“An enduring American icon.”
So said President Clinton as he dropped a Twinkie in the millennium time capsule back in 1999. I don’t think he meant “enduring” in quite the way the packaged snack’s rumored 30-year shelf life implies, although if you’re stashing a dessert to be unearthed decades from now, a cellophane-wrapped tubular cake seems a far better prospect than a freshly baked apple pie.
Ever since Twinkies’ 1930 debut into our national snack consciousness, the golden sponge cake with artificially flavored cream filling has woven its way into the fabric of American culture. Presidential accolades aside, Twinkies have found devotees in droves and made cameos in Ghostbusters, Sleepless in Seattle, and even Archie Bunker’s lunchbox.
Everyone loves Twinkies. Except me.
I’m just not that into them. Even as an indiscriminate sweets-loving kid whose crunchy, Birkenstock-wearing mother sent her to school with carrot sticks, peanut butter with honey on whole wheat, and an intense craving for the forbidden, I never particularly cared for Twinkies. The little yellow cakes with the preternatural staying power never beckoned.
I think my lack of attraction might have something to do with the cream filling, as I’ve never met a sponge cake I didn’t like. Though I’m not against gobs of sugar of unknown provenance, that filling was sickly sweet and strangely waxy and couldn’t hold a candle to the made-from-scratch buttercream I was used to at home. Maybe it was mom’s frosting prowess, and not her disapproval of processed foods per se, that kept me and Twinkies apart all these years. (Thanks, Mom. Really.)
So just in time for the classic confection’s 81st birthday, I came up with my own riff. It includes my favorite yellow sponge cake, coaxed into that familiar oblong shape via some creative tin-foil folding, and as much airy, meringue-y, vanilla-tinged, still-really-quite-sweet seven-minute frosting, er, filling, as the cake can contain without bursting. Though I’ve never cultivated even a meager appreciation for the star-spangled snack cake, let alone anything resembling the requisite reverence, I find the moist, flavorful crumb and gobsmackingly sweet, fluffy filling of this divine little ditty outright irresistible. Especially when eaten slightly warm—something I can assure you will never happen with a Twinkie straight from the wrapper.–Erin Carlman Weber
LC What Shape is Your Twinkie? Note
Take a look at the recipe below. Yes, we know what you’re thinking. You could bypass the whole arts-and-craft moment of jury-rigging oblong baking molds out of aluminum foil and instead make do with a standard muffin or cupcake tin, in which case you’d divvy the batter among a dozen muffin liners, tweak the baking time to 13 to 17 minutes, and slather the cooled muffins with Seven-Minute Frosting. Although natch, this approach will suffice only if you don’t mind a squat cupcake that’s sort of like a blond Hostess CupCake minus the squiggle of icing on top. Far simpler and more authentic than either of these options is to embrace your inner kiddish cravings and invest in a Twinkie mold. Far funner is to just embrace Howdy Doody’s approach….
Special Equipment: spice jars, chopstick, piping bag or gun
Homemade Twinkies Recipe
Hands-On Time: 50 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes | Makes 12 Twinkie look-alikes
- Nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup cake flour
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons milk, preferably whole
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
- Seven-Minute Filling, er, Frosting
- 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position.
- 2. To make your shiny, single-use Twinkie molds, start with a piece of aluminum foil, preferably heavy-duty, that’s approximately 14 inches long. It should be just a little longer than it is wide. Fold the foil in half lengthwise, then fold it in half again to create a rectangle that’s about 6 inches long and 7 inches wide. Repeat to make a dozen rectangles.
- 3. Place 1 sheet of folded foil on your work surface, with the long side facing you. Place a standard-size plastic or glass spice jar on its side in the center of the foil, the jar’s long side also facing you. Bring the long sides of the foil up around the jar. The foil won’t reach all the way around, and that’s okay. Fold the foil in around both top and bottom ends of the spice jar, nice and tight. You’ll end up with a sort of trough situation. (Cookbook author Todd Wilbur has a video of the process here; if you’re impatient, fast forward to 1:10, where the action starts.) Repeat until you have 12 foil Twinkie molds. Spritz the molds with an obscenely generous amount of nonstick spray or use your fingertips to coat the molds with vegetable oil. Place the Twinkie molds on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan.
- 4. Whisk the flours, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
- 5. Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter melts. Remove from the heat add the vanilla. Cover to keep warm.
- 6. Separate the eggs, placing the whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or, if using a hand mixer or whisk, a large mixing bowl) and reserving the yolks in another bowl. Beat the whites on high speed until foamy. Gradually add 6 tablespoons of the sugar and the cream of tartar and continue to beat until the whites reach soft, moist peaks.
- 7. Transfer the beaten egg whites to a large bowl and add the egg yolks to the standing mixer bowl—there’s no need to clean the bowl (or, if using a hand mixer or whisk, simply place the egg yolks in a separate large bowl). Beat the egg yolks with the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is very thick and a pale lemon color, about 5 minutes. Add the beaten egg whites to the yolks, but do not mix.
- 8. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the egg whites and then mix everything on low speed for just 10 seconds (or, if using a hand mixer or whisk, until blended but not thoroughly combined). Remove the bowl from the mixer, make a well in one side of the batter, and pour the melted butter mixture into the bowl. Fold gently with a large rubber spatula until the batter shows no trace of flour and the whites and yolks are evenly mixed, about 8 strokes.
- 9. Immediately scrape the batter into the prepared molds, filling each with about 3/4 inch of batter. Bake until the cake tops are light brown and feel firm and spring back when touched, 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer the pan containing the molds to a wire rack and allow the cakes to cool in the molds.
- 10. Just before filling, remove each cake from the foil. Using the end of a chopstick, poke three holes in the bottom of each cake, just like in the bottom of real Twinkies. Wiggle the tip of the chopstick around quite a lot to make room for the filling. (Again, you can see this in action here, beginning at minute 3.)
- 11. Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fit with a small tip (about 1/4 inch across). Pipe the frosting into the holes you created in the bottom of the cakes. As you fill each cake, hold it in your hand and press your palm gently around it so you can feel the cake expand, taking care not to overfill and crack the cake.
- 12. Unlike real Twinkies, these won’t last indefinitely. They’re best served still slightly warm.
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Homemade Twinkies Recipe © 2011 Erin Carlman Weber. All rights reserved.