The sweet treat that’s been a Maine tradition for almost 100 years.
Story and photos by Julia Bayly
Is it a cookie? A cake? A pie? A dessert sandwich? When it comes to the Maine whoopie pie, the answer is all of the above.
In its most basic form, a whoopie pie is made up of two dark chocolate cake discs about the size of a hamburger bun with a layer of sweet, creamy, thick white frosting sandwiched between them.
While the origins of the treat are up for debate, Maine claims to be the birthplace of its invention: The first whoopie pies came out of a Lewiston, Maine bakery in 1925.
Over time, other bakeries in other states—including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia and Pennsylvania—have staked their own claims for creating the dessert that also goes by the regional names of “gob,” “black moon,” “black and white” and “Big Fat Oreo.”
But Maine is the only state to give the whoopie pie legal status: In 2011 the state Legislature officially enacted LD 71, designating the whoopie pie the official state treat. (The blueberry pie holds the status of official Maine dessert.)
So what is it about this iconic Maine treat that has bakers from one end of the state to the other turning them out of their ovens as fast as their patrons can gobble them up?
“Everyone just loves whoopie pies,” says Denise Buzzelli, who founded the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival with Patrick Myers nine years ago. “You know, it’s hard to carry around an entire cake and eat it, but with a whoopie pie you have this delicious single-serve treat that’s hand-sized and can come in just a myriad of flavors and textures.”
As host of the festival, the tiny central Maine town of Dover Foxcroft (population 4,200) becomes the epicenter of everything whoopie pie for one afternoon in June.
“It was one of those things that we came up with on one of those dark, winter nights sitting around the kitchen table,” says Myers. “Everyone in Maine loves whoopie pies, so why not host a festival to celebrate one of the best things about Maine?”
With that celebration comes the encouragement for bakers to go wild with ingredients like berries, nuts, spices and other flavors.
The festival is not the only time to enjoy whoopie pies in Maine. You can find the treats on counters in bakeries around the state. Alongside the traditional dark chocolate version, it’s not unusual to see lemon whoopie pies, blueberry whoopie pies, peanut butter whoopie pies, butterscotch whoopie pies, cookies ‘n cream whoopie pies, bacon whoopie pies, coffee whoopie pies, and other creative versions.
Holly Hardwick, owner of Northwoods Nectar (a traditional maple syrup producer in northern Maine), may have stumbled upon the most Maine version of all possibilities with her maple whoopie pies. Hardwick dreamed up the idea of a maple whoopie pie and in 2014 convinced her baker friend Carol Jandreau to try making some. It was a huge success from day one and now Hardwick takes orders for thousands of her creations every year.
“The thing about whoopie pies is, you get the best of both worlds—cookie and cupcake,” says Hardwick. “It’s like you are getting a two-fer.”
Like any successful movement, the whoopie pies have divisions within the ranks.
For some, the cake layers must have the consistency of a devils food cake with about a quarter inch of filling sandwiched between them. What’s more, that filling must include Marshmallow Fluff as the base ingredient along with powdered sugar, vanilla and shortening.
For others, a firmer cake is key and they wouldn’t touch Marshmallow Fluff filling with a 10-foot spatula. For these eaters, the preferred filling is a combination of egg whites, corn syrup and powdered sugar.
“You do need that perfect balance of cake to filling,” says Buzzelli. “And a really good whoopie pie should resemble a good hamburger where you have just enough beef and not too much bread.”
Buzzelli has lost count of the varieties of whoopie pies she has sampled in Maine, but is quick to say her favorite to date is something called “Heaven Can Wait” by Elaine’s Bakery in Millinocket. “It was a chocolate extravaganza,” she says. “I made sounds with every bite—inappropriate sounds—and it felt like heaven on my tongue.”
Texture, says Hardwick, is key: “A whoopie pie should be softer than a regular cookie, but still hold together. It sustains through the process of hand-to-mouth gobble, where if it were a cupcake or cake, you’d be wearing it.”
For Myers, it’s all about tradition. “It was always that delightful treat you see on the store counter or in the bakery,” he says. “Growing up, it was always something I asked for and it’s just one of those fun treats that reminds me of childhood.”
As for the perfect whoopie pie, “There are so many factors that go into a whoopie pie,” he says. “That’s one of the great things about them, and when someone hits it just right and gets that perfect cake to frosting ratio, it just sings. Then they add different flavors? You just can’t lose!”