In the past year, I’ve lived in four states. Before moving to Seattle, I was working in the art department of film production for three years. Shuffling from Boston to Philadelphia to Hamden, Connecticut. In the film world, as well as in television, there’s a magical land on set that everyone prizes above all else: Craft Service. There are unicorns and rainbows and butterflies and…Okay there aren’t butterflies. Just the ones that ensue with Leonardo DiCaprio. But when you’re working a twelve hour shift, the sprawling and elaborate spread of snacks and goodies feels quite a bit like the inside of the pearly gates. Cast and crew flock to it. The catering companies are known on a first name basis. The idea is that well-fed workers will be both happy and productive. I don’t know about the happy, but I think the productive part is true.
Now, if you’ve read any of my babble here on this blog in the last few months, you might already know about my passion for baking. I’ve written more love poems to baking than I’d care to admit publicly. Well, I actually already shared them publicly. That’s what chocolate almond toffee bars will induce. But if you haven’t read any of my tales, I’ll have you know: I love to bake. The energy, the finesse, the decoration, and certainly the tastes of what’s made from scratch. For me, a Sunday isn’t quite as special without me in my kitchen whipping up confection after confection, throwing one to two pans at the wall, and cursing. So one lovely Sunday last fall, while I was living in Philadelphia, I decided to package some of my sweets and tote them to set with me the next day.
What began as “a simple sweet treat” for my coworkers turned into homemade oreos, congo bars, and oatmeal cream pies. A good indication that my brain does not register words like “one” or “simple.” The bake shop I set up in the production office on that Monday was a hit. Or a hoot, whichever way you choose to classify obscenity. Within thirty minutes, a line had formed to my own little craft service station, my desk, and the goodies were gone.
I think a part of their appeal was that they were homemade. More special than, say, Chips Ahoy. Making people happy (even if just through their taste buds) felt wonderful. And because I wanted to maintain that joyful high, I did it again on Tuesday, but this time the treats were black and white cookies, and Wednesday we had coconut cupcakes, Thursday was cheesecake, and on and on until I started bringing desserts in with names that needed phonetic spelling and a dictionary: “What the hell is ganache?”
Each morning I was not only carrying my laptop, but a few tupperware containers of sweets. Everyday something new. When I had exhausted my own recipe collection, I went to my Nana. When I realized that Nana should never have been allowed to set foot near an oven, much less a stovetop, I went to my second grandmother, Julia Child. I read cookbooks, blogs, and the backs of sugar packages for inspiration. Note: Don’t bake the recipes on the back of the sugar packages.
In all, it was sixty straight days of baking. I’m not sure that’s even something to be proud of. It might be better classified as “the time I should have been in that institution where they filmed Shutter Island.” And since I worked on that film, I know the ins and outs of a mental hospital. Either way, I was happy. Content to work a twelve hour day in film and moonlight as a baker. When asked how I found the time to do it, I responded with the only true statement I knew at the time, “You find time for the things you love.” My boyfriend might have disagreed.
That span of two months was bliss: I made quite a few friends, learned new baking techniques, new recipes, the art of cake decorating, that there is a such thing as a sugar-induced coma, and that even though you think you deserve a medal for your hard work, Oprah only wants guests on her show who have done something remarkable for humanity. Unfortunately.
This story might merit a disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
These petite pumpkin pie sandwiches are full of spice and warm autumn flavor. The cakes are fluffy, moist, and light. The cream cheese filling is luscious and tangy- the best balance for the cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Bake them on a fall day. Bake them just because. Rather, eat them just because.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk your flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
In a separate large bowl, stir the brown sugar and oil until well combined.
Add the eggs and vanilla, whisking well so that they’re fully incorporated in the batter.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I did not because I had run out, but trust me- you want parchment so they don’t stick!). Drop tablespoon-fuls of batter onto the sheet. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until they spring back to your touch when you press them with your finger. You can also insert a toothpick in the center and it should come out clean.
Let the whoopie pies cool completely on the baking sheet set on top of a wire cooling rack. While the pies are cooling, make your cream cheese filling. When the pies are completely cool, generously slather the frosting on the underside of one of the pies and top with another, pressing lightly so that the filling oozes a bit to the edges.
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
recipe from Martha Stewart
(makes 12 large or 24 small)
- FOR THE PUMPKIN WHOOPIE COOKIES
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon ground cloves
- 2 cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 3 cups pumpkin puree, chilled
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- FOR THE CREAM-CHEESE FILLING
- 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk your flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
- In a separate large bowl, stir the brown sugar and oil until well combined.
- Add the eggs and vanilla, whisking well so that they’re fully incorporated in the batter.
- Now add the pumpkin and stir until smooth.
- And then stir in the flour mixture, mixing just until combined.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop tablespoon-fuls of batter onto the sheet. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until they spring back to your touch when you press them with your finger. You can also insert a toothpick in the center and it should come out clean.
- Let the whoopie pies cool completely on the baking sheet set on top of a wire cooling rack. While the pies are cooling, make your cream cheese filling: Beat the butter and cream cheese for 30 seconds, to combine. Add the vanilla and then slowly beat in the confectioner’s sugar until the mixture is smooth and somewhat fluffy.
- When the pies are completely cool, generously slather the frosting on the underside of one of the pies and top with another, pressing lightly so that the filling oozes a bit to the edges.