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Before I bought this book I had only a vague idea what a whoopie pie actually was. I had heard the name mentioned as" the next cupcake fad" so I assumed they were some kind of decorated fairy cake in disguise. I don't think they ever really caught on to the extent that cupcakes did. As I like baking new things whether they are fashionable or not, I decided to buy this book when I saw a secondhand copy for sale.
SO WHAT ARE WHOOPIE PIES?
Firstly, they are not a pie at all. I have noticed in the past that the Americans have sometimes used the term "pie" where we would probably use "cake. " These are indeed American in origin. As for the "whoopie" part, that seems to be a matter for debate. They look like individual sandwich cakes, with a domed top and a filling in the middle. The book describes the texture of the pies as "softer than a chewy cookie but firmer than a sponge cake" so they are not just a glorified fairy cake after all! It is an intriguing texture and one I really enjoy. I have since bought whoopies from bakers as well as the Co-op and Marks and Spencers. In my opinion they don't get this authentic texture right, being too soft or spongy. So one reason to buy this book is to taste a whoopie as they should be!
ARE THE RECIPES EASY TO MAKE?
As I mentioned above, I had not made any of these bakes before I bought the book. Even so, I found the recipes easy to follow and no more difficult than cupcakes for example. The first few pages of the book give general tips on making the pies. You can buy special whoopie tins which are wider but shallower than bun tins but I did not plan on buying any special bakeware before I knew how much use I would get out of them. So I found the suggestions on how to manage without the tins very useful. I decided to follow the first suggestion and use a spoon to shape each pie half. This doesn't result in the neatest looking pies but no-one could doubt they are home-made! The second idea, to use a piping bag with a large nozzle, would no doubt give a more even finish.
The recipes for the pies themselves are simple and don't involve any unusual techniques. However, many are glazed or iced on the top as well as filled. Sometimes this involves making two seperate icings or cream mixtures as well as the main mix. So if you follow all of the recipes to the letter, you may find the preparation quite time consuming. I know that with a few exceptions, I have decided to miss out the toppings. This makes the recipes less fiddly, quicker and crucially for me, less sweet. I find a whoopie with a thick cream filling and a sugary icing on top too sickly. The good thing about this book is that all the parts of the bake are listed seperately so it is easy to isolate the filling for example and refine it to your personal taste.
RANGE OF RECIPES
I am very happy with the range of different flavours included here. I was worried that the book would essentially be a basic recipe repeated over and over again with a few minor additions such as choc chips or a spice. Instead there are lots of lovely flavour combinations that I would not necessarily have thought of myself. My favourite does remain the "vanilla deam" whoopie though. This is very easy to make but it looks fancy - a bit like a mini victoria sandwich cake. I got this book just in time to make some for a summer picnic and they went down very well. My second favourite pie is a peanut and jelly [jam] one with a fantastic peanut glaze that I have since used on fairy cakes. This is another reason that I have found the book useful. The ideas for fillings and toppings can be taken away and used on cakes or to sandwich biscuits. This makes the book more versatile than it would seem at first. Other recipes I would definitely recommend are the lemon sherbet and apple crumble pies.
I have not loved every recipe though. That is not because the timings were wrong or the method incorrect. It is just my personal taste. The pumpkin whoopies were too spicy for me and the orange icing didn't really have enough flavour. I like citrus flavourings to be strong!
There is a small selection of "party pies" which are especially fancy looking bakes. There are whoopies crafted to look like oyster shells and chocolate pies with beautiful rose decorations on top. I have not tried to make any of these but I think including these ideas does make the book a comprehensive guide to all things whoopie!
Each recipe is partnered with a fabulous photo in which the pies are beautifully presented. These gave me ideas as to how lovely the finished pies could look. And if I don't want to spend the time on making the them look that dainty, I just miss out the decoration stage. The pies still taste good. You can really make them as simple or complicated as you want to.
I paid just 50p for this book in a charity shop. I felt guilty about this afterwards as it turns out the book was only published this year and must have been given in when nearly brand new. The cover price is £9.99 which isn't bad for a small hardback book. If like me, you were considering buying this book having not actually tasted a whoopie, I would recommend that you try and find an online recipe to make first. They may not be quite what you are expecting. Some people may find 64 pages of whoopies too many! Personally, I love this book and the new ideas it has given me. I would recommend it to anyone who likes baking and who wants to try something new. The fact that the fillings and topping recipes are very adaptable to use in other areas of baking is a bonus.
ISBN 978 184 975 0936
Publisher Ryland Peters and Small. 2011.
[This review also appears on Ciao under the same user name.]