They’re gone. Kaput. Fini.
When the Hostess corporation, maker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Ho’s, announced last November that it was filing for bankruptcy and closing its factories, the anguished howls were as intense as the hand-wringing over the impending “fiscal cliff.” Overnight, Hostess snack cakes disappeared from stores nationwide. Boxes of Twinkies sold on eBay for as much as $100.
I didn’t share people’s angst. Twinkies and Ding Dongs had certainly become cultural icons, but culinary icons? No way.
As a child, I occasionally shared a classmate’s Twinkie or Ding Dong, mildly enjoying them. But my mom’s and grandmother’s made-from-scratch baked goods were far superior. Oreos (which I loved) and gingersnaps (which I loathed) were the only purchased baked sweets at home.
I hadn’t thought of Twinkies or Ding Dongs – beyond jokes about their half-life equaling nuclear waste’s – for decades, until 2000 when I attended classes at the Culinary Institute of America’s Napa Valley campus. The CIA is often called the culinary equivalent of Harvard. I was thrilled to be attending the prestigious institution; the thought of learning to make Ding Dongs never entered my head.
Actually my Ding Dong experience didn’t happen at the CIA, but began when I spied a sign in Napa’s Yountville: “HOMEMADE DING DONGS ARE BACK!”
They weren’t ordinary Ding Dongs. The scrumptious 4-inch creations were light-years beyond the originals’ cardboard cake and Styrofoam filling: moist, chocolaty cake, filled with whipped cream and glazed with decadently rich ganache, a versatile mixture of chocolate and cream. Slowly eating one, I realized I could make them myself.
I returned home from the CIA with a thick textbook, binders of recipes, and pages of notes. But the first thing I did in my own kitchen was to recreate those homemade Ding Dongs.
Homemade Ding Dongs
• 2 c. all-purpose flour
• 2 c. sugar
• 1 c. unsalted butter
• 1/4 c. cocoa
• 1 tsp. instant coffee (optional)
• 1 c. water
• 1/2 c. buttermilk
• Two eggs
• 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1 c. heavy whipped cream, chilled
• 2 T. powdered sugar
• 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
• 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate (Ghirardelli 60 percent cacao chips are excellent)
• 1 1/2 c. heavy cream
Decorative icing for squiggles (optional):
• 1 c. sifted powdered sugar
• milk or water
“Ding Dongs” can be made in a variety of shapes and sizes appropriate to the season or occasion: rounds, squares, diamonds, hearts, daisies. Just be sure the center of the shape you choose will be large enough to hollow out.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 11 inch x 17 inch half sheet or 10 inch x 15 inch baking pan, line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper, butter the paper, then flour the pan.
Combine flour and sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Combine butter, cocoa, instant coffee and water in a heavy saucepan. Bring just to a simmer (make sure the butter is melted) and pour over the flour/sugar mixture. Beat at medium speed to combine and add the rest of the cake ingredients.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool completely before proceeding.
Whip cream for filling to stiff peaks, adding sugar when it begins thicken and vanilla after it is stiff. Refrigerate until needed.
Prepare the ganache by heating the cream in a heavy pan to just below a simmer, stirring constantly to help prevent sticking. Remove pan from the heat and add the chocolate. Turn heat to low and return pan to stove, whisking the mixture until smooth. Keep over lowest heat possible while you fill the cakes.
Cut the cake into the desired shapes. With a sharp utensil, such as a curved grapefruit knife or a melon baller, carve a hollow in each piece, taking care to not gouge the outer surface of the cake. Fill each hollow with the sweetened whipped cream; be careful not to overfill the hollow, or the filling will squish out from the sides. Put two pieces together, concealing the whipped-cream filling.
Place the completed cakes on a rack over parchment or waxed paper. Spoon the ganache over the cakes, allowing it to drip over the sides. Use a small spatula or knife to cover the sides completely.
To make the decorative squiggles, add milk or water by spoonfuls to the powdered sugar until the mixture is just liquid enough to pipe onto the Ding Dongs with a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip, or a plastic bag with a small piece of a corner snipped off. The icing must still be thick enough for the squiggles to keep their shape. Add more powdered sugar or liquid until the right consistency is achieved.
Keep the Ding Dongs cool until they are served. If they will not be eaten the same day, refrigerate them, tightly covered. Yield will depend on the cakes’ size.
Génoise, aka sponge cake, is a classic French creation that’s used in countless ways, from lady fingers and petit fours to elaborate tortes. It uses no leavening besides whole eggs whipped to ethereal lightness. Despite its soufflé-like batter, it’s a sturdy cake, one that takes well to being hollowed out and filled.
• 8 large eggs
• 4 T. unsalted butter, melted
• 2 c. sifted cake flour, plus additional for dusting the pan
• 1 c. sugar
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 T. pure vanilla extract
Whipped cream filling:
See filling for Ding Dongs, above
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the eggs in a large bowl and cover them with hot tap water. Set aside while assembling the other ingredients.
Butter a 9 inch x 13 inch baking pan, then line the bottom and sides with parchment or waxed paper. Butter the papers, then flour the pan with cake flour.
Put the melted butter into a quart-sized bowl; keep warm.
Sift the cake flour, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt together and set aside.
Put the remaining sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer or bowl suitable for using a hand-held mixer. Wipe the eggs so that water doesn’t drip into the bowl when they’re cracked; add the eggs to the bowl.
Whip the egg-sugar mixture on medium-high speed until it’s pale, airy, tripled in volume and resembles softly whipped cream, about 5 minutes. When it’s whipped enough, the mixture will fall from the beater in a ribbon back into the bowl and rest on the surface for about 10 seconds. If the ribbon sinks immediately into the mixture, continue whisking until it rests on the surface of the mixture as noted above. Drizzle in the vanilla and whisk until incorporated.
Gently sprinkle about a fourth of the flour mixture onto the egg/sugar mixture, then use a large rubber spatula to gently fold (an up and over motion) just until the mixtures are combined. The batter will deflate somewhat, which is to be expected; the goal is to combine while deflating as little as possible. Fold in the remaining flour a third at a time.
Gently fold about 1 cup of the batter into the melted butter, then add to the bowl of batter, again gently folding just until completely combined.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake 25-30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely in the pan, then cover tightly with foil and let stand several hours or overnight.
Cut the cake into fourths lengthwise and thirds crosswise, making 12 rectangles. Use a serrated knife with a thin blade to cut a tunnel longwise in the middle of each piece, being careful not to pierce the outsides. Reserve the tunneled cake pieces. Using a pastry bag or plastic bag with a corner tip cut off, fill the tunnels from both ends with the whipped cream. Use slices of the tunneled cake pieces to plug the holes. Makes 12 “twinkies.”
Contact Julianne Glatz at email@example.com.