My brother gave me Baked Explorations this past Christmas. What a gorgeous book! The photos are luscious. There are a lot of great-looking recipes in there. When my brother came for a visit recently, I was happy to have an excuse to make something out of the book for him.

Whoopie pies are all the rage lately in the food blogosphere, but I never made them because every recipe I come across makes a ton! This recipe from Baked Explorations claims to yield 10 to 12 large or 15 to 17 small pies, but I feel like it made much more than that. Happily, though, the whoopie pies freeze well. However, I won’t be making these again unless it’s for a big party – there was an overwhelming amount of dessert in the house for just three people that weekend. (Also, I don’t repeat recipes that much.)

I like that this recipe uses butter and canola oil rather than shortening, which I’ve heard is more traditional. I had never made swiss buttercream before but it was really rather easy and I really liked the results. They pies are very chocolatey and very slightly salty, which I enjoyed against the buttercream. But the buttercream isn’t bracingly sweet either. There’s a good balance of not-too-sweet and very slightly salty going on here. I did have a problem with the pies being so tender and moist that they fused to whatever surface I was storing them on (including each other), so that the bottoms always ripped off a bit whenever I moved them. But that just meant more tastes for me because I couldn’t let that little bit of chocolatey goodness go to waste. 🙂

Chocolate Whoopie Pies

Adapted slightly from Baked Explorations

Yield: A whole lot of whoopie pies

For the whoopie pies:

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (I used one packet of Starbucks Via)

1/2 cup hot coffee

2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup canola oil

1 large egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk, shaken (I used powdered buttermilk)

For the Swiss meringue buttercream:

3 large egg whites

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cool but not cold, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To make the pies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa powder and espresso powder. Add the hot coffee and 1/2 cup hot water and whisk until both powders are completely dissolved.

In a medium bowl, stir the brown sugar and oil together. Add this to the cocoa mixture and whisk until combined. Add the egg, vanilla, and buttermilk and whisk until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Make sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as you fold.

Use a small cookie scoop with a release mechanism to drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake pans one at a time for 10-12 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean. Let the cookies cool completely on the pans.

To make the Swiss meringue:

In a medium metal bowl, whisk egg whites and sugar together. Set the bowl over a pan but do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved and the color is a milky white, about 2-3 minutes. I gently whisked it during the heating process, it seems odd that the recipe doesn’t explicitly tell you whether to whisk it or not, but it seems that if you want it to heat evenly and for the sugar to dissolve quickly, whisking would be desirable.

Transfer the egg mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high (start slowly at first) until smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment and add the cubed butter; beat on medium-high speed (start slowly at first) until smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. If the butter mixture looks like it is breaking, don’t worry, it will eventually come together (mine did, I couldn’t help but worry a bit, but sure enough it came together perfectly in the end).

Add the salt and vanilla and beat for 5 seconds to combine.

To assemble the whoopie pies:

Turn half of the cooled cookies over so that the flat side faces up. Use your cookie scoop or a tablespoon to drop a large dollop of buttercream onto the cookie and spread with a knife. (The original recipe says to put a dollop in the center of a cookie and then press another cookie onto it to spread the filling out – I didn’t think that worked too well.) Top with a second cookie. Repeat until all the cookies are used. Put the whoopie pies in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm up before serving.

The whoopie pies will keep for up to 3 days (I definitely noticed a staleness creeping in when we got to day 3 1/2), on a parchment-lined baking sheet covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator. Bring the pies up to room temperature before serving.