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The dense American-style sponge cake sandwiched together with buttercream has taken Britain’s chic-est bakeries by storm
When it comes to the delightful world of comfort baking, we have an awful lot to thank the Americans for. Whether it’s the Barefoot Contessa baking velvety chocolate cake and nutty brownies (did you see that one? God bless the Food Network) with copious amounts of butter sticks and thick heaps of frosting, or Carrie Bradshaw and co biting into perfectly iced cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery, the Americans somehow have a way with cake that is so much more indulgent than our pristine British afternoon teas of dainty Victoria sponges and lemon drizzles.
And now it’s time to make way for the latest buttercream-stuffed, sugar-rich novelty to hit our waistlines from across the shores: the whoopie pie. It’s hard to take a name like that seriously in a culinary context, but that’s the point. “It’s meant to be fun — it’s simple yet different,” says Sophie Grey, manager of Crazy Baker, an artisan deli-cum-bakery in Kensal Green, North London, which has been selling whoopies since the start of the year, after a friend in New York told Grey about the recent craze there.
The name may be worth a giggle, but it’s misleading. A classic American whoopie pie is not a pie at all, but is often described as a cross between a cookie and a cake sandwich — some cakies call them “Oreo sandwiches”, since they have a drier bite than regular sponge. It’s basically two chubby domes of firmer-than-usual chocolate cake stuck together with a thick filling of whipped-up vanilla butter cream, sometimes decorated on top, sometimes not. I prefer them plain, the way most Americans will tell you they’re supposed to be. It makes them look more wholesome — even though, obviously, they’re not.
Whoopie pies have been around modestly for decades in America and have recently seen a resurgence in popularity — thanks partly to the Magnolia Bakery in New York, which introduced maple-cream-filled whoopies two years ago. But the real story of the whoopie starts in the 1920s, when Amish farmers’ wives started making them from leftover cake batter as a lunch treat for their husbands, who ploughed the fields of Pennsylvania.