My friend Amanda knows a lot about human behavior. So she probably knew it would take me all of two seconds to agree to join her for a class on baking Nostalgic Snack Cakes at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) in New York City.
Who could resist such an offer? After all, we both grew up in suburbia during the golden age of lunchbox snack treats, where nobody really fretted about a little sugar or empty calories in the diet and hyperactivity was euphemistically described as “school spirit.” Suzy Q’s and Ding Dongs are our ethnic food! Having already delved into the art of the homemade Twinkie, I’m anxious to expand my snack cake repertoire.
The class is led by Chef-Instructor Faith Drobbin. She’d laid out a sampling of snack cakes that she’s prepared in advance. There are freshly turned Twinkies, Suzy Q’s, Funny Bones, and Ding Dongs.
We chat about the different names of cakes generated by the longtime rivalry between snack cake giants Hostess and Drakes. Was it a Ding Dong or a Ring Ding? What’s the difference between a Twinkie and a chocolate glazed Twinkie, called a Chocodile? Is the filling Marshmallow Fluff, or buttercream? What’s the difference between a Yankee Doodle and a Sunny Doodle? What were Captain Cupcake’s actual super powers? The class is filled with snack cake aficionados, but I’m just a little suspicious of the woman in the back of the room chomping on a Granny Smith apple. Who let her in?
Chef invites us to try the samples she’s laid out. Everyone is very polite and restrained, but after 5 minutes I can’t hold back.
“I’m going in,” I whisper to Amanda. We divvy up a chocolate glazed, cream filled Ding Dong. It is a heavenly, light, devils food cake, filled with sinfully good cream filling. "Do I have chocolate in my teeth?" I self-consciously ask Amanda.
Chef Drobbin does a fine job of demonstrating the Yellow Snack Cake recipe, and the Chocolate Snack Cake recipe. Here’s where I have a snack cake epiphany. Every single snack cake in the universe consists of either yellow cake or chocolate cake, with cream filling and a chocolate glaze. No matter what the snack cake may be, the recipes for the individual components are the same. If you master the recipes, you unlock the caloric key to infinite variations. At this moment, I feel a little like Escoffier and Twinkie the Kid all at the same time.
Amanda’s insight is just a little different as she eyes the Chocodile. “I really think the key learning here is that everything is better dipped in chocolate,” she remarks.
We get ready to bake, and there are lots of questions from the class. How do you get the goop in? How big should we make the Twinkies?
“How big do you want your snack cake?” comments Amanda. “These are First World problems!”
Chef advises us that with the proper recipes, pans and techniques we can create a fine facsimile of any iconic snack cake. Yet they won’t taste exactly the same. Ours will taste better, because we’re using butter and eggs.
We start baking and needless to say, as the day proceeds, our vegetable intake is minimal, and our carbohydrate consumption is close to astronomical.
We prepare Chocolate Snack Cake for cupcakes, Ding Dongs and Chocodiles. At times, we find ourselves engulfed in a cloud of cocoa, but when it all comes together, the batter is dark and glossy.
We decide to double the batter for the Yellow Snack Cake Mix. This is a bit of a no-no, and Chef is somewhat peeved. When we’re done, we actually have enough snack cakes to host a birthday party at PS 143 in Queens.
Amanda becomes quite accomplished at injecting cream filling into the cupcakes.
And, we perfect the high art technique of snack cake glazing.
Some of it resembles Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory. At one point, a blob of icing lands on Amanda’s big toe. She has worn flip flops to the class. I really need to talk to that young lady about proper kitchen attire.
The final touch? We express our inner doodler, by applying the squiggle of icing on the top of the Hostess Cupcakes. We have prepared enough empty calories to power an army, and we box up our cakes and head for the subway. I have a sugar hangover. Amanda complains that she’s thirsty and she has a tummy ache. She returns home to consume a large helping of animal protein, and enjoy the adoration of her daughter who has been waiting all day for treats from Mom’s class.
Me? Well, we were such a well frosted, high producing team that I think we may have a future in snack cakes. I think our next class should be, “How to Make Your First Million by Hosting a Neighborhood Bake Sale.” But first, I'm planning my next marathon bike ride.
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