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Banana Caramel Whoopie Pies

  Life has been a bit of a whirlwind around here.

  My sister's making a movie, so when I'm not staying up until 1:00 AM helping the crew film, I'm at home helping my mom prepare meals. 

  This semi-chaotic schedule has been going for nearly two weeks now.  About this time last week, I actually found myself with some time to kill.  After rolling out of bed at an inordinately late morning hour, I needed to make something.  But not just anything, I wanted to make something that would require my whole brain to function.

  I wanted to something with several components to it, something that would take up most of my afternoon.

  Is that weird?

  Probably.  But that's just how I roll!  When my schedule gets kinda crazed, I find myself aching to make things.  I want to be in control.  I know that when you whip together butter and sugar, things will get fluffy.  I know that when you melt sugar down, it will caramelize.  I know when you add mashed bananas, baked goods become incredibly tender.  I know that sour cream is amazing in batter.  I know that when butter is at just the right temperature, Swiss meringue buttercream will come together beautifully.

  These whoopie pies were exactly what I needed.  Not only that, but they were super popular!  I kid you not.

  Now, while I may enjoy all the steps here, you may freak when you see the length of this recipe.  Don't!  It's just all from scratch, because sometimes nothing less will do.

  To make things easier, you could always prepare the caramel sauce and fillling ahead of time, the cookies themselves come together in a pinch.  Also, you don't have to make SMB.  Use any filling you want!  I for one think that this caramel sauce would be pretty spectacular in a cream cheese frosting.  However, if you do choose to bite the bullet, definitely read up Sweetapolita's post on all things SMB.  It really helped me through my first time!

  That being said, I think the filling was absolutely perfect for these, and everyone else thought so too.  As rich as they were, nobody could eat just one. 

  Please, don't just pass this by, thinking that it's too much effort to waste on some silly whoopie pies.  It's so worth it. 

P.S. Please excuse the semi-grainy photos, I had 15 minutes to shoot and rather poor light, as well as hungry crew members.  You get the gist.

Banana Caramel Whoopie Pies 
Yield: 30-36 sandwich cookies

Ingredients for the caramel sauce:
  • ½ a vanilla bean, split lengthwise*
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
*(You may omit the vanilla bean and just use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Ingredients for the cookies:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup mashed banana (from about 1-1½ bananas)
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for the filling:**
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces, at room temperature
  • ½ cup caramel sauce (above)
**This will make more filling/frosting than you actually need, I had about 1 cup leftover.  Just freeze it and save for some other naughty use.

To make the caramel sauce, measure out your cream into a microwavable measuring cup or dish.  Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into it (if using) and heat in the microwave until warm.  Spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large, deep, sturdy saucepan.  Place over medium heat, watching carefully.  When the sugar begins to liquefy around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to gently stir it towards the center.  Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted, taking care not to over stir the sugar into hard chunks.  If this happens, reduce the heat and try to melt the chunks without stirring.  Once the liquified caramel reaches a deep amber color, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat (to test the color, spoon a drop onto a white plate or bowl).

Carefully whisk in half of the warmed heavy cream/vanilla bean mixture. The mixture will steam and bubble violently, be careful.  Whisk until the cream is well incorporated, then whisk in the remaining cream.  Whisk in the salt and the vanilla.  If any sugar has hardened (seized), place the saucepan over medium-low heat and whisk until smooth.  Allow to cool. (This sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and reheated.)

To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; whisk to blend, and set aside.  In a small bowl, combine the mashed banana and sour cream.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Blend in the egg and vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the banana mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix each addition until just incorporated.

Pipe the batter using a plain round tip onto the prepared baking sheets into about 1¼-inch rounds, spacing a couple of inches apart.  Bake until the cookies are just set and the bottom edges are starting to brown, about 10-12 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheets 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the filling, combine the egg whites and sugar in a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat the mixture, whisking very frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved and reaches 160° F on an instant read thermometer (Or until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is hot to the touch; when you pinch some of the mixture between your fingers it should feel smooth and very warm.).  Transfer the mixture to the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture holds stiff peaks.  Reduce the speed to medium low, add in the salt and then begin adding the butter one piece at a time, beating well after each addition (If your butter became too soft, your mixture may become soupy and curdle-y in appearance.  No fear!  Just keep mixing, it will eventually come together.).  Stir in ½ cup of the cooled caramel sauce until well blended.

Once the cookies are completely cooled, match them up in pairs by size.  Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with the caramel filling.  Pipe a dollop of filling onto the flat side of one cookie of each pair, and sandwich the cookies together, pushing the filling to the edges.  Store in an airtight container.

Sources: adapted from Annie's Eats