Monday, September 05, 2011

The Moon Pie

The moon pie. If you're from or have spent time in the South, you are probably familiar with that pillow of marshmallow, sandwiched between two graham cookies, all coated in chocolate (that's the classic version, anyhow). Story goes that the moon pie came to be when Earl Jones, the dessert's founder, asked a Kentucky coal miner what snack he'd like to eat. The miner replied with something similar to a s'more--graham cracker and marshmallow dipped in chocolate. When Jones asked how big it should be, his interviewee looked up at the night sky, and circled the full moon with his hands.

a "workingman's lunch"-- R.C. Cola and a moon pie (or three)
This weekend I was in Tenneessee, the official home of the moon pie, as Jones started making them at his Chattanooga bakery in 1917. Though I was in Nashville, I had no trouble gathering proclamations of moon pie love and a few anecdotes. I befriended someone whose father was part of the eating of the biggest moon pie EVER, and one of the members of the blues group The Holmes Brothers, a Chattanooga native, told me stories of after school moon pie snacks he ate on the railroad bridge while watching the train go by.

good, but could it be better?

While I was there, I enjoyed my own "workingman's lunch"-- R.C. Cola and a moon pie--of which Big Bill Lister wrote a song in the 1950s. I enjoyed it, but thought that the packaged version left a little something to be desired--the chocolate is a bit waxy, the cookies not as flavorful as the could be (I know this might be blasphemous to some, but I don't have the childhood food nostalgia associated with the treat). I decided to try to make my own.

moon pie making-- a messy pursuit

I scoped a few recipes on the internet, and it seems there are two schools of thought regarding homemade moon pies-- those who make graham crackers, and those who make "graham" cookies. The packaged moon pie is admittedly more cookie than cracker, though the cookie has a slight bite and has that graham flour taste. For my first attempt, I decided to go with cracker over cookie, as it seemed a little more authentic, but the jury is still out. I combined a few different recipes, and here's what I came up with...

tricky, messy, tasty

Homemade Moon Pies (first attempt)

For graham cracker cookie:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups graham flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup milk

1. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Using a mixer (hand or stand), beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla to butter mixture and beat until combined. Add dry ingredients and beat until mixture is crumbly. Add molasses, then milk until the dough comes together (it will be stiff). Chill dough for approximately one hour. 

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out dough on a lightly floured pastry board or counter top. Cut circles out with a cookie cuter to give you the size moon pie you'd like. Bake about 15 minutes--or until soft by done. Let cool completely.

For the marshmallow filling:
2 egg whites
Pinch cream of tartar
Pinch of sea salt
2/3 cup light corn syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar

1. Using a mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the the egg whites with the cream of tartar and salt until firm peaks form. (Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, boil the corn syrup over high heat without stirring until it registers 230-235°F on a candy thermometer)* Slowly drizzle the (hot) corn syrup into the egg whites and beat at high speed until glossy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low, beat in the vanilla and powdered sugar.
*This step did not work for me, as the corn syrup kept congealing, like candy. We ended up using room temperature corn syrup.

To assemble the cookies:

On cookie sheets that fit in your freezer, line up half of the cookies. Spoon marshmallow filling on half of the cookies. Top each cookie (my marshmallow filling was a bit runny, so this was a little difficult). Place cookie sheets in freezer.

For chocolate coating:
24 ounces (one large bag) semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup vegetable oil

1. Meanwhile, using a double boiler or in the microwave on 50% power and in 30 second increments, melt the chocolate and vegetable oil together until completely smooth. Remove cookies from the freezer and spoon melted chocolate over each cookie so that it runs down the sides and covers most of the cookie. 

2. Return cookies to the freezer. Once chocolate has hardened, flip over and spoon melted chocolate over the other side to completely coat cookies. Store in refrigerator or freezer.

pie in the sky

I found this recipe, particularly the marshmallow filling, to be rather tricky. Plus the whole process requires some simultaneous steps, so I was lucky to have a few friends around to help (also to help me taste test!). I liked the cookies, though they were quite molasses-y, and I think they could be a bit softer. Next time I might try a "graham cookie" recipe and try to make the mallow filling with vegetarian gelatin.

All-in-all though, they were still quite tasty, as evidenced by these faces in the MPEZ (Moon Pie Enjoyment Zone).

We enjoyed them with warm beer (trying to finish a leftover keg!) on the porch in the rain. Check back in for my second moon pie making attempt and check out NPR and my Professor Bill Ferris' essay for further related reading.


Tanglewood Baked Goods said...

so. good. and cole! where is your crumb-catching hand? how daring.

emily said...

maybe he just keeps his crumb-catcher REAL LOW.

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