Sunday, August 16, 2009

Welcome Guest Blogger -- Jennie Bentley!

Making Whoopie...

They say to write what you know, so I’m
writing a series of mysteries about a textile
designer turned renovator on the coast of

No, I’ve never been a textile designer, and I don’t live in Maine, but I do know about home renovation. In the past nine years, since we bought our first little fixer-upper in a transitional neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee, my husband and I have renovated that one plus eight more. There isn’t much that can go wrong with a house under reconstruction that I haven’t experienced personally.

Our current project is a low-slung mid-century brick ranch, much like the one my protagonist, Avery Baker, is renovating in Spackled and Spooked, Do-It-Yourself-mystery #2, which was released on August 4th. Ours comes without the ghostly footsteps in the hallway and the skeleton in the crawlspace, thankfully.

Something I don’t know or write much about, on the other hand, is food. Oh, I like to eat it, as evidenced by my spreading fanny. And I do cook it when I have to, although I usually rely heavily on boxes and cans, jars and bags of already-halfway-prepared stuff to help me pull things together. (Whole wheat pasta from a box, tomato sauce from a jar—Five Brothers Marinara with Burgundy Wine is a favorite—and steamed fresh broccoli... yum! Nutritious, filling, and even pretty good for you. Chock full of iron and fiber and things like that.)
As a result of my lack, my protagonist isn’t much of a cook, either. She grew up in New York City, so she is used to eating out, and when she finds herself in a small town in Maine, where the culinary offerings are fewer and less exciting, she falls back on cans of tuna and microwaveable macaroni and cheese much of the time. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, either, since between renovating houses and solving fresh murders and historical riddles, Avery—like me—has enough to do.
She has found a Maine delicacy she likes, however; one I can get behind, too. You see, while I’m not much of a cook, I’m not a bad baker. Avery’s favorite treat is called a whoopie pie, and it’s a type of dessert consisting of two round, mound-shaped pieces of cake with a sweet, creamy frosting sandwiched between them. In Maine, they’re hamburger sized, perfect for Avery to share with her boyfriend and business partner, Derek; he of the snug jeans and power tools. (No, his jeans aren’t snug because of the whoopie pies. Derek can eat whoopie pies without gaining weight. He’s fictitious.)
Whoopie pies are a Pennsylvania Amish tradition originally, although these days, they’re considered more of a New England phenomenon. According to food historians, whoopie pies were originally made from leftover batter, and when the children would find them in their lunch boxes, they’d yell “Whoopie!” Hence the name.
Traditional whoopie pies are made with vegetable shortening, not butter (although the recipe will work with butter, too, if you insist). The original and most common whoopie pie is chocolate with vanilla filling, although pumpkin whoopie pies are a favorite seasonal variation.

Here’s what you need to make them:

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 egg

1/4 cup cocoa

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets.
In a large bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, and egg. In another bowl, combine cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the milk. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture, alternating with the milk mixture; beating until smooth.
Drop batter by the 1/4 cup (to make 18 cakes) onto prepared baking sheets. With the back of a spoon spread batter into 4-inch circles, leaving approximately 2 inches between each cake. Bake 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, make the filling:

1 cup solid vegetable shortening

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 cups Marshmallow Fluff

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium bow, beat together shortening, sugar, and Marshmallow fluff; stir in vanilla extract until well blended. When the cakes are completely cool, spread the flat side (bottom) of one chocolate cake with a generous amount of filling. Top with another cake, pressing down gently to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with all cookies to make 9 pies. Wrap whoopie pies individually in plastic wrap, or place them in a single layer on a platter (do not stack them, as they tend to stick). You can freeze them the same way, by wrapping each pie in plastic wrap and putting them in a freezer proof container. Thaw them again in the fridge.

And that, my friends, is how you make whoopie... pies! Now pull up a comfy chair, dig out a good book—one of mine would be great!—and enjoy.

Jennie Bentley is the author of the Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. DIY#1, Fatal Fixer-Upper, was a bestseller for the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association the month of its release, November 2008. DIY#2, Spackled and Spooked, hit stores on August 4th, 2009, and also hit #5 on Barnes & Noble’s bestseller list for paperback mysteries, while DIY#3 is scheduled for release on March 2nd, 2010. Jennie is currently hard at work on DIY#4, as yet untitled. You can catch her at

Fantastic! Thanks so much for joining us at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, Jennie!

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  1. Thanks so much for visiting the blog today, Jennie! And for sharing your recipe....can't wait to try it.


  2. OMG, I have to read your series. I'm on a huge learning curve when it comes to home renovations and I'd much rather get exerpt tips while enjoying a great murder mystery! LOL! Love your Whoopi Pie recipe, too. Doesn't that make you smile just to say it...Whoopi Pie! Whoopie Pie! Thanks for hanging out with us today, Jennie.

    ~Cleo Coyle
    "Where coffee and crime are always brewing..."

  3. Leave it to all of you to have a guest who has to tell you how to make Whoopie! (grin) Thanks, Jennie.

    Lesa Holstine,

  4. Love the whoopie pie recipe, Jennie! And I love your series! Thanks for popping in. Jenn

  5. Ah! You've made me think of my Mom's whoopie pies - I must have the recipe here in the box of her recipies somewhere. They were SO GOOD! Never made them myself but...

  6. I love these - they remind me of when I was kid, I'm going to make these for my boys this week!
    Betsy :-)

  7. Thanks, y'all! And Jenn, thanks for inviting me to be on the blog today!

  8. Thanks for joining us today, Jennie! These Whoopie Pies sound great. I can't resist Marshmallow Fluff. Yum!

  9. Oh, boy! Whoopie pies are my son's absolute favorite treat! We will have to make this recipe!

  10. Patricia BarracloughAugust 16, 2009 at 8:11 PM

    I'd forgotten about Whoopie Pies. We live in Tennessee now and Moon Pies are the thing here. Not quite the same, though. I should have stocked up while we were in NH last week.

  11. Jennie, I'm going to be reading your series with delight. I'm just getting into a big home renovation myself and hope I don't find any ghosts. I might enjoy a few spirits!

    Avery Aames

  12. I just returned from Maine carrying a bag full of Wicked Whoopies from Isamax Snacks. Thanks for the recipe.

  13. What a great blog on home renovation / home improvement