The first time I ever had a whoopie pie was when I discovered the Pittsburgh-based bakery, Vanilla Pastry Studio, during middle school. They had them on display in clear plastic bags tied with brightly colored patterned ribbons. Two whoopie pies were in each bag. I was immediately drawn to their unique packaging and grabbed a bag to go with our box of a dozen cupcakes.
The whoopie pie was the first treat that I tried when we got home. It was vanilla buttercream (that was slightly saltier than I was used to) sandwiched between two round, dark chocolate sponge cakes sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. It was divine. And addicting. The classic whoopie pie quickly became one of my favorite desserts and my “must get” item at Vanilla Pastry Studio. Their staple item, and my other favorite treat, is their vanilla caramel cupcake, and just as it sounds, it’s a vanilla cake topped with a caramel Swiss meringue buttercream.
Today, I’ve combined these two favorites to make chocolate salted caramel whoopie pies. Instead of sponge cakes, I use a denser exterior that is a cross between a dark chocolate cookie and a brownie. Homemade salted caramel sauce gets mixed with a simple vanilla buttercream for the filling, and the whole thing is drizzled with extra salted caramel sauce – just for good measure. And I definitely wouldn’t think you were taking things too far if you also spread some salted caramel sauce on the inside of both chocolate cookies before sandwiching the icing between them.
These whoopies are even convenient to pack up and eat on the go, since the icing is not exposed. When I was away from home one summer, my mother even mailed me a package that contained Vanilla Pastry Studio’s whoopie pies (since their cupcakes would have been much too delicate to ship). They all arrived intact, and I was able to refrigerate them and eat them throughout the week!
This is the kind of dessert sandwich that you can take your time eating and savor each bite. It’s not a race against quickly melting ice cream that’s dripping all over the floor as you carefully attempt to take each bite. These whoopie pies are the laid-back cousin of the ice cream sandwich. There’s just something magical about biting into soft cookies with fluffy icing in the middle.
Chocolate Salted Caramel Whoopie Pies
Makes about 10 sandwiches (20 cookies)
Chocolate Whoopie Pies (recipe from Food Network Kitchen)
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli)
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli)
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup natural cocoa powder (I used Droste)
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons fine salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet. I used an ungreased whoopie pie pan.
Put the unsweetened and semisweet chocolates and butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl; heat at 75 percent power until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir, and continue to microwave until completely melted, about 2 minutes more. (Alternatively, put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl. Bring a saucepan filled with an inch or so of water to a very slow simmer; set the bowl over, but not touching the water, and stir occasionally until melted and smooth.)
Whisk the sugar, eggs and vanilla into the chocolate mixture until smooth.
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt into another bowl. Gradually whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until moistened. Switch to a rubber spatula and finish folding the batter together; take care not to over-mix.
Use a small cookie scoop or spoon to drop a heaping tablespoon of batter onto the prepared pan (more than a tablespoon if using a whoopie pie pan – use enough batter to fill each indentation). Space them about 1-inch apart. Bake until the cookies spring back when lightly touched, about 6 minutes. It took about 9 minutes using a whoopie pie pan, but times may vary.
Cool the cookies slightly. Transfer the cookies to a rack. Cool whoopee pies completely on wire racks.
Store in tightly sealed container for up to 1 week.
Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce (recipe from Kelsey Nixon)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon gray sea salt, crushed or kosher salt
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and water over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, without stirring. If necessary, use a wet pastry brush to wash down any crystals on the side of the pan. Boil until the syrup is a deep amber color, about 5 to 6 minutes.
Remove the sugar from the heat and carefully whisk in the heavy cream. The mixture will bubble. Stir in the unsalted butter, and salt. Transfer the caramel to a dish and cool.
The salted caramel sauce will keep in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. This recipe makes more than you will need for the buttercream. Use the extra to dip the whoopie pies in or drizzle on top, or save it for other desserts!
Salted Caramel Buttercream (adapted from ihearteating.com)
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup salted caramel sauce, cooled to room temperature
Heaping 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar
Pinch Kosher salt
With an electric mixer, beat butter on medium for 1 minute. Add salted caramel sauce and vanilla extract, and beat on medium for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed. Add powdered sugar and salt, and beat on low until powdered sugar is incorporated.
Increase speed to medium, and beat until smooth and well combined, about 2-3 additional minutes.
You will probably have some icing leftover depending upon how much you like in each whoopie pie. I would recommend refrigerating it in an airtight container and thawing it out and stirring it before using it for other purposes.
Find two cooled chocolate cookies that are of similar size. Spread as much buttercream as you would like on one of the cookies. Place the other cookie on top. Drizzle with salted caramel sauce before serving or spread the caramel on the inside of each cookie before spreading the icing.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days or in the refrigerator for up to a week. They are best eaten during the first two days though.