By Debra Simon & Brack Johnson
Quick: We say “Maine.” Your stomach growls, “lobster.” Or “wild blueberries.” Or “maple syrup.”
But ours growl, “whoopie pies.”
A whoopie pie consists of two round cakes sandwiching a frosted filling. In Maine, whoopie pies are everywhere from groceries to bakeries to cafés to convenience stores, where they’re usually piled high near the cash register.
We journeyed north — about as far north as you can go in the United States — to feast on the sweetest snack made in America at the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival. The bakeoff is held the last Saturday of June in the Maine hamlet of Dover-Foxcroft.
The timing was perfect to cater to our other pet topic: the moose. It may have started with those kiddie “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons. But now, we were searching for the real article, the state animal of Maine.
More moose live in the North Woods of Maine than anywhere else in the lower 48 states: There are three of the animals to every one person! Moose are most visible in June, which happens to be a month that’s free of the black flies and mosquitoes that torment visitors.
Maine is well known for its craggy coast of classic beach towns and fishing villages, its rocky shorelines dotted by lighthouses. Acadia National Park, the first national park established east of the Mississippi River, tops it all with spectacular views of mountains sweeping down to the sea.
Moving inland brings you to the Maine highlands and the vast North Woods. It’s a region of superlatives. Most important for us: It’s the most plentiful area for moose in Maine!
Also, there’s the largest lake in the Northeast, Moosehead Lake. And there’s more parkland than anywhere else in the state, including 200,000-acre Baxter State Park, which is the terminus of the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail that starts in Georgia and ends at mile-high Mt. Katahdin, the tallest peak in Maine.
“The Maine Woods”
Outdoor lovers have trekked to Maine's North Woods for more than a century. It’s a paradise for hiking, fishing, boating, whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, wildlife watching and camping as well as snowmobiling, ice climbing, skiing and snowshoeing. There’s plenty of solitude in this sparingly populated region, which extends north and west to Canada.
Henry David Thoreau, the author who idolized nature, was captivated by this region in the mid-1800s and extolled its beauty in his book “The Maine Woods.”
''It's all mossy and moosey,'' he wrote of Maine's forest. ''In some of those dense fir and spruce woods there is hardly room for the smoke to go up.''
Since those days, the wilderness has been affected by intensive logging, but — particularly along the lakeshores — it still retains a back-country character.
The landscape is teeming with wildlife; blanketed with spruce, pine and fir trees; and overflowing with crystal-clear lakes, ponds, rivers and waterfalls.
Writes one modern adventurer, “You can go on an eight-hour hike deep into the North Woods, passing one roaring churn of a waterfall after another along the way, and meet nary another soul…when you canoe your territorial waters, there may be moose or deer to challenge you but no other humans.”
On his deathbed, legend has it, one of Thoreau’s last words was “moose.”
One of the largest freshwater lakes in the United States, Moosehead Lake is 40 miles long, 12 miles wide, chiseled with inlets and caves, and home to more than 80 islands.
In the early 1900s, Moosehead Lake was a relaxing retreat for the well-heeled who wanted to get away from the city. These gentlefolk traveled by rail and summered at grand hotels.
By the mid-1900s, timber titans filled the lake with steamships towing huge barges laden with logs.
Today, Moosehead Lake is a treasured destination for outdoor enthusiasts. But it’s not crowded. You can spend a day on Moosehead, visitors say, and feel like you’re the only person on the water.
After connecting flights from RDU, we arrived early in the evening and maneuvered a four-wheel-drive vehicle down highways and then route this, that and the other to the town of Greenville, the southernmost point of Moosehead Lake.
No other cars occupied the road and the streets seemed to be rolled up. So, we already felt the luxury of breathing room as we pulled up to the Lodge at Moosehead Lake at 10 p.m.
The hideaway’s owners, Linda and Dennis Bortis, had left us the combination to the front door. So, we walked into a lodge right out
of a Ralph Lauren ad — stone fireplaces, woven rugs, warm bookshelves, exposed wood, comfy couches.
The key to our room, “The Loon,” was waiting for us on a mini-moccasin.
Inland Maine’s only AAA four-diamond property, the Lodge at Moosehead Lake has won accolades from state and national reviewers. The secluded 1917 Cape Cod Colonial, a residence turned country inn, exudes a rustic elegance that complements unspoiled views of the lake and mountains.
The five lodge rooms and four carriage-house suites are one-of-a-kind. Our spacious room contained a hand-carved poster bed adorned with loons along with a gas log fireplace and seating area.
Sure, we could have sunk into Adirondack chairs on the back lawn and gazed at the pristine lake. But it’s clear that challenging outdoor activities, which the lodge staff will help arrange, attract most guests.
The next day at dawn, Ed Mathieu, a registered Maine guide, greeted us with a big smile, a thermos of coffee and two breakfast boxes. For our moose safari, he drove to a wilderness area where we hiked down a dirt trail to a pond. We saw deer, beaver, snowshoe hare, gray squirrel, otter, loon, osprey and other birds. No other people. And no moose.
Certainly, Ed left no stone unturned in our pursuit of moose, including a search of the marshy trading post of Kokadjo, where the welcome sign declares it to have a population of “not many.”
Just off a logging road, we caught a glimpse of a moose. As we reached for our binoculars and camera, the big guy lumbered away!
In the end, we’d seen only the rear end of a moose. But spending the day with Ed, a rugged outdoorsman with a great sense of humor who knows everything you’d ever want to know about nature, was a hoot.
It was back to the lodge for dinner. Dennis, who holds sway over the kitchen, calls his menu “casual but sophisticated.” While we dug into his Up North Cuisine, the dining room’s floor-to-ceiling windows offered a panoramic view of Moosehead Lake and the surrounding mountains.
We lingered for hours in the hushed dining room, cooing over mains of fresh stuffed trout and buffalo meatloaf, desserts of warm mixed berry cobblers with vanilla ice cream, and libations from the martini menu, including the Mooseopolitan.
Back in the “Loon Room,” undeterred in our quest for moose, we noticed a sheet on Moose Facts in our guest info. Bullwinkle’s pals are
vegetarians and seem to enjoy the local DOT maintenance yard, where salt is stockpiled.
The next morning, we tiptoed out of the lodge while it was still dark and drove a few miles, past the center of Greenville, to the DOT yard. Eureka! A moose! As the sun slowly rose, we watched, awestruck, as the moose slurped up salty water from the bog.
Gateway to the North Country
A laidback and woodsy crossroads, Greenville, population 1,400, is centered around the lower end of Moosehead Lake. It’s the ideal spot to do everything — or nothing at all.
With no lakeside mansions or souped-up power boats but with a handful of souvenir shops, float-plane operators and friendly places to grab a bite, the town is perfect in its role as gateway to the North Country.
Greenville has the largest selection of lodgings in the region, but we weren’t overwhelmed by them because they’re pretty much adorably nestled. There’s a smattering of everything from the primitive (campsites with propane lanterns, cold running water, outhouses) to the cozy (cabins with woodstoves and American Flea Market furniture) to the upscale (inns that do “Maine” right).
Greenville is a draw for the fish-and-game set, but a stop at Northwoods Outfitters, which has an Internet café, made it clear that mountain bikers, kayakers and Appalachian Trial hikers use the town as base camp, too.
The homemade food at local eateries is yummy and priced right. Although the best place to devour Maine lobsters is next to the waters where lobstermen bring them ashore, inland restaurants do serve them (more in lobster dishes than boiled as is common at the coast) as well as shrimp, scallops, clams and other seafood.
At night, sitting on a floating barge on the east cove of Moosehead Lake, we feasted on hamburgers cooked on an outdoor grill at the Black Frog restaurant and bar.
At Auntie M’s, which opens as early as 5 a.m. and serves breakfast all day, we polished off stacks of pancakes of various flavors accompanied by real Maine maple syrup. Our waitress was the daughter of the owner, who was in the kitchen turning out the home cookin’.
Whoopies gone wild
It’s an hour’s drive south from Greenville to Dover-Foxcroft. When we got there, the town’s population had doubled for the day to about 8,000 due to the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival.
Activities included music from bands, arts and crafts by local artisans, and a bounce house and balloon animals for kids.
But the star of the show was the whoopie pie. A mascot, Sweetie Pie, pranced around; competition heated up at whoopie-pie eating contests; and Nancy Griffin, the author of “Making Whoopies,” signed our copy of her book.
The round mound of cakey goodness is a “pie” only in the sense of having a filling. In the classic whoopie, two palm-sized chocolate cakes sandwich a thick layer of creamy, frosty heaven.
Most bakers scoop a dollop of buttercream between the layers. Some use marshmallow fluff. Others fiddle with ingredients, creating everything from pumpkin and peanut butter to exotic varieties.
Where to find the best whoopie pies in Maine? Ask a native and each one will tell you the name of a different place. That’s what’s so delicious about the festival. You get to try them all!
Restaurants, bakeries and amateurs from all over the state offered samples to festival-goers, who traded in wooden tokens purchased at the admission gate. One token equaled one sample. The milk to wash it down was free.
Al’s Pizza of Skowhegan nabbed the People’s Choice Award for its traditional whoopie pie. Anania’s of Portland garnered best traditional for commercial bakers. Best flavored went to Douin’s Market of New Sharon for its brownie whoopie pie with peanut butter filling (our fave!). Tied for most original were Betty Reez of Freeport for mint whoopies and Cranberry Island Kitchen for Mexican whoopies.
Flyers encouraged Mainers to “Help us make the Whoopie Pie Maine’s State Dessert…Contact your local legislator and Governor…Show your Support.”
That, apparently, upset the blueberry pie lobby. So, as of this writing, the bill before the state senate would make the whoopie pie the official “treat.”
Pennsylvania calls Maine’s actions “confectionary larceny.”
Yes, there’s a sweet smackdown going on between residents of Maine and Pennsylvania. They’ve cooked up a tongue-in-cheek tug-of-war over which state is the whoopie pie’s rightful home.
The Hershey Farm Restaurant and Inn, in Strasburg, Pa., makes more than 100 flavors for its Whoopie Pie Festival, which started several years before the Maine event.
Whether it originated in Pennsylvania (with Amish families?) or Maine (named for the yelp heard when spotted in lunchboxes?), the whoopie pie is this year’s “it dessert” at hipster hangouts all over the nation, taking over the cupcake’s crown.
Bake your own whoopie
For whoopie pie fans in the Triangle, the frenetic ecstasy of the Whoopie Pie Festival is near impossible to recreate. To get a taste of the experience, bake two that we’re sweet on from these cookbooks.
published by Down East
Classic Chocolate Whoopie Pies
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup Marshmallow Fluff (about half of a 7-1/2-ounce jar)
1 teaspoon vanilla/p>
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two large cookie sheets and set aside.
In a large bowl, with a mixer at medium speed, beat together the egg and vegetable oil. Gradually beat in the sugar and continue beating until pale yellow in color.
In another bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla. Add flour and milk mixtures alternately to eggs and sugar, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
Drop the batter by tablespoons onto cookie sheets. These will spread a lot, so arrange only 6 cakes per sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes or until the tops spring back when lightly touched with a finger. Remove the tops to wire racks to cool.
To make the filling: In a medium bowl, with a mixer at medium speed, beat together the butter, sugar, Marshmallow Fluff and vanilla until light and fluffy.
When the cakes are completely cool, use the filling and two cakes to make sandwiches.
Makes 15 whoopie pies
Red Velvet Whoopie Pies
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup buttermilk (or 2/3 cup light cream mixed with 1 tablespoon vinegar)
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 ounces red food coloring
Basic marshmallow filling:
6 heaping tablespoons Marshmallow Fluff
2 tablespoons vanilla
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons milk
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1-1/2 cups shortening
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk (or cream and vinegar) and vanilla.
Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat until fluffy. Stir in the dry ingredients, red food coloring and cream mixture until well blended.
Drop the batter onto a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet with an ice cream scoop or tablespoon, spacing at least 2 inches apart.
Bake for 7 to 12 minutes, depending on the size of scoop you used. The cakes are done when the top springs back when gently touched. (You can also use a toothpick to check. When it comes out clean from the center, they are ready to come out of the oven.)
To make the filling: Combine all ingredients and whip until smooth.
When the cakes are completely cool, scoop the filling onto one whoopie cake, then place another cake on top (like a sandwich). Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap to keep fresh.
published by Chronicle Books
Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies
1-3/4 cups all-purpose floor
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
Chocolate buttercream filling:
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper.
In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, shortening, brown sugar, peanut butter and vanilla until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions.
Add 1/2 of the flour mixture, beating on medium speed, just until combined. Stop the mixer and add 1⁄2 of the buttermilk. Beat on medium speed until combined. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and buttermilk, beating until thoroughly combined.
Using a spoon or scoop, drop about 2 tablespoons of batter onto one of the prepared baking sheets and repeat, spacing them at least 2 inches apart.
Bake one sheet at a time for about 18 minutes each, or until the cakes begin to brown at the edges and are firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool on the sheet for at least 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.
To make the filing: In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa and butter, starting on low and increasing to medium speed, until the mixture is crumbly, about 1 minute. Add the heavy cream, vanilla and salt, and beat on high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.
To assemble: Spread filling onto the flat side of one cake using a knife or spoon. Top it with another cake, flat-side down. Repeat with the rest of the cakes and filling.
Makes about 24 four-inch cakes
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups solid pack pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla
Classic buttercream filling:
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 to 4 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper.
In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the brown sugar and butter on low speed until just combined. Add the pumpkin, then the egg, beating well. Add the vanilla and beat until combined.
Add the flour mixture and beat on low until just incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Using a small ice-cream scoop or 2-tablespoon scoop, drop about 2 tablespoons of batter onto one of the prepared baking sheets and repeat, spacing them at least 2 inches apart.
Bake one sheet at a time for about 15 minutes each, or until the cakes begin to crack and are firm to the touch. Let the cakes cool on the sheet for at least 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.
To make the filing: In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the confectioners’ sugar with the butter, starting on low and increasing to medium speed, until the mixture is crumbly, about 1 minute. Add the heavy cream, vanilla and salt, and beat on high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.
To assemble: Spread filling onto the flat side of one cake using a knife or spoon. Top it with another cake, flat-side down.
Repeat with the rest of the cakes and filling.
Makes about 30 four-inch cakes
Photos from top to bottom: The Lodge at Moosehead Lake by Jumping Rocks; Moose by Maine Office of Tourism; Whoopie pies, Trailhead sign by Brack Johnson; Greenville area by Maine Office of Tourism; Moosehead Lake by Maine Office of Tourism; The Lodge at Moosehead Lake by Jumping Rocks; Carriage-house suite at the lodge by Jumping Rocks; Picnic area by Brack Johnson; First Roach Pond, Kokadjo by Brack Johnson; Moose wades for aquatic plants by Maine Office of Tourism; Keep Out sign by Brack Johnson; Center Theatre: Maine Whoopie Pie Festival headquarters by Nancy Griffin