The New York Times – It’s Not Junk If I Made ItThe New York Times calls Table Three TEN’s pastry chef Stella Parks’ Fauxreos, “The best version by far” when it comes to homemade Oreos!
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
I moved on to Twinkies, purchased by my dad at the 7-Eleven with a Mad magazine (mine) and a pack of Merit Lights (his). This was followed by the Suzy Q, a monstrosity of cream-stuffed devil’s food cake that was forever tainted after Dad used one to conceal a giant bolus of penicillin that I was unable to swallow at the advanced age of 12.
Fruit pies were the lunch of choice in high school, their thin dust of white frosting jolting me after geometry class; a sugar crash would follow sometime between “Gilligan’s Island” and soccer practice.
And the iconic Hostess cupcake, which remains the company’s most popular snack cake, sufficed as entertainment during a tedious legal seminar in college; my friends and I tried to peel off the layer of chocolate frosting without disturbing a single cake crumb beneath.
Sno Balls were a bridge too far.
All this led to a heavy heart when I read earlier this year that Hostess had filed for bankruptcy protection for a second time, signaling the potential demise of my former lunchtime treats.
The privately held company maintains that its sales are as stable as the shelf life of a Twinkie, but according to its bankruptcy filing, Hostess has been bedeviled by pricing pressures and crushing pension and other labor costs.
In my nostalgic haze, I began to wonder if I could emulate Hostess snack cakes, as well as a variety of other much-loved junk food from my past, right in my own kitchen. A quick Google search of just about any snack food will reveal a host of bloggers who have had the same idea. I set out to try some of their recipes.
I began with the classic Twinkie, and toward my adventure purchased the truly extraneous baking closet item, the canoe pan, which conveniently comes with a handy cream injector. If you’re serious about making authentic cakes, this is a worthwhile purchase. We describe how to make temporary ones from aluminum foil, but it’s a bit of a pill.
My cooking adventure does not begin with flour-dusted memories in the making with my children at my side. Another feature of my generation is our eat-as-I-say-not-as-I-did proclivities, so my children had never even heard of a Twinkie. Further, having a mom who bakes all the time, they saw no novelty in this project, preferring to instead repair to an episode of “House of Anubis.”
I would thus need taste testers, and turned to two colleagues: Carl H. and Eric S., whose identities I am protecting because Carl eats much like a teenager and Eric is a national security reporter of great journalistic seriousness but whimsical snack-food tastes. (Here is what I hear when I eavesdrop on Eric’s phone conversations: “So, are those lethal or nonlethal?” Here is what he hears listening to me: “Is that a buttercream or really more of a ganache?”)
What we had here was a traditional sponge cake-style recipe, with whipped egg whites and sugar forming the base, then filled with seven-minute frosting, the marshmallow-y spread favored in many cake recipes.
The thrill of the perfectly shaped cake emerging from the pan was doubled with the infusing process. I poked my little infusing gun into the bottom of the cake three times, and then injected them with cream until the cake sort of swelled slightly in my hand. (Once that swelling starts, you’ve injected enough.)
I ran my project over to the neighbors, where we all squealed with delight at the familiar ooze of cream and that softly yielding vanilla cake.
Delicious! Delightful! To bed! The next morning at work, the thrill was slightly gone when Eric and Carl proclaimed them delicious, but noted that the cream had been absorbed by the cake. “You seem to have had trouble maintaining the integrity of the cream cavity,” Eric said.
Back to the bowls. The next project was the cupcakes. On first read, the recipe seemed to be overly complicated. But in fact there is a series of fairly straightforward steps, beginning with a cake that finds its chocolate base in Dutch process cocoa powder and ends with a boiled chocolate ganache that, once cooled and applied, will not quite peel back like plastic, but rather slither onto the tongue in a bittersweet jig. The filling process is similar to that of the Twinkie, and you save a bit of frosting for the traditional design for the top. Dipping the cakes into the cooled chocolate frosting is fun.
The cream filling is a Marshmallow Fluff-based formula, which I also tried in my second batch of Twinkies. This recipe far better maintains the much-craved cream-filled bites in both confections. (I also used an extra egg white, to see if I could better emulate the spring of the original cakes, but this compromised the flavor slightly, according to the testers.)
While all this was very exciting, one disappointment remained: my snack cakes were stale after 24 hours. The issue, it seems, is that most home cooks rely on butter, Ms. Parks said, which “doesn’t have the fat content needed to replicate the tastes and textures of grocery store snacks.”
“Butter also contains 14 percent to 18 percent water,” she continued, “which will evaporate either during baking or as the cake sits out over the days.”
Moral of the story: eat them fast.
I decided to try my hand at homemade Oreos, as well as another childhood favorite, Fritos, which my husband, who is from Texas, spent his childhood eating in their most delightful form, in the bag with chili poured on top, known as the Frito pie, preferably eaten in the stands at a Little League game.
There are several versions of homemade Oreos (often referred to as Fauxreos) online, and I tried a few, each quite tasty but never really emulating the texture or specifically the, how to say it, brown-ness of the chocolate of the real cookie, which turned 100 this week.
The best version by far is from Ms. Parks, which involves a bit of coffee in the dough and the genius suggestion of rolling it out over cocoa powder, rather than flour. I used organic shortening for the cookie cream, which gave it an authentic texture. Carl found them “delicious, slightly salty; much closer to the original than your other version.”
The beauty of a Frito is in its simplicity: a little cornmeal, lots of salt, not much else. But try as I did to emulate the bagged classic, my modest mix of ingredients never came anywhere near close to the original.
I baked mine as a big slab of dough, cut them into chips, fried them in vegetable oil and salted them generously. Crispy, distinctively cornmealy and addictive, they were a hit on Super Bowl Sunday. But they were not Fritos. They were not even better, a distinction held by the cupcakes and the fake Oreos.
Maybe that’s because a Frito can never really be torn from its context: you need to tear at the bag, lick the salt from your fingers and have a little speck of dirt fly your way from home plate. Your kitchen is the place to make food that tastes better than you remember, but improved food memories are as elusive as the time that contained them.
Some Benefits to Homemade
When you tuck into a snack cake, calories are really not the point. But the good news is that homemade treats can be more nutritious, in an expansive sense of the word, than the store-bought variety, a nutritional analysis of these recipes shows.
To wit: a one-ounce serving of real Fritos has twice the calories of the oven-made, and not necessarily because one is fried and the other baked; it is likely that the commercial version has quite a bit of fat mixed into the dough. And though the commercial Oreos are 40 calories more per cookie, the two recipes could go easily toe to toe nutritionally. The Twinkies, when adjusted for their difference in weight, are pretty comparable as well.
But on the cupcake front, you’re out of luck: the homemade version had nearly 9 grams of saturated fat and 59 milligrams of cholesterol, versus the commercial version, with 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 5 milligrams of cholesterol. Of course, that fat comes from butter, so you can decide whether that’s not such a bad thing.