Ditch the bell, Pavlov. The sweet fragrance of baking goodies is enough to make anyone salivate.
Labadie’s Bakery on Lincoln Street in Lewiston releases a sweet aroma from continuously churning out racks and racks of delicious pastries. Creme rolls, a multitude of doughnuts, Bismarcks and, of course, their famous whoopie pies are started in the wee hours of the morning — anywhere from 3 a.m. to midnight the night before — making the air around the iconic bakery laden with craving-inducing smells.
Current owner Fabien Labadie says a paper trail in Lewiston archives he has researched traces Labadie’s Bakery back to 1925, although he says he's been told by family members that it actually dates back to 1918. A fire in the late 1960s destroyed all records, and the third-generation Labadie owner defers to the archived date.
“We go by that date because it is safer,” he jokes.
Although the steady stream of early-morning customers leaving the retail counter with a dizzying array of breakfast goodies may seem to contradict this fact, the bakery is best known for its whoopie pies — delicious cake-like cookies sandwiching a rich, creamy filling.
In 1994, a year after he took over, Fabien tweaked the whoopie pie family recipe to extend the shelf life for shipment. Labadie’s whoopie pies are distributed to vending machines, convenient stores and grocers throughout New England, as well as private customers off the website whoopiepies.com, run by a fellow family member. The bakery also produces whoopie pies for big-name customers such as Sam’s and Amato’s, using different recipes.
Basically, the Labadies are whoopie pie experts.
By eight o’clock on a Wednesday morning, 10 employees are busily folding dough, removing steaming pastries from an oven, injecting flaky rolls with cream or jelly, and wrapping finished products for the day. In the middle of it all, Brandon LeClair is diligently shooting three-and-a-half-ounce balls of chocolate batter onto the lining paper of an industrial-sized sheet pan. He’s already been working for more than five hours, but that’s the breaks when you’re a baker.
“We made about 240 dozen whoopie pies today,” he explains, standing next to several baker’s racks stacked 30 high with sheet pans, each pan holding 20 whoopie pies.
The process begins earlier with mixing the dry ingredients for the batter — sugar, salt, chocolate base — and putting it into an 80-quart mixing machine. He then adds the wet ingredients — water, eggs, etc. — and sets the machine to slowly blend the two together. (Sorry: No official Labadie's recipe here. It's all very proprietary. But look for our accompanying recipe that's sure to please.)
“You don’t want to overmix it,” warns LeClair. “When you overmix it, the batter becomes brittle. Basically with any kind of cake you make at home, if you overmix it, it becomes very tender, brittle. So when you try to cut it, instead of holding together in a nice shape it breaks apart.”
Typically the bakery mixes the batter for about four minutes, but, depending on the weather, that can change. “The weather plays a big factor. If it’s very humid, you’ll have to account for that,” he says. With 10 years of experience, LeClair has become sort of a human hydrometer and is able to gauge exactly what is needed to produce a consistent product.
While the batter is being made, another person makes the 200 pounds of frosting-esque filling, being careful to monitor mixing time with this as well.
“Always follow the recipe,” advises LeClair of baking. “Stick to the basics. It’s the same thing with any other recipe, even box recipes; follow it and it’ll come out right.”
At another station, the Uni-Filler station, batter that is finished mixing is placed in a funnel-topped machine with a hose and “gun” connected to it. LeClair sets the desired amount at 3 ounces and “shoots” little globs of batter onto a sheet pan. The process is almost meditative, with a small click as each squirt comes out in a uniform size.
The sheet pans are then placed in a hulky Baker’s Aid Rack Oven. On this day the whoopie pie cakes are being cooked for about 20 minutes at 395 degrees, but time and temperature can fluctuate, again, due to weather.
“When it’s really cold, it’s dry. So, if you bake something for 20 minutes versus when it’s really humid and hot, 20 minutes may result in something overcooked as opposed to undercooked,” advises LeClair.
After the whoopie pie rounds are removed from the oven and fully cooled, they are peeled from the lining paper. One side is flipped over and filling is piped onto the top. Then comes the “capping,” when the remaining tops are placed on the frosting, completing what we know as that delicious hand-held treat. After wrapping, it’s ready to be shipped off to its destination.
Aside from the traditional chocolate whoopie pie, Labadie’s also makes a white whoopie with vanilla cake and filling, pink whoopies made of vanilla cake and filled with raspberry jelly and coconut on top, pumpkin whoopies with cream cheese filling, and chocolate chip whoopies. Looking for something a little more substantial? You can always order either a 12-inch (six-pound) or 16-inch (eight-pound) whoopie pie cake.
Now, that’s a lot of whoopie.
Davene's Zucchini Whoopie Pies
Davene Fahy, Thomaston
Differs in texture form the high-fat version.
1 cup grated zucchini
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 large egg
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cut chopped nuts (optional)
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup cottage cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup confectioners' sugar, or more, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.
Mix together the zucchini, sugar, oil and egg. Sift dry ingredients together and add to the creamed mixture and mix until smooth. Stir in vanilla and nuts (if using).
Drop the batter by tablespoon onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes. Cool briefly on the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Prepare filling by mixing the cream cheese, cottage cheese, vanilla and sugar in a food processor until smooth.
When the cakes are cool, assemble whoopies. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
From Downeast Books "Making Whoopies," by Nancy Griffin.
This recipe is adapted from a King Arthur Flour Company recipe. "If you've never had a whoopie pie, start here," says Griffin's book.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
1 teaspoon baking power
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
2-1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup milk
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup confectioners' sugar or glazing sugar
1-1/3 cups Marshmallow Fluff or marshmallow creme
1/4 teaspoon salt dissolved in
1 tablespoon water
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla until smooth. Add egg, again beating until smooth. Add the cocoa, stirring to combine.
Add the flour to the butter alternately with the milk, beating until smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and beat again briefly to soften and combine any chunky scrapings.
Drop the batter by the quarter-cupful onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving plenty of room between the cakes; they'll spread. A muffin scoop (a 1/4-cup scoop available from bakery suppliers) works well here.
Bake the cakes for 15 to 16 minutes, until they're set and firm to the touch. Remove them from the oven, and cool on the sheets. While still lukewarm, use a spatula to separate them from the pan or parchment; then allow to cool completely.
Make the filling by beating together the shortening, sugar and marshmallow until well combined. Dissolve the salt in the water and add to the marshmallow mixture. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth.
Spread the filling on the flat side of half of the cooled cakes. Top with remaining cakes, flat side toward the filling. Wrap individually until ready to serve.
Summer is fruit and berry pie season. We attended Pineland Farm's Strawberry Festival and, next week, we'll bring you the succulent secrets and tips for the best crust ever.