October 17, 2013

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

I distinctly remember the first pumpkin whoopie pie I ever ate. A friend's fall wedding had brought me to her hometown of Lancaster, PA, and her mother graciously treated us out-of-towners to whoopie pies, both the traditional ones and the pumpkin ones. She had a large bowl full of both varieties, all individually packaged with plastic wrap.

I had almost forgotten about pumpkin whoopie pies since immediately after my friend's wedding I met the marvelous man that would become my husband. It was a happy coincidence a year later when, after my own wedding, another friend from the Northeast shared her pumpkin whoopie pie recipe. I made them immediately, and they have since become a fall tradition for our little family.

I must confess that each year I pull out the recipe I'm initially horrified by the whopping three (count 'em, three) cups of flour it calls for. While the amount seems absurd, remember that you're making two cookies for each whoopie pie and hence the doubled ingredients. With our recent move, my pantry was scattered all over the place, so I had to use a mixture of two cups cake flour with one cup whole wheat flour. The result was just as fluffy, moist, and dense as ever, despite my lack of all-purpose flour. I love recipes that can take a few knocks and still come out wonderful!

The only change I've made is to double the cream cheese filling. Underfilled whoopie pies are a travesty, so do yourself and your eaters a favor and spread the filling on thick and generous. Even after doubling, I still manage to run out of filling by the time I get to the last two cookies. Yup, I love that filling! Do be wary, though, if you see other recipes using anything but a cream cheese filling. There is nothing like the richness of cream cheese to compliment the cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in the cookies.

While we're on the topic of filling, you may have problems with it being too runny. This happened to me because I let my cream cheese and butter get too soft. While it made it easier to work with, the consistency wasn't as thick as I needed for filling the whoopie pies. Never fear! I simply popped the prepared filling into the fridge and let it chill 15 minutes or more until it reached the desired consistency.  If you do this, just make sure you stir it again so that it's nice and smooth when you fill your whoopie pies. And if you fill your whoopie pies before serving them, make sure to store them in the refrigerator, too.

My instructions below are for the larger size whoopie pies (about three inches in diameter), but you could likewise make mini ones. Instead of dropping the batter by two tablespoonfuls, try it by one tablespoonful or to your desired size. I usually spread the batter with the back of a spoon to gently form the cookie, but you'd get thicker cookies (albeit less uniform) by skipping this step.

*November 15, 2014 I was recently in a pickle and could only find a 540 mL can of pumpkin. (Moving out of the States will do that to you!) Since there was no easy conversion in this case (15 fluid ounces is only about 444 mL), I simply omitted 1/2 cup of pumpkin from the can. While the cookies still looked and tasted great, I did notice two effects. First, I was left with a bit less pumpkin than needed for the original recipe, meaning the batter only yielded 38 cookies for 19 sandwiches--not a big deal but worth noting if you're solidly depending on the number of whoopie pies you'll get. The other effect was on the baking time. They actually did much better for me with 11 minutes in the oven. The 8 minutes prescribed in the recipe just wasn't enough. In the future I hope to both get cup equivalents for the amount of pumpkin needed (eliminating the ounce-millimeter conundrum altogether) and to again try 11 minutes and see if I'm consistently happy enough with that baking time to change the recipe. 

*September 23, 2015 With this year's batch, I poured the Canadian 540 mL can into my Pyrex liquid measuring cup to get an idea of just how many cups and fluid ounces I was dealing with. Turns out that it yielded around 2-1/3 cups or between 18 and 19 fluid ounces of canned pumpkin. There probably was an easier, mathematical way of figuring that out without the measuring, but I'm a hands-on learner and the visual helped me grasp exactly how much purée I was dealing with. I ended up using the entire can, and the cookies turned out just a great as ever. Take heart, fellow Americans baking abroad! There is hope in the metric grocery aisle.

What I hadn't realized before opening my can of pumpkin was that I had unknowingly purchased pumpkin pie filling instead of purée. I had already measured out the rest of my ingredients not to mention just poured out the can contents before I noticed the label. Oh boy! Since there was no turning back (and I had seriously been craving these whoopie pies), I decided to approach my mistake as an opportunity to experiment and learn. The result? I am very pleased to report that I did not notice any difference in using pumpkin pie filling despite going against the advise I received when the recipe was shared with me! The texture and flavor of both the batter and the baked cookies mirrored that of the previous years' prepared with pumpkin purée. I can't attest for all pumpkin pie fillings behaving similarly, but up here in the Great White North E.D. Smith's substituted seamlessly for me.

My last change this year was an intentional one: I opted for 1 tablespoon portions of dough to yield smaller cookies and may just stick with this option in the future. Note that if you likewise go for 1 tablespoon over 2 then you can reduce the baking time to 8 minutes. While 11 minutes works fine for the larger cookies, 8 is all you need when going smaller. With this smaller size, my overall batch yielded 60 cookies for 30 total sandwiches. No adjustment was needed for the cream cheese filling--it provided exactly the right amount.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

There is no substitue for the rich, cream cheese filling which wonderfully complements the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in this sandwich cookie. You can opt for smaller cookies by dropping single tablespoonfuls of batter and baking for 8 minutes instead of 10; this ups the overall yield to 30 sandwiches. No adjustment to the filling is needed.

      3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
      2 teaspoons baking powder
      2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
      1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
      1 teaspoon ground cloves
   1/2 teaspoon salt
      5 eggs
   1/2 cup water
   1/2 cup vegetable oil
      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      1 (15 ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin

Cream Cheese Filling
   8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
   4 cups confectioner's sugar
   2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Prepare the cookies: Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare two large baking sheets by lining with parchment paper.

Combine flour, sugar, and next six ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. Blend well.

Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl. Mix water, oil, and vanilla extract into eggs. Gradually incorporate pumpkin into egg mixture. Continue stirring until well blended.

Add half of the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture, stirring gently. Once the mixture has become moist, gently stir in the remaining pumpkin mixture, scraping bottom and sides of bowl to make sure the batter is entirely mixed and moist.

Drop batter by two tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, taking care to leave at least an inch of space around each cookie. (The batter will spread as the cookies bake.) Using a knife or the back of a spoon, gently smooth batter into desired shape and size. Repeat for a total of 44 cookies. Bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes, until cookies have lightly darkened on top and are no longer jiggly in the middle. Remove from oven to wire rack. When cool enough to handle, remove cookies from parchment paper to cool completely on a wire rack.

Prepare the cream cheese filling: In a medium mixing bowl beat softened cream cheese and butter on medium-low speed two to three minutes or until smooth and creamy. Gradually add confectioner's sugar 1 cup at a time to cream cheese mixture, beating well after each addition to remove any lumps; make sure to scrape bottom and sides of bowl, too, beating all until smooth. Add vanilla and beat one minute more or until color is even throughout.

Divide cookies into pairs by matching sizes and shapes. Spread two to three tablespoons of cream cheese filling on flat underside of cookie and top with matching pair so that the flat underside faces the filling; apply gentle pressure to top cookie to help set whoopie pie together. Repeat with remaining cookies and filling. Yield: 22 large whoopie pies.


  1. Yum! These were delicious! (and yes, I was one of the lucky ones who got an actual sample ;-) And I had a thought about the filling. What if you tried whipping up a few egg whites with the filling? I have no idea how that would taste or if it would even change the consistency of the filling. The other thing would be to use shortening instead of butter. Again, it would change the taste (and many people don't like using trans fats) but it would increase the stability because it doesn't melt as quickly as butter. (shortening--or lard--plus lightly whipped egg whites is the traditional PA Dutch filling).

    1. Shortening would be an interesting experiment. My mom uses shortening to fill her regular whoopie pies, too. Of course, my butter softening dilemma affects more than just whoopie pies. I need to better monitor how long it takes for butter I take straight from the fridge to become workable without being too soft.