Return of the Twinkies

Sunday, January 20, 2013
Homemade versions are not just the only option these days for devotees of Twinkies. Ones like these actually constitute a gourmet take on the iconic snack cake. (TOM HARTE)

The New Year is a time to look forward, but as the strains of Auld Lang Syne remind us, it is also a time to say farewell. In the culinary world, perhaps the saddest demise of 2012 was that of the Twinkie, which ceased production when its maker went out of business.

Though there is hope that shortly some other company will pick up the brand, what are Twinkie aficionados to do in the meantime? About the only place left to buy the snack cake is eBay, where starting prices are as high as $200,000.

Homemade Gourmet Twinkies begin with chiffon cake batter (better than mere sponge cake) poured into éclair molds.

Obviously, we have to start making our own Twinkies. Therefore, as a public service, in this space I offer a recipe for a homemade version.

But this recipe, adapted from one provided by King Arthur Flour, is not designed to merely replicate the Twinkie. Instead it is calculated to result in a gourmet Twinkie, as oxymoronic as that sounds.

After all, why expend the effort to merely reproduce the iconic snack cake which, admittedly, is not exactly haute cuisine? Critics contend that it hardly qualifies as cuisine at all, since few of its 39 ingredients bear any relation to the four food groups. Among them, for instance, is corn dextrin, which is also used as a glue -- the kind you find on the back of envelopes.

After they are baked, the “Twinkies” are injected with a specially prepared filling that surpasses the coarse and cloying filling of a regular Twinkie.

Science writer Steve Ettlinger declares Twinkies "the archetype of all processed foods." No wonder their shelf life is legendary. It's even been suggested that the product is so shelf stable that all of the Twinkies ever made were baked years ago and ever since the company has merely been distributing them.

So as long as you're at it, why not create a Twinkie that's better than the original? This recipe does that in three ways:

First, instead of the sponge cake normally employed in a Twinkie, it opts for chiffon cake, which is moister than sponge cake and has almost the richness of butter cake.

Next, it doesn't try to duplicate the "creamy" filling of a Twinkie, which, perhaps you won't be surprised to learn, contains no cream, but instead calls for something similar to the frosting traditionally used on red velvet cake. It's not as coarse or cloying as regular Twinkie filling.

Finally, rather than leaving the finished product unadorned, as Twinkies normally are, it calls for gilding them with a drizzle of white chocolate.

Given these adjustments, this recipe makes Twinkies that are so delicious you may not miss the commercial variety after all. Since they contain no preservatives they won't last nearly as long as their factory-produced counterparts, but that's hardly a problem since they are likely to be devoured in no time.

Homemade "Gourmet" Twinkies

For the cake:

2 cups unbleached cake flour

1 and 1/2 cups sugar

As a final flourish, homemade gourmet Twinkies are drizzled with white chocolate.

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup cold water

7 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

For the filling:

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons shortening

1/2 cup sugar

For the glaze:

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Separate eggs and beat the whites to stiff peaks. Combine remaining cake ingredients with the egg yolks and beat until smooth. Gently fold whites into the batter a third at a time. Fill lightly greased éclair pans 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes or until golden brown. Let cakes cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove and cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare filling by cooking flour and milk over medium heat, stirring constantly, until a paste forms. Stir in vanilla, cover surface directly with plastic wrap, and cool completely. Beat butter, shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add cooled flour and milk mixture and beat 5 minutes on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. Using a pastry bag fitted with a round tube, fill cakes, inserting pastry tip into bottom of cake in three separate places. Melt white chocolate chips and stir until smooth. Drizzle over tops of cakes.

Tom Harte's book, "Stirring Words," is available at local bookstores. A Harte Appetite airs Fridays 8:49 a.m. on KRCU, 90.9 FM. Contact Tom at semissourian.com or at the Southeast Missourian, P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63702-0699.

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