Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling
I’ve missed this. I’m sitting on a Greyhound bus, long after sundown, and all I can hear is the quiet murmurings of other passengers and the soft clicks as I tap my keys. For the holidays, I’m heading to New York City, and then Pennsylvania, where my uncle and aunt and cousin live. It’s the first time in weeks I’ve had some quiet time to myself, without an assignment or shift or appointment. I’ve missed being able to sit alone with my thoughts and write.
Classes ended this afternoon, and it was unusually quiet on the floor today. Everyone was packing up, unplugging their lamps and emptying their fridges, stopping at every room down the hallway to say goodbye. We’re spreading out from California to Maine, retreating back to where we came from. It’s Thanksgiving break, and even though I’m not flying back to Seattle, it’s got me thinking about home.
I haven’t been in a bus or car in a long time. Back home I used to love, love, love driving alone at night – the way every turn of the car feels smooth and controlled, the open silence on the road, and the glittering pairs of lights in every direction, like cat eyes. Right now, in the dark, it’s easy to imagine I’m in Seattle. I look out the window and realize we’re on I-90, and that if we just kept driving west on this freeway until we hit the opposite coast, I’d be back.
It’s not that I’m homesick, because I’m truly not. There’s a soft spot in my heart for Seattle, but at the same time, home is in people, not places. Home is my mom, drinking jasmine tea on our patio. It’s my dad, who’s flying to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. And it’s the people on my floor. I can feel myself falling for the incredible people I’ve met here, and as everyone moves out, I can feel bits of my home scattering across the country. I’m reluctant to leave them, even for a week.
But I see the details of my old life everywhere. It’s begun to rain in Boston, a damp downpour that feels like hot breath on your neck. It makes me think of how green the air smelled and how dark the pavement became in Seattle. Sometimes, in line at Starbucks, I forget where I am. Then I step outside and suddenly realize I’m far away… watching the trees exhale burnt orange and crimson, the kind of seasonal change I always said I wanted to experience.
The other night at the restaurant, I decided to make small talk with one of my tables. They said they were just visiting Boston, and that they’d flown in from – Seattle. We talked a little longer and discovered that we live in the same region. In fact, their daughter goes to my old middle school, is in my gifted program, and is learning from my old teachers. I’d have never known, if they hadn’t sat at this restaurant, at this time, in my section.
I’m excited to spend time with my family, especially since I don’t frequently see my relatives on the east coast. I can’t begin to describe how excited I am to eat some real food. My college has been hosting Thanksgiving themed dinners, and somehow their canned cranberry jelly and paper-dry turkeys don’t do my favorite holiday justice.
And I’m ecstatic about getting some baking done.
Even though I have all my tools and supplies, and even an oven if I walk to another dorm, I haven’t had time to buy ingredients or spend time in a kitchen. It’s strange that people here are getting to know me without baking being a huge factor in my life. Maybe at the end of this weekend, I can bring a box of sweets back to my floor.
I’m thinking whoopie pies. I’ve met plenty of New Englanders here who are dead serious about the whoopie pie. Every time I hear someone get defensive about the dessert’s origin or characteristics, I can’t help but smile.
There aren’t a lot of whoopie pies on the west coast. Plenty of people don’t know what they are – just two soft cake-like cookies with some sort of filling sandwiched in between. While I’ve never had a “real” whoopie pie, I can tell you that these ones taste pretty incredible. Especially after a chill in the fridge, with a tall glass of cool milk, a scattering of crisp leaves at your feet and a friend at your side.
I made these pumpkin whoopie pies with chocolate cream cheese filling before I left for college, and they strike such a great balance of richness and spice. The pumpkin cookies are soft and tender, dense, dark with spices, like autumn in your mouth. As for the chocolate, I just can’t get enough, and the cream cheese filling adds a bittersweet tang to complement the cookie.
If I make these again this week, it’ll probably remind me like crazy of Seattle. I’m not sure yet if that’s a good or bad thing. Whatever the case, it’ll cheer up my floormates, and bring a little bit of one home to another.
The first time I made these, I thought the cookies came out a little too soft and tender, so I baked them another 10 minutes and they were great. I liked sneaking them out of the fridge, eating them chilled with cold milk.
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes 2 dozen sandwich cookies
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree, chilled
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dark Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
To make the whoopie cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line two half sheets with parchment paper or silpat baking mats.
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. In another large bowl, whisk together the dark brown sugar and the vegetable oil until well combined. Whisk in the pumpkin puree, then stir in the egg and the vanilla extract. Stir in the dry ingredients until just combined.
Drop the batter by the heaping tablespoon an inch apart on the baking sheets (I used a little ice cream scooper to get evenly sized whoopie pies.) Bake until the cookies just start to crack at the top and a toothpick comes out clean, about 15 minutes (mine took 20-25 minutes.) Let cool completely on the pan.
To make the dark chocolate cream cheese filling: Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder into a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese until very smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the powdered sugar and cocoa powder on low speed until incorporated, then mix in the vanilla extract and milk until smooth.
To assemble the whoopie pies: Spoon some filling into a piping bag fitted with a large round open tip. Pipe a dollop of filling onto the flat side of one whoopie cookie and top with another. Refrigerate cookies until ready to eat and keep in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, for up to three days.
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