Well, a little good news for me and for the blog: my sweet tooth has returned! It was truly disconcerting not craving sweets for a while (although I’m sure my doctor was happy), but I found myself wanting dessert again in the last few weeks, just in time for Halloween! Actually, I have a dentist’s appointment on the 31st – I’m awaiting some comments about the futility of trying to scrape sugar off patients’ teeth when they’re just going to eat a bunch of candy later in the day.
In the spirit of sugar and Halloween, I thought I’d try to duplicate a childhood classic: the Twinkie. Even as a kid I knew these snack cakes had to be totally devoid of any nutritional value whatsoever, but it didn’t stop me from trying to convince my mom to buy me one when we passed them by in the store. I only met with occasional success (yay mom?), although the one Hostess item she flat-out refused to even consider were those funny pink coconut Sno-Balls, apparently because they looked “too artificially colored.” I mean, not like 90% of snack foods aren’t artificially colored, but I like that my mom picked a criteria that an eight-year-old couldn’t argue against.
There are quite a few “vanilla snack cake” recipes floating around the internet, most of which are based on a sponge cake or chiffon cake recipe. Makes sense to me. However, I wanted a more Halloween-y cake so I decided to add some pumpkin to the mix. It definitely gives it a less sugary, more sophisticated and autumn-like feel, not to mention I really liked the orange hue (no artificial colorings here, mom!) How to get that familiar Twinkie shape? Well, who knew there was something called a “cream canoe pan” that turns out individual cakes in the shapes of…canoes, which are coincidentally quite similar to Twinkies. If you don’t want to spring for such a specialized pan (incidentally, I found it worked quite well, if you’re wondering whether it does the job), there are also tutorials on the internet from people who’ve shaped their own molds out of aluminum foil, or you can also just use a cupcake tin. I really wanted to recapture that Twinkie feeling though, so the cream canoe pan it was.
There’s also a plethora of filling recipes out there: many of them utilize marshmallow cream to help approximate the right flavor and texture, but when I tried them out, I found that the intense sweetness of the filling overwhelmed the pumpkin cake. I think if you were going for just a basic vanilla cake flavor, it would be fine, but the more complex spiciness of the pumpkin got lost under the one-two punch of marshmallow and confectioners’ sugar. Another popular suggestion I tried, flour frosting or boiled frosting, which involves cooking flour and milk together and mixing the resulting paste with butter and sugar to make a buttercream-esque frosting, was a subtler and more suitable filling. However, feel free to try both – if you want to sugar bomb yourself on Halloween, who am I to say no?
Finally, because I can’t resist gilding the lily, I made a quick maple and bourbon glaze to drizzle over the Twinkies. I also advise pouring this glaze directly over the cakes unless you need your sugar fix, but a little bit adds a nice note to go with the spicy pumpkin of the cake.
The result is a lighter, rendition of a Twinkie – one I don’t feel quite as bad eating.
Oh, and just because I can’t resist sharing, here is Snickers our little pirate captain, all ready to greet trick-or-treaters!
Arr matey! Hope you have a happy Halloween!
The recipe for the pumpkin snack cakes is adapted from Simple Math Bakery.
- If you don't have pumpkin pie spice, you can use a combination of: 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1/8 teaspoon allspice. A cream canoe pan can be found at specialty baking stores or online. If you don't have one, you can use a regular muffin tin, and the baking time will be a little longer, about 15-18 minutes.
Pumpkin Snack Cakes
- 1 cup cake flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Vanilla Cream Filling
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Maple Bourbon Glaze
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 4 tablespoons maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- 2 teaspoon bourbon
For the pumpkin cakes:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a cream canoe pan and set aside.
- Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice in a medium bowl.
- Add in the pumpkin puree, oil, vanilla extract, and egg yolks and whisk until fully combined.
- In a stand mixer or separate bowl, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar, and whip to stiff peaks.
- Fold in about a third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten. Fold in the rest of the egg whites until incorporated, trying not to deflate them too much.
- Fill the canoe pan cavities about two-thirds full. Bake for about 9-11 minutes until the cakes are puffed up and fully set. Remove and let cool on wire racks for about 5 minutes, then unmold.
For the filling:
- Combine flour and milk in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until it thickens into a paste. Remove from heat and scrape into a bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap over the top and let finish cooling.
- Combine shortening, butter, sugar, and salt in a stand mixer and beat until combined.
- Add in the cooled flour mixture and beat until incorporated and mixture is light and fluffy.
For the glaze:
- Combine all ingredients in bowl of a stand mixer and beat until smooth and combined. If it is a little too runny, you can add more confectioners' sugar; if it's too thick, add some more cream.
- Fill a pastry bag fitted with a round tip with the filling. Poke tip into the underside of a cake and squeeze filling into cake. Repeat along length of cake (three spots total should be fine).
- Drizzle the glaze over the cakes.