Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cake Pops, Whoopie Pies and More!

Charlotte Canelli is the Library Director at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood.

This is the year of the mini-dessert. Or it has been for some time now. I visited a cupcake store in Falmouth this past year and had one of the best mouthfuls of cupcake I’ve ever had. Half of it consisted of frosting but man, was it good. My daughter served cupcakes as the official cake at her wedding last spring.

The cupcake craze might have only started a few years back but I’ve heard that it’s now over and I’ve wondered what will happen to all those wonderful cupcake stores.

A few shops have smartly named themselves Happy Cakes, Crumbs, Sweet Dreams or Cup of Cake. They aren’t stuck with the cupcake theme and they now sell other sweet and up-and-coming treats like cake pops, whoopie pies and macarons.

Macarons have been around for awhile but in this country we’ve apparently just discovered this haute dessert item. Bon Appétit says that the macaron is more sophisticated than the cupcake and it has “challenged the cupcake’s crown”. Who knew but I’ve heard from my Manhattan-working daughter that crispy and slightly moist macarons are all the rage in the more sophisticated places like New York, Paris and London.

Don’t confuse the macaron or buttercream/jam-filled confectionery that is commonly made with egg whites and ground almonds for the coconut macaroon although the spelling is actually the same in English for both. The French macarons are artificially colored in a wide variety of colors, mainly pastels. Some have fillings with added liqueurs. No one really knows who first invented them although they could have arrived in France with Catherine d’Medici of Italy.

Cake pops are another new adventure in desserts. If you eat only one, you might think you’ve saved yourself some calories but there are as many cake pop variations as there are cupcakes and they are covered in sugary coatings and treats. If you want to envision a cake pop, think “whimsically-decorated donut hole on a stick”. Cake pops can actually be baked in a donut hole baker and this saves on the time-consuming rolling and baking technique or the calorie-rich fried donut hole technique.

Is it a cake, is it a pie or is it a cookie? Well, it’s a whoopie pie! These aren’t new to us New Englanders and they might not be original to Massachusetts, either. Pennsylvania also lays claim to the whoopie pie but Maine is the only state that has claimed it as their official ‘state treat.’ When we made whoopie pies years ago, we dropped thick chocolate cake batter onto cookie sheets and they took on a life of their own while baking. It never mattered what shape they were when filled with a sweet, creamy mixture. Today there are official whoopie pie baking pans for sale which bake uniform round shapes. For the past six year, the “What the Fluff” festival has been held in Somerville, home to Fluff where it was created in 1916 and each year the whoopie pie is honored at the festival where a best whoopie pie award is given.

Maybe you’d like to try your hand at creating some of these sweet treats (and possibly prove to your family and friends that you know that cupcakes are oh-so-no-longer-trendy). Or perhaps you’d like to put your whoopie pie up for an award in Somerville next year. There are many cookbooks to help you make whoopie pies, cake pops, macarons and other bite-sized desserts.

The covers on some baking books make you want to visit a bakery on the spot or learn how to perfect the art! “Cake Pops: Tips, Tricks, and Recipes for More than 40 Irresistible Mini Treats” (2010) by Angie Dudley, “Bake Me, I’m Yours … Cake Pops” (2011) by Carolyn White, “Crazy For Cake Pops: 50 All-New Delicious and Adorable Creations” (2011) by Molly Bakes, and “Pop Bakery: 25 Recipes for Delicious Little Cakes on Sticks” (2011) by Clare O’Connell are four of those books. Cake pops can also be molded out of crumbled cake that is mixed with frosting. Some of the more intricately-decorated pops are not for the faint of heart but with these books and some practice you might want to go into business.

The macaron business is certainly a colorful world. You’ll need to learn to create a varied and extensive palette with food dyes and use these books for recipes: “Macarons” (2011) by Berengere Abraham, “Macarons: Authentic French Cookie Recipes from the MacarOn Café” (2011) by Cecile Cannone, “Mad About Macarons: Make Macarons Like the French!” (2010) by Jill Colonna, and “Les Petits Macarons: Colorful French Confections to Make at Home” (2011) by Kathryn Gordon.

Whoopie pies don’t always have to be chocolate as evidenced in the plethora of baking books reserved just for them. Here are only four: “Whoopie Pies: Dozen of Mix ‘em, Match ‘em, Eat ‘em Up Recipes” (2010) by Sarah Billingsley, “Whoopies! Fabulous Mix-and-Match Recipes for Whoopie Pies” (2011) by Susanna Tee, “Making Whoopies: the Official Whoopie Pie Book” (2010) by Nancy Griffin, and “The Whoopie Pie Book: 60 Irresistible Recipes for Cake Sandwiches Classic and New” (2011) by Claire Ptak. Red velvet whoopie pies. Pumpkin filled with cream cheese. Oatmeal filled with maple-bacon? The choices and combinations are endless.

Remember if our book is not available or if we don’t have a copy, you may request any book from any of the 42 Minuteman libraries online. Reference librarians can find the book at other libraries within Massachusetts or New England. If you need help finding a book at the Morrill Memorial Library or within the Minuteman Library Network, please call the Reference or Information desks (781-769-0200) or visit the library in person.