Rachel Klemek, executive pastry chef-owner of Blackmarket Bakery in Costa Mesa, Santa Ana and San Diego, loves the whimsey of whoopie pies. She says the name connotates party-like fun. And the treat is a cake that is portable; it can be picked up and easily eaten out of hand.
Her pumpkin-spiked whoopie pies showcase flavors associated with fall; a rainbow of autumnal spices and a small dose of molasses bring palate memories of sweet indulgences centered around Halloween and Thanksgiving. The cakes sandwich an irresistible cream cheese filling. She doesn’t chintz on the creamy filling; it’s added with generosity, piped from a plastic pastry bag to form a thick spiral.
Klemek realized that she wanted to become a professional baker in her late 20’s, inspired by the mountains of sourdough bread that she crafted at 27, gifting surplus loaves to neighbors. At 31, after the arrival of her fourth child, she started her formal culinary education at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa. Her two older children were in school, and her husband David cared for the two younger children at home.
It couldn’t have been easy, but her talent and determination placed her at the top of her class. She draws on that resolve, energy and skill to maintain her topnotch bakeries – with made-from-scratch baked goods with irresistible taste and eye appeal.
Breakfast Simplicity: Advising that she’s not a fancy person, she says she prefers toast – either sourdough or almond six-grain – with homemade peanut butter and jelly.
Special Talent: Listening to husband, kids and staff. She strives to listen more than tell.
Unique Expression: She and her husband use the word “gribley” to describe a nugget that comes off something, such as a nubbin of cooked batter.
Baking Mentor: Michele Bracken (her first boss after graduating), executive pastry chef at Zov’s Bistro and Bakery in Tustin, deeply inspired her with a supernatural ability to keep track of everything that was going on in the bakery’s kitchen. She seemed to have a sixth sense about multiple simultaneous processes.
Drinks of Choice: Gin and tonic, brown ale or black coffee are her favorite thirst quenchers.
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Filling
Yield: about 10
2 1/2 cups pastry flour or all-purpose flour, see cook’s notes
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs (best if eggs aren’t super cold)
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 1/2 ounces buttermilk
12 ounces cream cheese (not whipped style or reduced fat), softened to room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
4 ounces unsalted butter (1 stick), soft
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or more to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cook’s notes: Chef Klemek used pastry flour, but said all-purpose could be used. Pastry flour contains 8.5 to 9.5 percent protein, which is low relative to all-purpose that is between 10 and 12 percent protein. Pastry flour produces a finer crumb. If you wish, use half all-purpose and half cake flour (7 to 8 percent protein), such as Swans Down that is sold at most supermarkets.
- Adjust rack to middle position and preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside.
- In large bowl of electric mixer (using the paddle attachment) beat butter, sugar and molasses until blended and fluffy, thick and a pale color, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and mix until just combined. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin and mix just until blended.
- Add 1/3 of dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix on low speed until barely combined. Stop mixer and pour in half of buttermilk. Mix again just enough to blend. Stop mixer and add another 1/3 of dry mixture; mix just until barely combined. Add remaining buttermilk; mix until just barely combined. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Add remaining dry ingredients; mix until just barely well combined. Take bowl off machine and gently fold with silicone spatula, making sure bottom of bowl is included and mixture is homogenous. Scoop batter into mounds on prepared sheets (the easiest way is to use a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop). Bake immediately, about 10 to 14 minutes, or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.
- Meanwhile, prepare filling: In large bowl of electric mixer using the paddle attachment, thoroughly beat cream cheese, scraping bowl as needed, until smooth. Add softened butter and mix on low speed, occasionally scraping the bowl as needed, until combined. Add sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and mix on low speed until combined.
- Pipe generous amount of cream cheese filling on half of the whoopies (or use a small scoop)-on the flat side – and sandwich two together. Best served the same day.
Blackmarket Bakery has two Orange County locations: 2937 Bristol (The Camp), Costa Mesa (714-662-3095) and 211 N Broadway, Santa Ana (714-571-0801)
Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”