So, here I am, sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops downtown, having hauled myself out of bed and into the city with every intention of getting some much-needed reading done. Instead, I have decided that, with a mug of steaming hot apple cider by my side and an inexpressible excitement about a looming encounter with the Dalai Lama in 3 hours, I’ll write. I did bake, which is shocking feat in and of itself, but that’s not what this post is about.
Mostly, and most importantly, it’s a story. A true story, at that, and kind of an incredible one. Because sometimes the world works in very wondrous ways.
As all good stories go, I’ll start at the beginning. And this beginning takes place with an email I received on October 9, 2011.
It was a pleasant little email from a fellow blogger who had read some of my tales of travel and appreciated my fascination with all things food. She was a 20-something-year-old Portuguese girl who seemed pretty surprised that I had thought to visit her country during my study abroad in Spain (I distinctly remember routinely being told, by Spanish locals and my host mother alike, that Portugal was the ‘Canada’ of Europe).
So she offered to send over any recipes of dishes I had tried and enjoyed while in Porto, since she realized it would be difficult for non-Portuguese speakers to find accessible ones via the ‘net.
Of course, after the initial shock of having had a fellow blogger actually contact me personally, I jumped at the opportunity and emailed her back straight away. She responded, asking about my travels and typing up some recipes for me. Estrume de vaca, specifically, or as she translated, “‘cow shit’ – don’t ask me about the name, mum doesn’t know either!”
And from there, we emailed back and forth for days.
Days soon turned into weeks, and weeks into months. We moved beyond the general, polite ‘hellos’ and recipe swaps (me sending over some of my favorites in exchange for some of hers), into conversations about our lives: what we studied, our hobbies and interests, how are families are like, how we celebrate different holidays here and there, a shared love of BBC dramas and Supernatural.
And soon after, confiding in each other our griefs and stresses, reveling in each other’s successes, asking for advice and opinions on anything from books to read to relationships. It was as though we’d known each other for years.
On Valentine’s Day, she shipped me a box of amazing, homemade chocolates – filled with a variety of creams and sauces (she is, in fact, a professional at this sort of thing). For Mother’s Day, the star dessert during our brunch was one that she sent me – aletria, a warming, comforting milk pudding reminiscent of our seviyan.
Needless to say, she has become one of my closest friends. It’s quite amazing, since we’ve never spoken in person. All we know about each other is a year’s worth of email correspondence, a few photos here and there, and an understanding of one another that, literally, transcends oceans. And all it took was one email.
Espresso Whoopie Pies (gluten-free variation included below)
Adapted from theKitchen.
Yields 8-10 massive pies.
For the cakes, you’ll need:
- 2 1/4 cups AP flour
- 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 stick [8 tbsp] butter, softened
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 4 oz semisweet chocolate, melted
For the espresso cream cheese filling, you’ll need:
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 stick [8 tbsp] butter, softened
- 2-3 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 tbsp instant espresso
Preheat oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside. In a separate large bowl, cream butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until blended, about 3 mins. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add vanilla. Lower the mixer speed and add half the flour mixture and the milk, mixing until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining flour and milk. Pour in the melted chocolate and mix until just blended.
Drop heaping spoonfuls of batter on the parchment sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each. Bake for about 14 mins, until cakes have browned a bit and set. Allow cakes to cool on the sheet for about 5 mins. Use a spatula to transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare the filling, cream the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until well-blended, 3-4 mins. In a small bowl, dissolve the instant espresso into the vanilla. Pour into the cream cheese mixture, and blend. Lower the mixture speed considerably and slowly add the powdered sugar, until filling has the desired consistency (I usually like about 2 1/2 cups). Increase mixer speed to medium and allow filling to fluff up a bit, about 5 mins. Transfer the filling to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until using.
To assemble the pies, spoon a generous amount of filling onto the underside of one cake. Don’t extend the filling all the way to the edges. Gently press the underside of a second cake on top of the filling. Repeat with the remaining cakes. Loosely cover cakes with aluminum foil and refrigerate until serving. Cakes stay fresh for up to 4 days.
- Replace the AP flour with the same quantity of a gluten-free flour blend (note: I highly discourage the use of Bob’s Red Mill AP gluten-free flour. Forthcoming blog post will expand on this.)
- Add 1/2 tsp xantham gum to the flour mixture, along with the baking soda and baking powder.
So, why the whoopie pies? Well, knowing that our pen-pal-iversary was looming, Carla and I decided that we needed to something spectacular to commemorate the occasion. After briefly discussing, we came to an easy decision: we would each bake, she in Portugal and me at my apartment, in honor of the other, sharing our dessert with friends and family, and celebrating the incredible passion that brought us together in the first place.
And so these I’ve made in honor of you, my darling Carla, as a thank you for all of your beautiful words of wisdom, encouragement, and general awesomeness these past 12 months. You are wholly and truly one in a million, and I’m so, unbelievably, inexplicably glad you decided to send me that email all those months ago.
And these are for you, too, dear readers, for reading my ramblings and sharing my appreciation for good food and good friends. You are all, well and truly, lovely people, and I thank you for being a part of my story.