WIth so many bemoaning the supposed death of the Twinkie, it's a wonder Hostess went bankrupt three times.
I love the idea of a Twinkie. Like many others, I have great childhood memories of eating them yet haven't bought one in decades. My loyalties lie with Little Debbie anyway. My father kept an unrestricted stash in the kitchen as a perennial shrine to her that clearly shaped the healthy eating habits I enjoy today. So I'm not crying until those Swiss Cake Rolls, Oatmeal Creme Pies and Peanut Butter Bars start their march toward the fiscal cliff.
And even then, I'd only really miss the Peanut Butter Bars.
Twinkies and Friends taste different to the adult mouth. Standing in front of the rack at the gas station, seeing them sandwiched between 2011's fried Hostess pies and the green Hostess SnoBalls from last March, they always seem like a good idea at the time. But I usually regret the moment those twin cakes join back up in my stomach. My appetite is usually the loser in that battle.
But with December 21 fast approaching, we cannot afford to let any Apocalypse Food disappear. So I attempted to resurrect these babies with some kitchen sorcery.
When "recreating" a Twinkie, the goal for me is not, "How can I reproduce the chemical taste of that sticky, somewhat mealy sponge cake," but rather, "How long before I'm sitting down to Mad Men with a bucket of creme and a spoon?"
Thus I turned to Todd Wilbur, who's made a living from deconstructing and reconstructing those corporate foods and beverages with which you have a love/hate relationship, yet for some reason might feel compelled to reproduce in the inconvenience of your own kitchen. He's been at this for a long time. And I tend to trust Todds.
With his copycat recipe as my guide, I bought the only two ingredients I didn't have in the pantry already.
But there's the question of that iconic shape. I wouldn't have even embarked on this adventure last night if Todd hadn't convinced me I didn't need a special pan. If you have a spice bottle and aluminum foil, it turns out you've had the power all along. Could it really be this easy?
I shaped ten little foil troughs around a plastic bottle of garlic powder, then arranged in a roasting pan - time-consuming, but easy. It would be even easier to buy a stupid "creme canoe" pan on eBay instead. And the pan would be reusable. But for your first shot, I recommend doing this anyway. Be sure you're going to make a living from this before investing in professional equipment.
Next, you need two bowls and a mixer because Todd seems to think this cake part is worth spending time on. The big secret here is to throw out the directions on the pound cake box and treat it like angel food. I admire his contrarian logic.
So we whip four egg whites into a delicate foam. Use a metal bowl and a hand mixer or a big Kitchenaid with a wire whisk if you have one. Don't try to do this by hand unless you can do without one arm for the rest of the day. You're looking for peaks to form when you stop and pull the beaters out of the foam. If they flop over quickly, mix a little longer. If you mix too long, you'll pass the point of no return.
Just relax, trust your best judgment, and go with whatever you end up with. Trust me, this is not all that important. The cake is just a creme delivery device - the tortilla chip to Hostess's salsa.
In the other pan, blend the cake mix with 3/4 cup of water until it's good and wet, then FOLD the egg whites in. Give it an honest try, but don't flip out if you mess up. Remember that decades of R&D by Betty Crocker insure you'll be hard-pressed to screw up a cake mix by stirring instead of folding.
The filling recipe is on Todd's page. Instead of natural vanilla, I used a clear Wilton artificial vanilla to keep the pure white color and impart a more classic artificial taste. And I hope you bought the 7-ounce jar of marshmallow creme you can just dump in at once, because measuring that stuff is like trying to decorate with jello.
No question that creme is SPOT ON. Actually, it's twelve times better than the original - a perfect balance of marshmallow, vanilla and sweetness without anything overpowering. It's just sweet enough to be dangerous.
Now, I'm known in some circles as an experienced cake decorator. I have four different contraptions for injecting filling into breads, cakes and small gerbils. So it only stands to reason that I couldn't find a single one last night and had to settle with what you're going to do - the old put-it-in-a-Ziploc-bag-and-cut-the-corner trick.
But first, Todd instructs us to dig out a little trough in the most awkward way possible - poking three holes in the bottom of each cake with a chopstick and routing around. I had to fish a wedding ring out of a sink drain once, and it felt a lot like this. I only did this is for pure authenticity, as the more rational approach would be to dig straight through from one of the ends.
This just did not work out well, and I resented Todd for even suggesting it.
Also struggled with the injection part. The minuscule opening I snipped from the plastic bag was still too big, and some of the cakes exploded before I learned how far I could go with the creme filling. Sadly, the answer is "never far enough."
I'm not convinced you couldn't get the same effect with just a standard sponge cake mix. Angel food might ratchet things up a notch, as would chocolate. And if you can do without the novelty log shape, these would be easier as filled cupcakes. Sacrilege, you say? I say come back to me once you're done washing three bowls, a mixer, whisk and two spatulas, and you've figured out something to do with four egg yolks.
Now if you'll excuse me, Donald Draper is calling and I have some leftover creme to dispose of.
P.S. Every junk food historian knows that Twinkies were originally filled with banana creme, until the war hit and they needed something cheaper. If you've had the limited edition "throwback" Twinkies with the banana creme filling, you know how good they are. If you replace a tablespoon or two of the powdered sugar with instant banana pudding mix, you won't be sorry.