It’s the 13th October and I’ve had a horrible realisation that if I’m selling Christmas cakes, I should be baking them now! This is a problem because I have no idea how many Christmas cakes I may sell. The optimist in me says make 10, and enjoy any leftovers (or use as handy raffle prizes), the pessimist says make a couple because who really likes fruit cake anyway? I am very excited however about decorating my first, properly matured fruit cake which has been gently bathed in brandy weekly since early August which means it’s probably absolutely gorgeous but shouldn’t be consumed anywhere near naked flames… I saw a beautiful Scandinavian themed dessert table at the Cake & Bake show in London recently and am planning a simple red and white folk-art decoration, inspired by it (here’s some more of Tempting Cake’s Tempting Tables).

I’ve never been much of a summer cook, all my culinary skills seem to decrease in inverse proportion to the outside temperature. But I’m an autumn baby and with the turning leaves and chilly evenings comes an overwhelming urge to fill the house with warming, spicy, comforting smells and flavours. 

I’m doing my first fair on Tuesday and have been baking non-stop for the past couple of days. Alongside basic vanilla cupcakes, I’m taking sticky toffee cupcakes with a wicked hidden dollop of dulce de leche in the centre, vanilla lolly biscuits decorated as pumpkins and my trusty faithfuls, a lemon sponge with lemon curd and zesty buttercream and a traditonal(ish) vanilla sponge with raspberry jam and vanilla buttercream. I’m also learning to ask – I have lovely friends who know me really well, and take notice of what I bake – so I asked what I should be making to sell.  I’d completely forgotten about the cookies on sticks which I did as a party favour for my middle daughter’s birthday, but they make great after-school treats and are easily themed and very portable (and easier to eat in a car on the way home from school without smearing buttercream everywhere!) A year ago I also made some pumpkin whoopie pies, using a Hummingbird Bakery recipe which a friend raved about,  I wouldn’t have thought of then but she mentioned it when I was talking about the fair and I revisited the recipe. I hate the taste of bicarbonate of soda in cakes and always felt it came through strongly in that particular recipe but the rich pumpkin colour and gentle warmth from the spices do make a fabulous autumn treat.  So, I adapted it slightly and the result was much better and of course it also gave a chance to try out the whoopie pie tin I bought at the Cake & Bake show which gave even and much easier to sandwich together pies! I also find that the pumpkin puree I use (which is the only one I can find in Waitrose and Ocado – Libby’s Solid Pack Pumpkin) is very stiff and results in dollop-y pies rather than smooth domes so I’ve diluted it a bit, resulting in light, gently domed pies.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies (adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery)

For the sponge
120ml sunflower oil

200g light soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
100ml pumpkin purée (I buy Libby’s hard packed pumpkin and put approx. 75ml in with 25ml water to keep the batter smooth and easy to pipe)
250g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tap vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger

For the filling

85g unsalted butter, softened
150g icing sugar (plus extra for dusting)
80g full-fat Philadelphia (MUST be full fat or the filling goes runny)
100g vanilla marshmallow fluff

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (170°C for fan ovens) and either lightly oil two 12-hole whoopie pie tins or line two baking trays with baking parchment.
  • Mix the oil, brown sugar and vanilla essence together in a stand mixer until well combined then tip in the pumpkin puree and egg and combine well.
  • Sift the flour, salt and spices together and add to the mixture, scraping down the sides of the mixer’s bowl to ensure an even batter forms.
  • I pipe the mixture using disposable piping bags, but you can also spoon the mixture on to the baking trays.  This mixture makes 24 individual domes using a whoopie pie tin or you can make 16-20 mounds, 3-5cm in diameter on your baking trays.  Make sure you leave space between as the mixture will spread during cooking.
  • Bake the pies for 10-15 minutes, until light golden brown and the sponge springs back when lightly touched.  This depends so much on your oven and you don’t want to overcook the pies. 
  • Allow to cool completely before filling.
  • To make the filling, beat the icing sugar and butter together in a stand mixer (or use an electric whisk) until light and fluffy.  Add the Philadelphia and beat for another minute – careful not to over-whisk as the filling can go runny.  Then add the marshmallow fluff and beat again until properly combined.  
  • Pop in the fridge to firm up (half an hour or so).
  • Sandwich the pies together by spreading or piping a tablespoon of filling onto the flat surface of a dome and popping another on top.  Finish with a dusting of icing sugar and eat within about 3 days for perfect results.