Daring Bakers: Canadian Whoopie Pies


The December Daring Bakers’ Challenge had us all cheering – the lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavors we chose… What else is there to say but “Whoopie!”


This month’s challenge was perfect for answering the question of what to make for holiday desserts. For some reason I never got onto the whoopie pie bandwangon so I was glad to give these a try and see what my family thought. Since we were encouraged to play around with the flavor combination of cake and filling, I took my inspiration from a Secret Santa gift I received right as the challenge for the month was announced.

My Santa was from Canada, and she sent me (among other things) a can of Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino mix. As I was reading the sample recipe for chocolate whoopie pies I saw espresso powder as an ingredient and thought, hey, why not use the cappuccino mix instead? I also used the mix for half of the cocoa called for (only half as I didn’t want to overpower the pies for the non-coffee fans at dinner) and the end result was a nice mocha toffee coffee flavor that even Todd enjoyed.

For the filling I went with the usual marshmallow-cream filling, but I didn’t really want to use the standard vegetable shortening it called for, so I subbed coconut oil figuring it had the same texture with a much more pleasant flavor, too. On top of that, I added a generous pour of maple syrup to make it maple-marshmallow filling, in honor of the Canadian theme of the whoopie pies. Even if I never make whoopie pies again, the maple-marshmallow filling may be making future appearances in our home–it was just that tasty.

They made for very rich desserts, so some opted to split a pie among them so they could also sample some of the other desserts, too. Knowing that, I almost wish I’d made the mini-pies. Either mini or full-sized, I can see my little brother requesting these again!

Gluten-Free Toffee Coffee Whoopie Pies with Maple Marshmallow Creme Filling
Adapted from : King Arthur Flour
Servings: 8 large or 16 small whoopie pies


For the Whoopie Pies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino Mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa, sifted
1/4 cup Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino Mix
2 1/3 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend
3/4 tsp xanthum gum
1 cup milk


1) Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

2) In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, cappuccino mix, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla till smooth. Add the egg, again beating till smooth.

3) Add the cocoa and remaining cappuccino mix, stirring to combine.

4) Add the flour to the batter alternately with the milk, beating till smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and beat again briefly to soften and combine any chunky scrapings.

5) Drop the dough by the 1/4-cupful onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving plenty of room between the cakes; they’ll spread. A muffin scoop works well here.

6) Bake the cakes in a preheated moderate oven for 15 to 16 minutes, till they’re set and firm to the touch. Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pans. While still lukewarm, use a spatula to separate them from the pan or parchment; then allow to cool completely.

For the Maple Marshmallow Creme Filling

1 cup coconut oil
1 cup confectioners’ sugar or glazing sugar
1-1/3 cups Marshmallow Fluff or marshmallow creme
2 Tbsp maple syrup (or more, to taste)


1) (To make the filling:) Beat together the shortening, confectioners’ sugar, and marshmallow until well combined.

2) Add the maple syrup, and beat until smooth. If the filling is too thin, add confectioners’ sugar until desired consistency is reached.


Pipe or spread a generous helping of filling onto the flat side of one pie and top with another.

Baking the Low-FODMAP Way


As someone who very much enjoys cookies, cakes and other confections (I was a pastry chef, after all) this whole no wheat thing really had me concerned–especially when so many gluten-free baked goods are gritty or crumbly or just plain miss the mark. And since we started the testing portion just after Thanksgiving, I wanted to make sure I could make desserts and sweets that family and coworkers would enjoy that were also safe for me.

It was, thankfully, a lot easier than I thought it would be, and it’s mainly due to a book I’ve mentioned before: the Favorite Brand Name Gluten-Free 3 Books in 1 put out by Publications International Ltd. As I mentioned before, I picked it up on the discount rack of Marshalls or TJ Maxx, so it might be tough to find in your regular store, but if you see it, it’s definitely worth picking up.

That said, here’s the two most important things I got from that book: replacement flour blends, one for quick breads and cooking making, and one for yeast breads.

Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend

1 cup White Rice Flour
1 cup Sorghum Flour
1 cup Tapioca Flour/Starch
1 cup Arrowroot
1 cup Coconut Flour

Mix together and store in an air-tight container. Refrigerate if you bake infrequently.

Gluten-Free Flour Blend for Breads

1 cup Brown Rice Flour
1 cup Sorghum Flour
1 cup Tapioca Flour
1 cup Arrowroot
3/4 cup Millet Flour
1/3 cup Instant Mashed Potato Flakes

Mix together and store in an air-tight container. Refrigerate if you bake infrequently.

The original recipes list cornstarch but I use arrowroot because it’s easier for more people to digest and it dissolves and thickens faster, so I like to have it on hand anyway. You can use almond flour in place of coconut flour if you’re just looking for gluten-free, but almonds were recently found to be even higher in FODMAPs that originally thought, so really should be used sparingly. Same goes for bean flours–Bob’s Red Mill, for instance, has an all-purpose gluten-free baking mix but it’s primarily bean-based, which would make it high in FODMAPs, and not a good option for this particular lifestyle.

The thing about these flour blends and why they work is that each ingredient performs a certain function that wheat flour does on it’s own. The grains alone (rice, sorghum, millet) won’t really give you the same results without the addition of some sort of starch (tapioca, arrowroot, cornstarch) and even those two components together aren’t doing much in the way of protein (which the nut flours contribute). The other benefit to these blends is that no one ingredient takes center stage in either texture or flavor. So even though coconut flour tends to be very coconutty on it’s own, when it’s in the blend it’s not very noticeable, and when the baked goods are finished you can hardly tell it’s there at all (unless you’ve got sensitive taste buds, like me).

What about commercially available blends? So far the only gluten-free and Low-FODMAP flour blend I’ve been satisfied with is Gluten-Free Bisquik, and even then it tends to be a little more on the gritty side than I prefer. More times than not I use the blends above and have far better results than any of the mixes or pre-fab products I’ve tested.

collection of Bob's Red Mill products on a kitchen counter

Not all of these go into my flour blends, but many do!

Now, when I go to put together batches of these flours, it tends to look like a Bob’s Red Mill love-fest on the counter. Simply put, they are the best resource for these specialty flours and I’ve been known to hunt through 4 grocery stores to find all the components I need on any given shopping trip. That said, they are not the only resource for certain flours as I’ve recently discovered that our local Indian market carries bags of white rice and millet flours for a fraction of the cost of BRM. Granted, BRM takes every precaution to prevent cross-contamination of their flours and other products so if you’re concerned about that, stick to them. But if you’re less concerned about being strictly gluten-free (as gluten itself is not a FODMAP), then that might be an option for you. Plus, they carry powdered coconut milk, which is fabulous if you’re wanting a substitute for powdered milk that is lactose-free and isn’t heavy on the soy. (I’ve searched for a good powdered rice milk but all the ones I’ve found have FOS or other high-FODMAP additives.)

There’s one other thing you need in order to successfully bake gluten-free and/or Low-FODMAP: Xanthum or Guar Gum. Gums get a certain amount of smack talked about them, but they are the best way to prevent the crumbly, mealy texture so common in wheat-free baked goods. Xanthum gum is usually made from corn while guar gum comes from a bean. Both are used in such small amounts that neither are likely to impact digestion to any large degree, but use whichever you feel most comfortable with. I use xanthum gum because I had it on hand from a previous ice cream experiment (it’s commonly found on low-fat or fat-free dairy products to improve texture, though too much will make the end product more slippery than anything else).

The general rule I follow when working with a new recipe or substituting the above flour blends is this:

  • For Yeast Breads or Pizza Dough use 1 tsp of Xanthum Gum per cup of replacement flour
  • For Cakes, Muffins, and other Quick Breads use 1/2 tsp of Xanthum Gum per cup of replacement flour
  • For Cookies or Bars use up to 1/2 tsp of Xanthum Gum per cup of flour

I didn’t write down where I found that but it’s come in handy as I’ve converted old recipes to my new lifestyle. Xanthum gum is also the only ingredient I keep in the freezer to preserve it as it’s one of the more expensive ingredients and gets used up so slowly.

Did I succeed that first Christmas in making delectable goodies for friends and family? Yes. So much so that most didn’t realized they were eating anything out of the ordinary. I’ve continued to bake with these flour blends, and use them in stove-top preparations like roux and gravies, for the last half a year and my friends routinely comment that if the commercial products came out like mine, no one would mind going gluten-free (or whatever) when necessary.

Confection with confidence!

A Tasty Experiment of Strawberry Proportions


I don’t usually post recipes, here, but today I’m making an exception. Strawberries have started to appear in stores and, while it’s still early in the season, the temptation is there to make something of them. This recipe would be a nice in-between step between now and when spring and summer shortcakes come around.


Hidden Strawberry Cake

Hidden Strawberry Cake

Company was coming for dinner and we’d picked up some early-season (but so fresh you could smell their sweetness as you walked past the flats) strawberries with a vague plan that they would comprise dessert.

But a vague plan only gets you to a few hours before dinner. What to do with them?

Sure, there’s the usual pie, shortcake or cobbler but I wanted something more cake-like.

For Christmas Eve I’d made the Caramel Apple Cake from Food Network Magazine, which was similar in concept to a pineapple upside-down cake and we really enjoyed the combo of dense cake and moist fruit. To make a strawberry-friendly version, I headed to Joy of Cooking for a basic Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe (skipping the streusel) and added in a layer of strawberries between each half of the dough.

The addition of the strawberries and the change in baking pan from the original recipe meant it took twice as long for the cake to bake. And I worried that skipping the streusel topping would result in a blah cake.

Thankfully, our guest proclaimed it a very successful experiment.


Hidden Strawberry Cake

(adapted from Joy of Cooking)

4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs, beaten

Strawberry Filling

1 pint fresh strawberries
1-2 Tbsp cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar

Strawberry Topping

1 pint fresh strawberries
2 Tbsp demerara sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare an 8-inch square pan.

In a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugar until light-colored and fluffy.

Meanwhile, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium-sized bowl and stir until combined.

In a small bowl combine the Greek-style yogurt and vanilla.

Scrape down the mixing bowl and then, on low, add the dry and wet ingredients in batches to the creamed butter and sugar: 1/3 dry, 1/2 wet, 1/3 dry, last of the wet, last of the dry. Scrape down the bowl and mix in the beaten eggs.

Stem, hull and slice 1 pint of the strawberries for the filling.

Spread half the batter into the bottom of the prepared pan. Scatter the sliced strawberries in an even layer over the batter, sprinkling with cinnamon and brown sugar. Carefully spread the remaining batter over the top of the strawberry layer.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the cake is golden brown, the edges pull away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

While the cake bakes, take the remaining pint of strawberries and stem, hull and slice them. Place them in a bowl with the demerara sugar (or other raw sugar), cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until you’re ready to serve the cake.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then unmold to a serving plate to cool completely.

When ready to serve, top each slice with some of the sugared strawberries.


The strawberry layer does sink a bit, instead of staying firmly in the center but the flavor is just fine regardless of the shift. The hint of cinnamon is just enough to spice the whole cake and the extra strawberries on top (along with the juices the sugar helps draw out) add a touch of moisture to the top of the cake. If anything, a little freshly whipped cream might also be added, but it’s certainly not necessary to enjoy the cake as-is.

Floral Proportionals

64 Arts

I’ve got cakes on the brain right now, but that’s not totally separate from floral arrangements as I will now demonstrate.

Cake for 50, with Flowers for 45

Back when I was still doing a lot of cakes I was contracted to do a small wedding cake for all of about 50 guests. Small cakes are good and bad–fairly quick, no special equipment or ridiculous baking pans required, but they can also look a little small in the reception venue.

This particular cake, shown at left, was a bit dwarfed by the arch behind it and the large table it sat on but the worst part of it was the flowers.

No, that is not an optical illusion or a trick of the camera angle, the floral topper really was 2/3 the height of the cake.

From this I learned a very important lesson: Make sure the florist knows the size of the cake they’re prepping flowers for otherwise you might end up with something grossly mis-matched. It sorta reminded me of my first wedding where the florist (a friend of my mother-in-law to be) had started on the bridal bouquet (silk) before I’d even had a chance to talk with her. The flowers, if left unchecked, would have been wider than me (not a joke, I was much thinner back then)!

But it’s not just cakey applications where size matters! Think about your dinner table the next time you have guests over. If you plop a huge centerpiece in the middle, the folks across from one another won’t be able to see or easily talk to one another–not a good thing! Well, unless it was me and my (now) former mother-in-law. Same goes for overly scented flowers: while taste is technically a skill of the taste buds, the nose works in tandem with them and strong flowers can overpower the flavor of food.

So, the tall and the short of it is–Harmony. You want your flowers to match your setting, to complement it.

Just because flowers are a man’s way of making up for one transgression or another, doesn’t mean they are a band-aid for everything.

Little Lessons from Big Cakes


The first wedding cake I ever made was a bit of an architectural nightmare. Not because the bride wanted a conglomeration of little cakes but because I was living in student housing and we had a mini-stove with a half-sized oven that wouldn’t hold anything more than 12″ wide.

The bride and groom chose a private city hall ceremony and there was a surprise reception being thrown by her office-mates, one of which was a friend of Mom’s. So Cindy said, ‘Just do what you think would be good, I’m sure it’ll be fine.’ Not words the decorator hears often (if ever!).

This was during my basket-weave phase so paired that with pale green vines and leaves and some pink roses. It took a few nights, total, to build all the pieces and then it was the day to deliver the cake. Downtown. At lunchtime.

You know, I’d never before noticed how steep the road was at that first light leaving my street.

Stopping as slowly as humanly possible did not thwart gravity and, yes, one of the base cakes slid off the back seat and partially under the drivers’. I pulled into the nearby gas station, panicking as I threw open the doors, and surveyed the damage. You know what? There’s approximately 4 inches between the floor of the car and the bottom of the seat, just slightly shorter than my base cake. The damage was minimal and fixable.

I drove the rest of the way going no more than 20 mph. Downtown. At lunch. With the seat pushed as far back as possible, one hand on the steering wheel, the other stretched behind me to avoid any further gravitational issues that might arise.

Just because this was my first wedding cake doesn’t mean I was totally unprepared–I had icing in parchment bags all ready to go, the necessary decorating tips; I could and would fix the mistakes. The basket-weave proved easy enough to repair, a few vines needed re-piping and a rose was taken from the back of the center tier to replace the one that the seat smooshed.

Everyone loved it and I had a bit more confidence when the next cake request came in.

My First Wedding Cake, circa 1998

* * *

This story was on my mind because this weekend my baby brother is getting married to his high school sweetheart and I am coming out of my cake-retirement to do the wedding and groom’s cakes. It’s a destination wedding at a just-far-enough-away beach to necessitate renting a place down there for the weekend and doing half the baking and all of the decorating on site.

I’ve learned something from every one of my cakes, I’m sure this one will be no exception. Here are some past lessons:

  • Always bring extra icing–a little of the sweet stuff can smooth over any obstacle.
  • A spatula, pair of scissors, tape and confectioners sugar should always been in your toolbox.
  • Place tiers in sturdy, over-sized boxes and seat-belt them in before starting the car.
  • There is no such thing as too slow when you’ve got $300 of cake in the back seat.
  • Bring a helper.
  • Take a picture of the cake after it’s set up–for your book and to prove that when you left it was still standing (didn’t happen to me but it has happened to others).
  • Leave plenty of time to assemble the cake and do any finishing work before the wedding is due to start (especially if you’re also a bridesmaid!).
  • Ask to see the topper ahead of time. If the florist is bringing it, make sure they know just how big the cake is (or isn’t–I delivered a cake for 50 only to have the florist plop a foil-wrapped [classy!] package of flowers on top that was 2/3 the height of the cake).
  • If you’re stuck on a design element after 16 hours of decorating, take a break, take a shower, it’ll come to you.