Feb 8, 2012

Dark Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Salted Caramel Frosting & Salted Caramel Sauce

Go ahead and wipe the drool, it's okay I won't tell anyone.  Yes, I was pretty proud of myself.  This one's dandy.
I wanted to test two things here making these pies: one, that I could attempt making caramel from scratch.  And two, that I could make cream cheese frosting that didn't separate.  After a bit of trial and error (and cursing) I figured out the tricks. 
First, for the caramel you MUST, I repeat MUST not be interrupted during the sacred caramel process.  No phone calls, no potty breaks, no 'mommy I'm hungry.'  Yep you must devote 15 short minutes to watching that pan boil.  If you turn your back for one quick second it will scorch before you have the chance to say 'oh *uck!'  It's OK, it happened to me, not gonna lie.  But the second time around it was perfect.  Oh, and the use of a candy thermometer works immensely.   
For the cream cheese frosting, I finally figured out the secret.  Every time I try to prepare this 'delicious-sin-in-a-bowl', it separates.  And becomes gritty.  And is ugly and drippy.  Forget about piping, the consistency is non-existent.  But here is the trick.  Leave your cream cheese out overnight to guarantee it is room temperature.  Take the butter out of the fridge 3 hours before you're going to start preparing the frosting.  It shouldn't be cool, but it should still hold the shape of a cut cube.  Also, and this is equally as important…do not over beat.  The more you beat cream cheese the more it will start to separate.   Beat in the powdered sugar until it disappears, and then stop.   Sounds simple enough but these two tricks made all the difference in the world.  This was the first time I have EVER piped cream cheese frosting.  Whoopie.   
Whoopie Pies.
If you're not familiar, whoopie pies are pretty much the same thing as a cupcake, just layered differently.  A whoopie pie is composed of a cake top and bottom, with frosting in the middle.  Easy to eat and easy to store.

The origin of the name is hilarious, oh you're going to love this.  Whoopie pies are originally an Amish treat (I was surprised by this, isn't sugar a sin?).  The wives would put the pies in their husband's lunch pail and when they'd open it at lunch time they'd see the sin cake, ahem, whoopie pie and yell 'WHOOPIE!'  I guess sugar can do that to you when you don't have electricity.

No disrespect to the Amish, just having some fun.  My family is originally from Pennsylvania so the Amish are A-OK with me.    

I may have mentioned this before but I am somewhat of a sucker when it comes to kitchen gadgets.  I think it's because I really love to cook and if there is a tool out there that will help make my life easier, I'm all for it.

I don't know if the Williams-Sonoma Whoopie Pie Pan would make my life any easier, but I fell for it anyway.  SUCKA…I know.
BUT I did have a very good reason to buy this pan…I had recently made whoopie pies a few months back but they turned out more like whoopie chushions.  They were HUGE.  Like the diameter of pancakes.  Yes, yes delicious I know, but dainty – not even close.  The recipe didn't specify how much batter to place on the pan, so I eyeballed an amount.  Which must have been somewhere around 1/3 of a cup.  Too much.  WAY too much.
If you do decide to purchase the pan, here is a tip: To remove, gently turn the cake while still inside the pan and it will slide right out.  I only realized this on the last batch so lucky you!   
A note on salted caramel.

The salted caramel craze hit a few years back, but due to the overwhelming popularity it's become more of a staple with confectionary chefs.  Even Starbucks got in on the bandwagon and developed a salted caramel hot chocolate, yum.  Wal-Mart, yep Wal-Mart has introduced a salted caramel to their store brand selection of truffles.  Yowza.  I figured now that salted caramel has hit main-stream America, I better hurry up and learn how to make it before something new comes rolling into town.

So just how to describe salted caramel if you haven't encountered it yet?  Well, don't let the salt fool you.  It's not like potato chip salty.  It's more like a touch of salt on your tongue.  Just enough for you to notice, but not over-power.  The salt merely enhances the sweetness.

The ingredients are incredibly simple: water, sugar, heavy cream, butter, and fleur de sel.  But the technique, not so much.  As I mentioned earlier I burned the first batch.  It came together so fast I wasn't sure how long I should continue keeping it on the heat.  Something strange I noticed was that it burned in one spot in the pan.  This told me something fishy was going on.  See I was using kind of a cheap-o pan.  It's thin with no Teflon, maybe from Ikea.  It wasn't distributing the heat thoroughly and I think that is why I got the hot spot.  So for the second batch I used my special T-fal pan that I love as much as my Kitchen Aid mixer.  It  has a little red heat symbol on the bottom of the pan that disappears once its pre-heated, cool I know.  With the second batch (using this pan) it was like I was testing a different recipe.  It came together beautifully and took it's time.  Once it turned amber in color (which is when you should remove from the heat) it didn't burn up or turn black, it just slowly became deeper in color, which is what you want to achieve.

Whoopie Pies (cake only)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder OR Hershey's Dark Chocolate Cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg


If you're here in Dubai you'll know that it is impossible to find buttermilk and you'll have to make your own.  It's simple, don't worry you don't need a churn.  Just some vinegar or lemon juice.  Take one tablespoon of either (taste will not be affected, both work the same) and pour into a measuring cup.  Fill with milk until you've got 1 cup.  Let sit for 5 minutes.  Give it a stir and poof you've got buttermilk (or something close enough).

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Once it's sifted, use a whisk to incorporate.  This ensures it's thoroughly combined with no salt/baking soda pockets.

Add vanilla to the buttermilk and stir to combine.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a handheld, then add egg, beating until combined well.

Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

Grease either the whoopie pie pan or a baking sheet with Crisco, butter or baking spray.  If you use crisco or butter here is a tip to help grease the pans with little fuss.

Using a sandwich baggie like a glove dig out about 2 tablespoons of crisco and wipe down the pan.  No fuss no muss.

Using a cookie scoop fill whoopie pie pan holes with batter.  Fill entire hole and level with the back of a spoon.  If using a baking sheet, measure out 1/4 cup mounds of batter and place 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet.


Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and let sit on a wire rack to cool.

Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fleur de sel

Add water to a 2-qt saucepan. Gently add the sugar to the center of the pot, give it a swirl to level it out.

Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Bubbles should like this:

Once boiling, uncover the pot and insert a candy thermometer. Continue cooking until the mixture registers 300 F and is just starting to develop some color, about 15 minutes.

Reduce heat under the pot to medium and cook until the syrup is amber and registers 350 F on the thermometer, about another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the cream into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. If it simmers before the syrup is ready, just take it off the heat and set aside.
Remove the caramel from the heat and add about 1/4 of the warm cream to the pot. It will bubble furiously so be careful. Once the bubbling subsides, add the remaining cream.  When it stops bubbling, whisk gently to incorporate fully.


Add the butter and the salt and whisk to combine.


Refrigerate up to 1 month.

Salted Caramel Frosting


1 cup butter, out of the fridge for 3 hours
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup salted caramel
3-4 cups powdered sugar (sifted)


Cream together butter and sugar till whipped and fluffy.

Add salted caramel.  Beat until combined, but do not over-mix.

Add sifted powdered sugar and mix until just combined, no more.

Now we've got all the components ready let's put these babies together.  So easy the kids could do this part. 

As you'll see I've used a pasty bag and a piping tip to pipe the icing and sauce.  This is by no means necessary.  I just wanted it to look pretty for the pictures.  You can simply spoon the frosting onto the cake and drizzle the sauce on with a fork if you wish.

For piping the frosting, I used a 2D tip.  It makes pretty little ribbons.  To make things easier on yourself, use this tip I learned in a cake decorating class.  Get yourself a large cup.  Have your pastry bag with the tip already in place near by.


Place the bag inside the cup and fold the edge over the side of the cup.  This makes it ridiculously easy to fill.

Using a spatula, fill the pastry bag about half way.  You don't want to over-fill otherwise the frosting can seep out the back and cause a mess.  Also having a bag that isn't filled too high is easier for your hand to grip.

For the caramel I used a much smaller tip, a #3.  Also, if you're not a fan of pastry bags, simply fill a zip-lock back with caramel and snip off the corner (just a small snip otherwise it will ooze out).  Make sure you seal the bag before hand! 

Lay out half of your whoopie pies and pipe (or spoon) the frosting onto the flat side.


Then pipe (or drizzle) the caramel.

Place another cake on top.  Job complete.

That was a long one but well worth the effort.



Whoopie Pie cake recipe and Salted Caramel Sauce adapted from Erin's Food Files.

Salted Caramel Frosting courtesy of Baked Bree.

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