Galaxy Whoopie Pies

Galaxy Whoopie PiesFor the past two years, I’ve participated in a recipe round-up of Oscar-inspired treats based on the films nominated for Best Picture; thanks to Haley who is so kind to invite me back time and time again! If you’re a dear friend/long-time reader (or maybe my mom? Hi, Mom!), you might remember the Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs I made two years back for The Grand Budapest Hotel or the Chocolate Stout Cannoli I dreamt up for Brooklyn last year. For this award season, I was super excited to be paired with the film, Hidden Figures, which immediately inspired these Galaxy Whoopie Pies!

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at the galaxy-themed dessert trend for a while now, but I won’t lie – making homemade buttercream and tinting all those colors both felt a little intimidating and like a lot of work. While delicious work it is, indeed, making those gorgeous, nebulous swirls is easy peasy with the right supplies.

Jackson, Vaughan, & JacksonBut before we get into the merits of gel food coloring and what size and shape pastry tip to use, let’s talk about Hidden Figures for a sec. If you haven’t yet seen it, do – not only because the vintage wardrobe of pencil skirts and fitted cardigans will make your femme heart swoon, but because you need to know this history of Black women in the space program (or at the very least, the three women whose stories are featured: Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson). It’s a feel-good film, which I get sugarcoats a lot more of the racism and sexism these brilliant women, undoubtedly, faced in their careers at NASA. But it also served as a relevant story of strength and resistance for this presently fraught time. It’s definitely worth a watch even if it casts Kevin Costener as the white man savior who wasn’t even a real person in the lives of Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson. I’m eye-roll-emojiing all over that!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesThese whoopie pies are delicious, but also really smart texturally: they’re moist in the center, but ever-so-slightly dry throughout to accommodate all of the thick, luscious frosting you sandwich between them. The cake has a deep, chocolate flavor, though they’re only slightly sweet, which is important because that gorgeous filling? That’s Swiss meringue buttercream, the richest, most delicious frosting of all! Yes, it’s also a complete departure from the fluffy, marshmallowy fillings of regular whoopie pies, but stay with me. In this recipe, I made a caramel Swiss meringue buttercream that is out of this world and, well, isn’t that just the most appropriate thing considering these are Galactic Whoopie Pies?

Galaxy Whoopie PiesThe ingredients here are all ones you would likely have in your pantry and fridge – Dutch-processed cocoa powder, a few sticks of unsalted butter, brown sugar, eggs, and a few other things. Things really only get fancy when it comes to creating those beautiful swirls of pink, blue, purple, and black. To achieve these intense colors, you’ll need to invest in gel food coloring. You could probably get close with the trusty McCormick set of liquid dyes that are synonymous, for many, with Easter eggs, but because they’re liquid, they’ll change the consistency of your buttercream and may even cause it to separate. Gel food coloring isn’t particularly expensive and you can pick it up at most craft stores and, of course, online. I’ve used my Wilton set for eons and still have a bunch left – a little goes a long way!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesBecause I wanted a great swirl effect, I opted for a large open star tip (#1M by Wilton – I’m not sponsored by Wilton, but I did take a Tuesday night cake decorating class at my local Joann’s a billion years ago and still have a ton of the supplies!) for my pastry bag, thinking the grooves would add a lot of definition and make the most out of all of those beautiful colors. Really, the most difficult part was getting the colors where I wanted them with the food coloring in terms of their depth and intensity. When I was ready to pipe, I simply alternated tablespoons of each color into the bag, used the dull end of a skewer to gently poke through the colors to blend them a bit, and then piped a few test stars until multiple colors came out at once. If you’ve never piped icing before, this is a great way to learn technique and tension, since you’re just piping circles and swirls as opposed to anything too elaborate. Plus, worse comes to worse, you’re going to pop a lid on these anyway!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesTo hammer home these Galactic Whoopie Pies, I played around with some edible pearlescent dust for the lids, as well as some edible glitter stars. I think the dust, in particular, added some visual interest to the lids, causing them to look a little bit like moons and planets with their craggy surfaces. And the stars? Well, they’re just pretty and make this dessert the perfect centerpiece for your Oscars viewing party. Check out the full list of talented folks taking part in this year’s recipe round-up with me below and happy watching!

Galaxy Whoopie Pies
Yields 8 whoopie pie sandwiches; whoopie pie cake recipe borrowed from here

Ingredients

For the whoopie pies:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg

For the caramel buttercream:

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • small pinch of kosher salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Pearlescent dust (I used lilac) or edible glitter stars, optional

Directions:

For the whoopie pies:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in another small bowl and set aside. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, then add egg, beating until well combined. The mixture should be pale and very, very shiny. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

Spoon level, 1/4-cup mounds of batter about 2 inches apart onto 2 buttered large baking sheets. Gently smooth each mound and spread them slightly with an offset spatula. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

For the caramel buttercream:

First, make the caramel by adding sugar into a small saucepan with enough water to give it the texture of wet sand. Cook the sugar and water mixture on low heat until it has dissolved, then raise the heat to high and let cook until it turns golden. Swirl the pan gently, intermittently, but do not stir or attempt to stir in crystalized bits of sugar on the sides of the pan, as it could cause the caramel to seize. Don’t walk away during this stage as the sugar can burn very quickly.

While sugar is cooking, add cream to a microwaveable bowl or cup and microwave for 30 seconds, just until it begins to warm. When the sugar has turned golden brown, remove it from the heat and pour in the cream in a slow, steady stream, whisking to incorporate thoroughly. Add a very small pinch of kosher salt and whisk once or twice more. If any crystallization occurs, place the caramel back over medium heat to melt. When finished, caramel may appear thin, but it will thicken as it cools.

To make the buttercream, begin by combining the sugar and egg whites in a medium metal bowl and place over a pot of gently simmering water. Whisk the sugar mixture constantly until it becomes smooth and shiny. Continue whisking until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F, then remove the sugar mixture from the heat and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled. You can test this by feeling the side of the bowl. Your egg whites should be smooth, shiny, and peaked.

Next, switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the room temperature butter one piece at a time, beating until smooth. Do not add too much butter too quickly, or beat the mixture at too high of a speed, or the buttercream may break. When all the butter has been added, switch back to the whisk attachment and beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. If it appears to separate briefly, continue beating and it should come back together. If at any point you get true separation – you’ll know because it will look like a horrifying mess of watery liquid and big globules of fat from the butter, don’t panic. Scoop out about half the mixture and warm it in the microwave for a minute or so. Add it back to the mixer and beat on medium, graduating to high, and it should all reincorporate.

Once the buttercream is ready, stream the caramel into the buttercream and beat to combine. If the caramel has cooled too much in the meantime, or has solidified, just give it a gentle heat on the stovetop. The buttercream is now ready to go. If you’re not going to use it immediately, place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it, to prevent it from drying out.

When you’re ready to fill your whoopie pies, separate out the buttercream into four containers and tint each one to the desired hue of pink, blue, black, or purple. Fit a pastry bag with your tip of choice, then fill the bag with alternating tablespoons of each color. Once filled, I used the dull end of a skewer to push down inside the bag and gently blend the colors. Be especially careful if you’re using a plastic, disposable pastry bag, so you don’t risk puncturing it. Test your buttercream by piping a few stars and swirls on a paper plate or napkin. You’re ready to fill the whoopie pies when multiple colors emerge at the same time.

Fill each whoopie pie with a generous swirl of galaxy buttercream, then pop a lid on and decorate the top to your heart’s desire with pearlescent dust, edible glitter, or just leave them plain – they’re pretty as a peach no matter how you finish them.