The first bite into a whoopie pie is the most gratifying. Two slabs of moist cake give way to an airy filling that ignites almost every pleasure-sensing region in your brain. They’re soft, smooth, creamy, light but decadent and irresistibly sweet: everything you’d expect from a comforting dessert. Regardless of what you’re in the mood for, the whoopie pie has the power to satisfy almost every sugary craving. It’s a pie made of cake that is eaten like a sandwich cookie. Whoopie pies are in a league of their own.
The cream is key — it’s what holds the dessert together — so both flavor and consistency are essential. If the cream is too thick, the whoopie pie will be too dense and rich; too light and the cakes will squish together. It’s like holding the same poles of two chocolate magnets together and watching them levitate on a weightless cloud of cream.
This humble dessert is enjoyed across the Mid-Atlantic from Maine to Maryland, but they hold a special place in the heart of the Philadelphia region. The story in our neck of the woods is that the Amish would make whoopie pies to use up excess cake batter. Depending on who you talk to, “whoopie” was either what bakers would shout when the cakes were baking, or how kids would react to finding one in their lunchbox.
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“The Pennsylvania Dutch people are definitely a waste-not-want-not people,” says Clinton Martin, president of the Amish Experience at Plain & Fancy Farm, which educates visitors about the Amish and Mennonite communities in Lancaster County. “You don’t throw away any scraps. You use everything.”
According to Martin, what likely started as a way to be resourceful ended up spawning an entirely new dessert, one that people now make on purpose instead of out of frugality.
This was, at least in our region, the accepted whoopie pie origin story. It was a recipe created by the Pennsylvania Dutch and passed down through generations.
Then Maine tried to claim the treat as its own. In 2011, a state legislator in Maine proposed a bill to make the whoopie pie Maine’s official state treat. The people of Pennsylvania were blindsided. In response, the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau in Lancaster launched the “Save Our Whoopie” campaign, declaring Pennsylvania to be the true birthplace of the whoopie pie. (It wasn’t enough to prevent the Maine measure from passing, so the whoopie pie is the official state treat (not to be confused with the Maine’s official state dessert, which is the blueberry pie).
Maine’s claim came with receipts. Whoopie pies were commercially produced by Labadie’s Bakery in Lewiston, Maine, as early as 1925.
But, Pennsylvania, before you hang your heads down in defeat, we still may have been first.
In Western Pennsylvania, there’s a treat almost identical to the whoopie pie: the gob. Like the whoopie pie, it’s two pieces of chocolate cake held together with a creamy, icing filling (the icing in a gob is yellow). The term was trademarked in 1927 by the Harris-Boyer bakery ( now owned by Yost’s Dutch Maid Bakery in Johnstown where they still make gobs).
Even though the trademark for gobs is dated two years after Maine’s whoopie pie claim, the Harris-Boyer Bakery opened in 1894, so chances are good that gobs were satisfying sweet-toothed yinzers before those Maine bakers.
Controversy aside, no one can deny that Pennsylvania loves its whoopie pies. Bakers from Bird-in-Hand, Pa., to downtown Philly (and even New Jersey) are making everything from classic chocolate to fancy upscale versions of the Pennsylvania Dutch treat.
Here’s where to find some of the region’s best:
Price: $3 for single; large 9″ whoopie pie for $25
Whoopie pies are one of Flying Monkey Bakery’s signature pastries, and they go beyond the classic chocolate and cream with flavors like English toffee, banana, and mint. Owner and pastry chef Elizabeth Halen was born and raised in New Hampshire where she says her mom made incredible whoopie pies. “My brother and I would often request chocolate whoopie pies for our birthdays instead of cake,” says Halen. According to Halen, a great whoopie pie is moist but sturdy with a filling that doesn’t go overboard with the sweetness. “The secret to our filling is fresh butter and just the right amount of salt,” says Halen. Customer favorites include the classic chocolate, red velvet, pumpkin, and chocolate peanut butter.
For more than a decade, Elmer and Lynn Riehl have been baking Pennsylvania Dutch classics from their bakery in the Berlin Farmers Market. The Mennonite couple grew up in Lancaster and have mastered the art of cakes, doughnuts, danishes, and of course, whoopie pies. “That’s my weakness in here, that chocolate whoopie pie,” says Elmer Riehl. “Gotta have one every day.” Riehl says his wife’s are best because she has a unique technique for making the sweet cream for the inside. “She got that recipe right,” says Riehl. The cream inside Country Hill Amish Bakery’s whoopie pies defies pastry physics. It’s whipped and airy but has the structural integrity to suspend each cakey disk in place without the whoopie pie collapsing in on itself. Country Hill Amish Bakery sells three varieties of whoopie pies: a traditional chocolate, oatmeal, and chocolate chip.
Price: $5 for singles; $12 for three in a box
When Kate Devlin and her husband went vegan, the foods she missed most were the Pennsylvania Dutch dishes she grew up eating with her grandma. “It’s a kind of meat-and-potatoes-and-heavy-butter cuisine,” says Devlin, who worked for quite some time translating her family’s recipes into vegan versions. That’s why everything Crocus sells is vegan but maintains the same flavors, textures, and substance as their non-vegan counterparts. There’s always a chocolate whoopie pie available, but every month she creates seasonal offerings that leverage Pennsylvania’s exceptional local produce. In July, Devlin partnered with Beechwood Orchards to offer a sweet apricot cake with an herbaceous basil cream filling. She also has a fresh blueberry lemon whoopie pie with lemon verbena glaze. “I like playing around with what’s in front of me and what’s local,” says Devlin. You can find Crocus at the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Dickinson Square Farmers’ Market on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Occasionally, you can find Crocus whoopie pies at Rybread, a cafe in Fairmount.
As the name implies, there’s a strong emphasis on pie at Pie and Plate. (Even the “Pipcakes” are cupcakes with small pies baked inside.) Like many of their other desserts, they’ve added extra pizzazz to their whoopie pies, dipping them in chocolate and covering them with colorful chocolate chips. “It’s the perfect walking-around treat and [it’s] as iconic as apple pie, which we also make,” says Kirsten Wente, co-owner and operator of Pie and Plate Cafe. A close cousin to the whoopie pie are their Cakebombs, round domes of cake with a buttercream filling.
Price: Regular $4; giant whoopie $25
Between the macaron flights and custom-designed cakes, Kirsten Sirbak’s creativity knows no bounds. When she took over as owner and pastry chef of Beverly’s Pastry Shop in 2014, she wanted to keep what was on the menu, but elevate it a little bit, including the whoopie pie. “That’s the one cool thing about whoopie pies,” says Sirbak, “they’re an interpretation of pretty much whatever the baker wants to make.” To Sirbak, the whoopie pie is an opportunity to “get funky” with flavor combinations like mango cake and passionfruit filling. There’s always the standard chocolate with vanilla buttercream, plus whatever flavors Sirbak is inspired by. Beverly’s Pastry Shop offers Keto, vegan, gluten-free, and allergy-free desserts (including, sometimes, whoopie pies), so everyone can enjoy a taste.
Whipped Bakeshop has fed many celebs, including Jimmy Fallon, Hoda Kotb, and Philly’s own Questlove. And their Funfetti whoopie pie is a star all its own. The buttercream filling is sugary sweet and decorated with sprinkles, but the real standout is the cake, which is so thick, the dessert is more like a globe than its usual UFO-disk shape. Whipped Bakeshop is currently open by appointment only, but you can order whoopie pies and other desserts online for pickup.
Price: Singles: $2.60, a dozen jumbo: $26.95
A trip to Lancaster is not complete without stocking up on Pennsylvania Dutch classics like wet-bottom shoofly pie, apple fritters, and whoopie pies. Bird-in-Hand Bakery & Cafe still uses Grandma Smucker’s (owner John Smucker’s grandma) recipes to create decadently sweet whoopie pies, with a jumbo-size option in case you want to share with a friend. If you’re a fan of pumpkin-flavored delights, you don’t have to wait until the fall: Their pumpkin whoopie pie is available year-round. Bird-in-Hand Bakery & Cafe also offers red velvet, chocolate, and peanut butter whoopie pies. For a cool summertime treat, order the Big Whoop, an ice cream sundae made with a whoopie pie and a scoop of handcrafted whoopie pie fudge swirl ice cream topped with hot fudge, whipped cream, and chocolate sprinkles.
Price: Regular: $1.15; minis: $5.99 for a 12-pack
If you can’t get out to Lancaster County, you can still indulge in Pennsylvania Dutch desserts from The Dutch Country Bakery in the Bristol Amish Market. They have shelves filled with cakes, muffins, breads, and whoopie pies, both regular and minis (sold in a 12-pack). Aside from chocolate and vanilla, they offer a luscious red velvet, a rich and smooth peanut butter with cream cheese icing, a refreshing mint, and oatmeal.
Price: $2.95 for one or three for $8
Stoltzfus is a taste of Lancaster on the Main Line. After you’re done picking up your farm-fresh produce and quality meats from the butcher, grab a few whoopie pies to go. While some markets bring in whoopie pies from Lancaster County, Stoltzfus bakes its own in-house and offer three tried-and-true flavors: chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookie, and oatmeal.
Price: $1.25 for one; $6 for six; $9.50 for extra-large
When it comes to whoopie pie selection, Sunnyside Pastries takes the cake, with 16 varieties with varying combinations of cake and filling. Try fruity combinations, like a chocolate whoopie pie with raspberry filling, or a blueberry with a light and airy vanilla cream. If your preferences lean sweeter, salty, and indulgent, try the mocha, peanut butter, chocolate chip cookie, or molasses whoopie pies. They come in sizes ranging from mini to an extra-large whoopie pie that’s so massive, it serves 12.
Price: $1.99 for a single; six-pack of minis for $6.99
One of Philly’s favorite doughnut shops also makes a mean whoopie pie. According to Kevin Beiler, president of the company, it’s a Beiler family recipe. “The icing in the center is light and fluffy; that’s the biggest difference between a Lancaster County whoopie pie and others,” says Beiler. “Outside Lancaster, most whoopie pies use a heavier filling.” The Beiler family whoopie pie is a super-moist cake with a rich buttercream icing that’s as light in consistency as the cake.
About the writer:
Kae Lani Palmisano is the Emmy award-winning host of WHYY’s Check, Please! Philly and the food history series Delishtory. She is also a food and travel writer, podcaster, recipe developer, and home cook exploring the journey food takes to get to the plate.