As a huge ‘Food Network’ fan, I often find myself daydreaming about what I’d do with the secret ingredient on Iron Chef: America or what kind of witty yet soul-crushing critique Geoffrey Zakarian might give me should I find myself competing on Chopped. And I’ve thought long and hard about what I’d select as my favorite dish on Best Thing I Ever Ate.
Well, I found my answer a couple months ago when I first visited this cute little lounge a few blocks away from my apartment just outside Washington, DC. I went for a late-morning Saturday brunch, and needless to say, have been back almost every Saturday since my first visit. It’s getting embarrassing. The waitress knows my name and I think my body is starting to become conditioned to crave brunch food from their menu come Saturday morning (or earlier in the week). They make a rosemary waffle with silky poached egg and wild mushroom, crème’ fraiche topping, and it is the Best Thing I Ever Ate. Having the ever-persistent sweet tooth that I do, it seems odd that my all-time favorite dish be a savory one. Therefore, I’ve allowed myself a second favorite for those (much more frequent) days in which I find myself craving something sweet. Luckily, this little lounge has created a stuffed French toast that is nothing short of a masterpiece. Sweet and refreshing orange cream cheese filling oozes from thick cut, crispy brioche that is warmly spiced to perfection.
This French toast was my inspiration behind today’s recipe. I did my best to recreate the orange filling and then sweetened it up a touch to resemble the marshmallow-y frosting found in the middle of whoopie pies. I used a cookie recipe as a base and altered it to make it a little more cake-like, yet still dense enough to hold its shape and the filling. I chose to go with a carrot cake theme, as I knew the sweet carrots could stand up to the many different spices I imagined the brioche being dredged in to make the French toast. Also, I found myself with an abundance of carrots that I needed to do something with. But let’s go with the first reason.
And here is the result! It’s the oatmeal creme pie your mom used to pack in your lunch box meets carrot cake meets my favorite brunch-time treat:
Carrot Cake Whoopie Pies
Inspired by: “Stuffed French Toast”
–Eleventh Street Lounge (Arlington, VA)
Carrot Cake Cookies
-adapted from Martha Stewart’s “Carrot Cookies”
½ pound (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour*
½ cup whole wheat flour*
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground clove
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups quick cooking oats
1 ½ cup finely grated carrot (about 5 medium or 3 large carrots)
1 ¼ cup golden raisins (red raisins work fine, too!)
Spread your raisins out on a large cutting board and give them a rough chop.** This can turn into quite the sticky situation. After the raisins are roughly chopped, I like to throw them in a medium bowl, and then spin them through the measured dry oats, coating the raisins completely. I do this for two reasons: 1) As the oats are covering the raisins, they naturally break apart any sticky raisin-clumps that may have formed, and 2) this dry coating really helps keep the dense raisins suspended in the cookie as they bake, as opposed to sinking to the bottom of the cookie and burning.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars with an electric mixture until fluffy (3-4 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, vanilla, and carrots, beating on medium speed until combined. Set aside.
Sift together flours, salt, baking powder and soda, and spices. Stir to combine. Gradually add flour mixture to carrot mixture on lowest speed until just blended. Stir in raisins and oats.
At this point, it’s important to cover and chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour in order to let the dough firm up. This will ensure that the cookies will hold their shape in the oven. Room temperature dough will cause the cookies to spread out too much and you’ll end up with flimsy whoopie pies. Which will still taste delicious, of course, but will make a giant mess when attempting to eat or handle.
Using a medium sized ice cream scoop, scoop out balls of dough spaced a couple inches apart onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake cookies for about 12-15 minutes at 350′, rotating sheets halfway through baking in order to ensure even color. Transfer baked cookies to wire racks and allow to cool before handling or assembly.
Orange Cream Cheese Filling
The tangy sweetness of this frosting can work harmoniously with many different kinds of cakes or cookies. It also makes a delicious dip for fruit!
5 ounces of cream cheese, softened
¼ pound of unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ tablespoons of orange zest
about ¼-½ inch of fresh ginger root, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground nutmeg
-optional: chopped pecans, flaked coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
Using an electric mixer, cream together cheese and butter in a large bowl until the mixture is homogeneous. Gradually add powdered sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl throughout mixing. Continue to cream together the mixture until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add orange and vanilla extract, zest, ginger and spices and continue to beat until well incorporated.
Transfer filling to pastry or zip-lock bag, if desired. Refrigerate filling before pie assembly to allow it to set up and maintain stiffness.
Once cake-cookies have cooled completely and filling as set up in the fridge, it is time for assembly. If you’re a control-freak perfectionist about your confectionaries, like me, the first step will be to pair up each like-sized cookie with its mate in order for the prettiest finished product. If you’re using a pastry bag, squeeze out a small ring of filling right in the center of the bottom of half of the cookies, being careful not to get filling too close to the outer edge of the cookie. If you’re not using a pastry bag, you can just as easily use a small cookie-dough scoop or melon-ball scoop to drop a couple tablespoons of filling in the center of half of the cookies. Press remaining cookies on top of frosted cookies, pressing down so that the filling reaches the outer edge of cookie-sandwich and is visible.
If desired, roll the assembled pies through chopped pecans or flaked coconut so that the exposed filling picks up the topping. With your fingers, press pecans or coconut lightly into the filling.
Whoopie pies should be stacked in between layers of parchment paper and stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator up until ready to serve. Also freezes well.
*If you’re choosing to make a batch of carrot cake cookies by themselves, as opposed to the whoopie pies, go ahead and cut back to only 2 cups of flour total (instead of 2 ¼ cups total). This can mean using only whole wheat or only all purpose flour, or your choice of a mixture of both. I like the depth of flavor and texture that this mixture gives, and the whole wheat flour can definitely stand up to all the spice!
**This is another step you can skip if you’re going the “cookie-only” route. Although, in this case, re-hydrating the raisins is a great idea. To do this, soak the whole raisins in some hot water for about 5-8 minutes or until they’ve plumped up, then drain them and pat dry with a towel, breaking up with your fingers any raisins stuck together. Better yet, add a tiny splash of rum or rum extract to the water to give the raisins a little kick!