Red Hook in Brooklyn is one of New York's most interesting emerging neighborhoods, and it is also the home of Baked, one of the most popular bakeries in the city's five boroughs.
Founded in 2001 by Matt Lewis, one of the original owners of Chocolate Bar in New York, and Renato Poliafito, a graphic designer, Baked has risen to national prominence and has recently spawned a branch in Charleston, S.C. "Baked: New Frontiers in Baking," published a year ago by Stewart Tabori & Chang, was nominated for an International Association of Culinary Professionals cookbook award.
I visited with Mr. Lewis and Mr. Poliafito in early August and was immediately impressed by the friendly simplicity of the salesroom-cafe, with its light-colored horizontal wood paneling and roomy tables. As we talked, I nibbled on a few of their specialties, among them a rosemary apricot shortbread and a chocolate-covered rice cereal bar that ranked among the best things I have ever tasted. We fell to talking about recipes, and both partners recommended a favorite pumpkin whoopie pie as a perfect fall treat.
Whoopie pies are popping up in trendy bakeries and food stores around the country, but unless you've spent time in regions where they are traditional treats -- in New England or Pennsylvania Amish country -- you might never have heard of them. Think of them as sandwiches made with two cakelike cookies and a creamy filling.
Before leaving Baked, I stopped to buy a selection of specialties for a homebound friend I was going to visit later the same day. Opening the box, she sounded a bit like Oprah Winfrey as she exclaimed, "Baked! These are my favorite."
Pumpkin whoopie pies
This recipe is adapted from "Baked," by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. Be sure to chill the pumpkin puree before making the recipe - it makes the dough easier to scoop and results in a perfect domed top on the baked cookies. Makes 12 filled cookies.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
2 cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups chilled pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners' sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
For the pumpkin cookie dough, in a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and cloves together, and set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk the brown sugar and oil together until combined. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the eggs and vanilla, and whisk until combined.
Sprinkle the flour mixture over the pumpkin mixture and whisk until completely combined.
Use a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism to drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cookie comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool completely on the pan while you make the filling.
For the filling, sift the confectioners' sugar into a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it is completely smooth, with no visible lumps. Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.
Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Be careful not to overbeat the filling, or it will lose structure. (The filling can be made 1 day ahead. Cover the bowl tightly and put it in the refrigerator. Let the filling soften at room temperature before using.)
To assemble, turn half of the cookies upside down (flat side facing up).
Use an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon to drop a large dollop of filling onto the flat side of the cookie. Place another cookie, flat side down, on top of the filling. Press down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edges of the cookie. Repeat until all the cookies are used. Put the whoopie pies in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm up before serving.
The whoopie pies will keep for up to 3 days, on a parchment-lined baking sheet covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator.