Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hats Off to Whoopie Pies!

Is it only March that can come "in like a lion"? Our New Year roared in with a sudden heat wave...from 20 degrees to 60 degrees in just a day. The snow melted, and all the little creatures came out to forage. This fat squirrel waddled over to my viburnum bushes to nibble on the tender buds.

I was able to do a little yard work, pulling up old, dry flower stalks and tidying up the garden. I didn't see any hibernating insects in the gnarled roots, but I did turn up one stunned earthworm, who slowly, methodically worked its way back into the soil.

January means sale time at my favorite pottery store, Emma Bridgewater in England. Their pottery is all hand-decorated and the quality is second to none. I can't afford to buy a set of her dishes, unfortunately, but I wait every year for her "Second Hand Sale" and shop with a little less
guilt. My new favorite is her "Birds of Britain" collection. With my recent order, I now have 12 mugs, and love them all.

On the home front, Tabitha is broadening her horizons. She's learned to jump up onto the window sill in order to watch the birds at the feeders...

...and she's discovered the small screened-in opening on our front porch. She spends a lot of time there, nose to the screen.

What an inquisitive girl she is!

I finished up the last of my gift knitting for the year with this small slouchy hat, made for a friend's daughter. The pattern is Ripley by Ysolda Teague. It was easy to modify this pattern for a child...I just went down 2 needle sizes. It's a clever pattern, with an old-fashioned lace brim and a gathering of fabric at the name of the neck.

I have an adult-sized one for myself and I'm quite fond of it!

I'd been hesitating to start a particular knitting project. I never want to feel afraid to try new knitting techniques, but sometimes I do feel overwhelmed, especially with no one here to help me. I rely a lot on youtube videos and Ravelry.com for support, and I practice, practice, practice. I wanted to start on another pair of toe-up socks this week. I remember how I used to avoid patterns with this style, and I'm glad I was able to teach myself, although it's still awkward. This youtube video by Cat Bordhi was a big help.

First, drape your yarn...

Then, using a modified long-tail cast on, you'll pick up wraps with your left and right needle until you've got enough stitches on your needles, like this:

You can see the little purl bumps that formed on the other side of your wraps.

Next, you'll knit up and down these two needles, increasing as needed, in a circular pattern until you have the specified number of stitches. Now you can really see the toe forming. I always end up with my purl bumps on the OUTSIDE instead of the inside, but it's just one row and I don't mind a toe made this way.

Here's the inside of the toe.

Many patterns for toe-up socks call for the Magic Loop method, which uses one long circular needle or two smaller circular needles. I prefer using double-pointed needles, so I just mark either side of my toe with a stitch marker to keep my place. I work in additional needles as the toe grows, until it's completed, and you're ready to move on to the foot:

I really enjoy learning these new techniques. I'll check back as I inch toward the heels!

I read many different food blogs, and lately I've noticed a trend toward indulgence. Many dessert blogs boast of their use of real butter in recipes, with lots of white sugar and egg yolks. I've shuddered, reading about cupcake recipes that call for two sticks of butter and heaping cups of sugar, topped with buttercream frosting made of additional sticks of butter and cups of sugar. To those of you who can eat this way and still roll yourself out of bed in the morning, I applaud and envy you. I personally have to continue to seeks ways to lighten old favorites so that I can enjoy the taste, but not live life in a constant sugar coma.

Which brings me to a new recipe. I read about Lemon Whoopie Pies on Joy the Baker's excellent website, and was intrigued. I was less enthusiastic about the thought of consuming 2 sticks of butter and a total of 3 3/4 cups of sugar, so I made some modifications and I'm really pleased with the result.

Modified Lemon Whoopie Pies
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Makes 24 pies

1 1/2 cups white flour (all purpose)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 egg white
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk (skim)

1 block (12 ounces) neufchatel cheese
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 - 3 teaspoons lemon juice (to taste)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside. In a separate bowl, beat together butter, sugar, and lemon zest until smooth. Add egg white, lemon juice, and vanilla and mix well. Slowly blend in half of the flour mixture, and then add your buttermilk. If you don't have any on hand, it's easy to make: 1/2 cup milk + 1/2 teaspoon vinegar (let it sit for 5 minutes to curdle). Finally, add the rest of the flour mixture and incorporate.

I originally had planned to use the cookie cutters my sister-in-law had given me for Christmas to make tiny, dainty circles, but this batter is much too sticky. I settled for dropping 1/2 teaspoon of dough onto a greased cookie sheet, and baked for about 8 minutes.

I still expected little dainty circles, but the resulting cookies were fairly substantial. They definitely had character.

I cooled them on wire racks for about 1o minutes while I prepared the filling, which was simple: I dumped all ingredients in my KitchenAid and mixed until fully incorporated. Easy! Then I turned over my cookies to prepare for filling.

I put a generous dollop of filling in each cookie and then smooshed them together to make a little whoopie pie.

They were perfect! Soft and chewy, with a crispy rim. The lemon flavor is very subtle, and the sweetness is not overpowering. I'm really pleased with these...and this recipe makes 24 whoopie pies, which means that I won't have to worry about dessert for a while!

I hope you give them a try.



  1. Just had to comment, because I've just learned this method of casting on for toe ups myself. I also used the Cat Bordhi method -- but using two 24" circulars instead of one longer one (also on youtube). It's quite a bit easier than either double points or the single circular method, so I wanted to share since I'd tried all three. Also, the reason you're getting the bumps on the wrong side is because you're knitting into the underside of your cast on. After you've cast on (with the needles pointing toward your left hand) simply rotate them like the hands of a clock 180 degrees until they're pointing to your right hand, then begin knitting into them like you've been doing. But your purl bumped toe is cute and uniquely your own, so there's no reason to change if you don't want to! :)

    And your photographs are phenomenal. You may have said, but do you use a tripod and a remote to take your macro pictures or do you just have a MUCH steadier hand than me?

    Always a joy to see what you have to share on your blog!

  2. Thanks so much for the tip! I will definitely do that on my next pair of toe-ups! I need to try Magic Looping again, I think. Just for some variety! Thanks for your comments on the photos! I don't use a remote or tripod, I just take many, many, many photos quickly...usually one of them turns out! :)

  3. OMG this is NOT going to help me with my die...t :(

  4. Oh, it will! Honestly, these are relatively low in calories/fat...Todd and I are both on Weight Watchers, and these are only 3 "points" each...per sandwich cookie! We nibble on these whenever we want something sweet...they're in the freezer and thaw quickly. :)