindy stood out. Always laughing and smiling, absolutely radiating with that peaches and cream skin, I knew that girl was true. And she was. As there are always people who enjoy getting to know others, people who truly bring newcomers into the circle and feel sincere affection, there are also those a little more provincial who can’t wait to pounce on the first misstep, the first faux pas, that first humiliating embarrassment. Not my Cindy. She always had my back. We joked and laughed, she included me in the insider stories that only one with history would understand and appreciate. So giving! When James needed a high chair, she lent us a vintage McDonald’s high chair with all the characters romping on the food tray along with dancing hamburgers and french fries. She was saving it for her grandchildren who were yet to be conceived. Brought it over, set it up and watched my boy make a great, big, baby mess. My boy, James, loves his Thea Cindy. She has ALWAYS given him time and never brushed him off. When James first started on Facebook he came to me and said, and I’m quoting, “Don’t even ask. You will never be a friend of mine on Facebook. Never. So don’t even ask.” Me, “but Thea Cindy is.” James, “SO?”. For the 25 years I have known and loved her she has done nothing but give of herself. Cindy’s the one who always remembers birthdays, Name Days, the day your mother or father died, your anniversary, everything. A truly special person. So, I can’t give her a moon but I can give her a red velvet Whoopie Pie. S’ agapo, meli mou. Kai Xronia Polla.
This is a super cake recipe. It’s been tweaked a bit, the original recipe is from David Guas’ “Dam Good Sweet”. Great cookbook, by the way. It’s an easy cake, better the next day, and is long on looks. The only cake that might be more Southern is a Hummingbird cake. We’ll talk about that some other time. Most recipes call for one to two tablespoons of cocoa… I’ve always added a half cup. Jes’ like David Guas, so I must be doing something right. That much cocoa makes a rich, dense, chocolatey cake. The icing can be used as the filling for the Whoopies or the icing for the cakes. I use a whole, scraped vanilla bean for the filling but have also used pure vanilla extract. Both are excellent. Oh, man. I almost forgot. For those using a vanilla bean, don’t throw it out after it’s been scraped. That stuff is precious. So stick the cut bean, bury it, in a bowl or jar of sugar. Make sure it’s covered well. That makes vanilla sugar, great for baking or to flavor tea or coffee. And for those of you who like vodka, and I know there aren’t many, drop the whole bean in a bottle of vodka and let that steep a while. Vanilla flavored vodka. As Martha would say, “it’s a good thing.”
Red Velvet Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Pecan Filling
- 2 sticks butter, at room temperature
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 (1-pound) box light brown sugar or 2 1/4 cups
- 3 tablespoons red food coloring
- 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 1 3/4 cup buttermilk
- Pre-heat oven to 350°.
- Spray non-stick spray on muffin top pans or if making cake, grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
- In a large, easy pouring bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream butter with brown sugar until combined. Add food coloring and vanilla. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and mix until fluffy and light, about two minutes.
- Reduce the speed to medium-low and add eggs one at a time, mixing well between each egg.
- Scrape down sides of bowl whenever needed.
- Reduce speed to low and add one-third of flour mixture and one half of buttermilk.
- Mix well, repeat, finishing with the last third of flour mixture.
- If making Whoopie pies, spread no more than 1/4 cup onto each muffin top tin and smooth each addition. The batter will expand in the oven. For cupcakes fill 2/3 of cups and for a cake, divide batter between two 9-inch cake pans.
- Bake Whoopies 9-10 minutes and check for doneness. Trust your nose. If they smell done sooner, test them. These cakes burn quickly. Cupcakes are baked 12-15 minutes and layer cakes are baked 35-40 minutes.
- Cool all on a wire rack for 15 minutes, invert onto cooling rack and continue to cool for one hour.
- Wrap each cake in plastic wrap for a few hours. Just do it. They come out better, I don’t know why. They just do.
Cream Cheese Pecan Filling or Icing
- 1 stick butter, at room temperature
- 2 8-ounce blocks cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 3/4 cup chopped pecan pieces
- In a medium bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese together until just combined.
- Add vanilla and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy.
- With mixer turned off, add 1/4 of confectioners’ sugar and slowly incorporate. If you do this too quickly, you and your kitchen will be wearing the sugar. Continue adding and combining until smooth and fluffy.
- Add chopped pecan pieces and, BY HAND, mix well.
- Spread cream cheese mixture completely over baked side of Whoopie then press baked side of another Whoopie firmly onto filling.
- Maintain in an airtight container until serving.