Batter & Cream's Elizabeth Fife Explains the Whoopie Pie
It was during her time in an investment banking role helping startup companies launch when Batter & Cream (86 West 12th Street, 917-496-4947) founder Elizabeth Fife realized her own entrepreneurial ambitions. "I think that kind of planted the seed," she says. "I quit my job and I started baking, purely because I love to eat -- desserts in particular."
The idea for whoopie pies came in later, when Fife realized the pastry's potential for novelty in an already sugar-saturated city. "Cupcakes and cake pops were stalling," she recalls. "I thought, why not the whoopie pie? It's such a better version of the cupcake." After incessant experimentation and a successful trial run of a pumpkin spice and cream cheese combination at her boyfriend's birthday party, Fife opened up shop in the West Village last September. She sells 15 whoopies in regular and mini offerings, including a monthly rotating flavor (April's was Earl Grey Whiskey). Here, we chat with the banker-turned-baker about why old is new again, her minimalistic approach in the kitchen, and why cupcake enthusiasts should consider this throwback treat.
Why whoopie pies? I don't know that I had ever had a whoopie pie before a year ago. I was flipping through cookbooks and making brownies and pies and everything. I came across the whoopie pie, tried it, and I thought it was a very good base for being able to do lots of fun flavors. It's a cake with a filling, so there's a double opportunity to create a new combination with each one you make. It evolved from there.
How would you describe your offerings for folks unfamiliar with whoopie pies? We use a lot of different flavors than what you might find in a cupcake, but we really try hard to make our "cookie cake" really fluffy and light, just like how a cupcake would be. It's basically a cupcake sandwich.
What should we know about the history of the whoopie pie? It's a big discussion between people in Maine and Lancaster, Pennsylvania about who started the whoopie pie craze. But the story goes that when the Amish women would make these whoopie pies, they would put them in the men's lunchboxes. When the men would go off to work and open their box at lunchtime, they would see this treat and yell, "Whoopie!" That's how it got its name -- that's the story that I've heard most often.
How do you develop your flavors? I have tons and tons of cookbooks, and I look through them and say, "Oh -- that's a good idea, but wouldn't it be even better if we added this or that to it." I do a lot of research and see if I can take ideas one step further. Selfishly, the flavors revolve around what I like -- and it seems to work for others as well.
Chocolate and peanut butter pretzel whoopie at Batter & Cream
Have you ever been surprised by the final results of a flavor combination you chose to test out? The fig, honey, and goat cheese is surprisingly one of our most popular flavors. I was just playing around with different fruit purees, and I just happened to have fig on me at the time. It's surprising how much people love it.
How do you decide what flavors to incorporate into the filling and which ones to use for the cake? It takes a lot of trial and error, but I try to put fruits in the actual cake and leave the filling for lighter and sweeter touches. All of my recipes are very simple -- minimal sugar, minimal butter, and they are what they say they are. The goat cheese filling is really goat cheese with just a touch of honey. I let the cake be what you want to eat on its own, and the filling is just what makes it even better.
What were the first flavors you wanted to showcase? The first flavor was pumpkin spice with cream cheese filling, and the second flavor was the chocolate peanut butter pretzel -- it's my absolute favorite combination. I knew that had to be on the menu, because that's what I want to eat, all of the time.
Would you put the whoopie pie into the same trend-like category of the cupcake, or do you consider it something entirely different? I think what we're trying to do is take something from our parents' generation, and something that used to be really popular, and give it a modern twist so that it appeals to people of our generation who are much more about fresh flavors and interesting combinations. We're hoping to offer something that you'd bring to your kid's birthday party, but also a nice dessert that you can bring to somebody's house after a fancy meal.
What has been your favorite part of this process? We sell them at Smorgasburg, and I love seeing people's immediate reactions to them. They get so excited and happy. It makes me nervous as they're taking their first bite, but afterwards, it's just such a joy that I can bring that to others. The creative aspect is great. I love that I get to do a little bit of everything. I say this to my parents and friends all the time, but I never thought when I was studying for finals and cramming for tests at Penn, that I'd be standing in a kitchen for eight hours baking and then hopping on a phone call with web developers to fix the website and going to suppliers for different ingredients. You get to do something totally new everyday. That's really what keeps me going.
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