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Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007 08:55 am

Even a ding-a-ling can make a “Ding Dong”

They don’t have to taste like cardboard and Styrofoam.

Hostess introduced Ding Dongs in March 1967.
Untitled Document Remember Ding Dongs? Even as a kid, I didn’t really like them. They sounded fun, though, and every so often I’d succumb to advertising hype or the desire to eat what my friends ate and nag my mom into buying them. The same thing happened with cereal. Tony the Tiger, Count Chocula, Lucky the Leprechaun, or Toucan Sam would seduce me into trying their wares. Inevitably, though, after a couple of bites, I’d push the cereal bowl aside or throw away a half-eaten cupcake. They just didn’t taste good. The boxes went on a shelf, where they stayed until their contents grew stale; and my mother, frustrated with my wastefulness and at herself for having given in to my pleading, threw them away.
I hadn’t thought of Ding Dongs for years, until the week I attended my first class at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. The CIA is widely regarded as the best professional cooking school in the United States and is often called the culinary equivalent of Harvard. The CIA’s California campus, Greystone, is located in the beautiful old former Christian Brothers winery, remodeled to accommodate a restaurant, museum, and store on the first floor and incredible state-of- the-art kitchen-schooling facilities upstairs. I journeyed to Napa equally apprehensive and excited. Would I have the right stuff to succeed in the notoriously challenging and high-pressure learning environment? I wasn’t young. Could I even keep up? At the same time, I was thrilled to attend such a prestigious institution and excited by the knowledge I hoped to gain. Because my classes started at 7 a.m. and ended at 2 p.m., I was also looking forward to free time in an area I love and had visited many times before. My fears were unfounded. I certainly worked hard but wasn’t in over my head and thoroughly enjoyed the learning experience. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t have nearly as much free time as I’d expected: All my afternoons were spent in a Laundromat. The CIA has a strict student dress code: black shoes, black-and-white-checked pants, a specific style of white jacket with specific kinds of pockets, and those stupid paper chef toques, which I hated and which continually fell off my head. The school supplies the hats, as well as waist aprons, but students are responsible for the rest. I’d gone to the CIA to prepare to teach cooking classes rather than to work in a restaurant. Because I wouldn’t be wearing chef togs when teaching, I’d only bought one uniform. Though I tried to keep my jacket clean, by the end of every class it was a mess, hence my daily visit to the laundry. Just finding a Laundromat in wealthy Napa Valley was a challenge. I went through two towns up the main highway before finding one in Yountville. But spending every afternoon there wasn’t as unpleasant as it would have been almost anywhere else. Even the Laundromat was upscale: Nicely appointed, it had a covered porch with chairs, flowering vines twining around posts, and beautiful views of distant mountains. I’d start the washing machine, then set out to explore the town. One of the first things I saw was a hand-lettered sign, outside a specialty grocery/deli, proclaiming: “HOMEMADE DING DONGS ARE BACK!” I couldn’t resist. These were no ordinary “Ding Dongs.” First, they were huge, easily 4 inches across. More important, they were scrumptious — sophisticated enough for adults yet equally suitable for kids. In their construction they resembled those childhood confections, but the taste and texture were light-years beyond those of the cardboard cake and Styrofoam filling of the originals: moist, flavorful cake, filled with lightly sweetened whipped cream and smothered in decadently rich, dark ganache, a wonderfully versatile mixture of chocolate and cream that can be used warm as a shiny glaze and, when chilled and whipped, used for a filling or to create truffle candies. As I slowly ate half, then wrapped the rest for later, I realized that even though my “Ding Dong” was delicious it wouldn’t be hard to re-create. My CIA experience taught me a lot. I returned home with a thick textbook, binders full of recipes, and pages of notes. But the first thing I did back in my own kitchen was to re-create those homemade Ding Dongs.  

Send questions and comments to Julianne Glatz at realcuisine@insightbb.com.
Homemade Ding Dongs

Cake 2 cups all-purpose or cake flour 2 cups sugar 1 cup unsalted butter 1/4 cup cocoa 1 teaspoon instant coffee or espresso (optional) 1 cup water 1/2 cup buttermilk Two eggs 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt
Filling 1 cup heavy whipped cream (not ultrapasteurized) 2 tablespoons powdered sugar 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Ganache 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (Ghirardelli 60 percent cacao chips are excellent) 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (not ultrapasteurized)
“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 that the center of the shape you choose will be large enough to hollow out. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour an 11-by-17-by-1-inch 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, and place the completed cake 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. Refrigerate cakes or keep them cool until they are served. Yield will depend on the cakes’ size.
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