Saturday, Sept. 16—RUTLAND—The Rutland region’s now infamous Whoopie Pie Festival will return to Center Street and Merchants Row downtown this Saturday.
The highly anticipated event was a huge success last year as Dream Makers Bakers of Killington impressed crowds with a whoopie pie weighing in at 553 pounds. This year, owner Megan Wagner is planning to bake a 700-pound pie!
As the Whoopie Fest returns for its second year, the Mountain Times had a chance to catch up with Wagner to discuss how her team will prepare for such a massive undertaking.
MT: What do you think makes a good whoopie pie?
Megan Wagner: What I think makes a good whoopie pie is the perfect balance of velvety cake layers sandwiching a silky-smooth marshmallow filling. The cake needs to be firm enough to hold the frosting in but also soft enough that it doesn’t put pressure on the filling when bitten. Proper proportions are also important because if there is not enough filling you won’t taste it and with too much it will wind up on your clothes or the floor. Our whoopie pie recipe was created by Ruth Sylvester and was passed down to Ralph Sylvester who then shared it with me. It is everything a classic whoopie pie should be, a simple uncomplicated comfort dessert passed down through the generations. It is said that the whoopie pie stems from the cake scrap and frosting sandwiches that would make their way into lunch boxes and caused those who received them to exclaim “Whoopie!” As a mother who has fed her family cake scrap sandwich treats filled with frosting, I can totally see this.
MT: How did you first get into baking?
MW: Baking is always something I have been drawn to. My favorite toy growing up was my Easy Bake oven, for birthdays and holidays I would always get some Easy Bake refill packs and I would get so excited they would all be baked within the week and I would be anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next. I got into baking as a hobby around the 4th grade. I looked at my dad and I told him then that one day I was going to open a bakery and not just a bakery but a bakery and breakfast cafe, it still surprises me how specific I was about that part. For Christmas that year my dad got me “The Baker’s Bible” and “1001 Muffins” and my experimenting in the kitchen began. It would suit the story well if I could say from then on, I worked hard and long towards this goal, but the truth is somewhere in my late teens – early 20s I lost sight of this dream, as maximizing the enjoyment of my youth became my priority. Eventually, this brought me to Killington where I found myself working as a server at Choices for Chef Claude. It was total happenstance that I got hired as I had just moved to Killington in the beginning of summer and I walked in, to ask for a job during the slow season. It was the first place that I applied to and I was rejected because of the timing. Well, they had a server walk out that night and I got the job the next day. I had no idea that this restaurant was known for its from scratch dessert and pastry when I applied or that this is the place that would lead back to my path. Chef Claude took me under his wing as he had done for so many, and he helped me turn my passion hobby into a career as I got my start as his pastry chef. Seven years after that Dream Maker Bakers was born.
MT: Where did you get the idea for the name? Was it inspired by Killington’s famous ski trail?
MW: Dream Maker Bakers getting its name was one of the hardest parts of getting started. I put a lot of importance on this decision and wasn’t happy with any of our ideas. The final two contenders were Megan Marie’s Cakery and Dream Maker Bakers. Megan Marie because that’s me and it had a cute sound to it and Dream Maker because it connected us to the mountain we all love and it’s an awesome trail. Ultimately time was up, and a name needed to be chosen, as not having one was holding everything up. I went with Dream Maker Bakers because I always knew this place was going to be bigger than just me and it was going to take a team to pull it off. I felt like a team would be prouder to stand behind the name Dream Maker Bakers and that it was more inclusive of all my future teammates than just a bakery named after me.
MT: Describe your passion for baking.
MW: There are few things in this world I find as soothing and therapeutic as submerging my hands into a bowl of flour. It instantly evokes a sigh of relief, I begin to feel grounded, and the stresses of life begin to fade away and are replaced by the thoughts of what the grains of wheat and butter I am pinching between my fingers will become. When you begin to understand how the way you handle the ingredients and the way they interact with one another and the effects that has on the end result, it becomes a challenge every time you repeat a recipe to make it better than the last. Baking really is a math-based science with several variables, many of which are not controlled. Because you can only manipulate these variables so much, understanding them is imperative in creating a consistent product.
MT: What challenges and expectations do you have for this year’s whoopie pie festival?
MW: The massive whoopie is the most technically challenging project we take on. It requires months of planning, coordinating and participation from many others. We do not have an oven big enough for this project, but Domenic of Domenic’s Pizzeria opens up his kitchen for us and has one that is almost big enough. We make it big enough by getting a custom-made stainless steel extender box made by JW Plumbing and Heating that allows us to leave the door open and enclose the extra space. It then takes four people to get the 200 lbs. of cake and pan in and out of a hot oven. Last year, after this each cake layer was tilted at a 65 degree angle a total 10 times each to get them in and out of the building we cooked it in, into ours and back out again. This was an extreme but necessary risk that we will not have to do this year thanks to Black River Produce being willing to park a refrigerated box truck at the bakery for a few days. The next feat is getting the cakes out of the pan. In order to do this the pan will be heated with propane torches, ratchet strapped to a custom-made 5’ x 5’ display board and then the total weight of 300 pounds will be flipped 180 degrees to get the cake out.
When we were first asked to take on the challenge of making Vermont’s largest whoopie pie I don’t think we or CEDRR [Chamber and Economic Development of the Rutland Region] really knew what to expect or just how big it would be, we just knew it would be big. It ended up coming in at 553 lbs., which I think was much more than any of us expected. It was enough to double the previously held record for second largest in the nation and I think we all were astonished by the feat. Planning for the project began by finding an oven, as nothing else could be decided until we knew how big of an oven we would be using. This will be extremely challenging for the coming year as we will have to find another oven larger than 5 feet or we are going to have to get creative with the way we bake it. Once an oven was found next was the pan.
Typically, a whoopie pie is baked on a flat baking sheet, but I knew I wanted my pan to have sides in order to protect the oven we were using from spillage as it wasn’t mine. Deck oven stones are very hard to clean, and I didn’t want to risk them having to smell burnt whoopie.
The first pan we had made just wasn’t going to work and at three weeks away from the event we set out to find someone who could make us a 4 1/2-foot diameter can pan with 3-inch sides. I thought this an ask and was in panic mode until we got in touch with Jones Metal Fabrication who just happened to have the materials on hand and a very rare opening in the schedule. Less than 48 hours later we had our pan, next was the planning of the batter and baking. This is where Katherine Kearnes, the head baker, and I put our heads together and brainstormed for hours and hours talking over every little detail and scenario we could possibly think of to make us feel ready and prepared for the day. When the day came for baking, we had no idea how much batter it would take to fill the pan so we made the biggest batch of batter that would fit in our biggest mixer, 50 pounds of batter. When we poured it however, we both had the same exact thought…. “It’s not enough.”
We quickly ran down to the shop, mixed up another batch and that filled the pan. As far as the filling goes, we pretty much made filling until we ran out of time and just couldn’t make anymore. Many of the challenges we faced from here on out we knew about ahead and had planned for sufficiently. The one thing I didn’t really think about properly was realized the night before the big event. I was standing in the back dining room admiring the whoopie layers when all the sudden, in the background I saw the door and panicked. Up until this point the layers had been tipped at a 65-degree angle in the pan to get them in and out of the doors, but now they did not have the pan to protect them as they were resting on their display boards. Some quick brainstorming though and it was decided that we would just put the pan over the cake on the board, clamp the two together and bring it out that way.
The logistic of delivery and weighing: Last year the whoopie pie was brought down to the bakery in a pickup truck. It is still in the pan at this point, so it’s sturdy and we used enough plastic wrap to cover it that stretched out probably from peak to creek. Ok, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration but it was wrapped tight. The pan was wider than the truck, so we had to angle it. This year we have our delivery van and according to my measurements it should fit just fine in there although still angled. To get it to Rutland once out of the pan on the display boards, however, takes a much bigger vehicle. Last year it was Foley Distributing that brought it down for us, but this year, the one we are borrowing will be driven down by them.
MT: How did you plan to get it’s final weigh in?
MW: This was something I coordinated because I really wanted to know not to guess “how big was real big—” how would we ever make it bigger if we had nothing to compare to? I had no idea how to weigh such a thing so I began by asking my friends on social media if they had any ideas and there were a lot of good ones but the best one came from Tim Brosnan at Killington Resort who mentioned that the resort has a very portable scale called a dynamometer that would weigh large weights when suspended. He came down to the bakery and taught us how to use it and we practiced by weighing the board.
This year he helped us again by helping us make some tweaks that should help keep everything more level during the weighing. I brainstormed with my husband different ways we could possibly suspend this massive thing but really there was only one easy way we saw and that was a piece of machinery. We had some friends in Killington we knew might be willing to do it, but we also knew it would be a huge ask to request they volunteer to move the equipment all the way down to Rutland. I saw Casella was an event sponsor and when I presented the idea to Chrispin White at CEDRR I also asked if they could find out if Casella had a piece of machinery close by that day and if they would be willing to help. They showed up with a massive bucket loader and it made the weighing feel so dramatic, it was perfect. Sometimes I get nervous asking for help or favors but I was always told, “you will never know the answer if you don’t ask.” So far everyone we’ve asked has been very excited to be a part of this.
One of the most exciting moments for me personally was the moment the top layer was placed upon the filling. Everything had been leading up to this point, it was our make-or-break moment. It took 8 people who all needed to act in unison with two teams coordinating opposite motion tasks. It was, I think, the most intense moment for us as a team. Even though the place was bustling, activities were going on all around and we were right near the stage, at that moment all I could hear was my team. My heightened awareness of the voices I recognized as my team felt like a superhuman power. You could feel the pressure as I shouted out the plan, reminded each team what their duties were and the team as a whole, the importance of acting in unison and being aware of each other. As I spoke, I looked at each teammate and their eyes all locked with mine, I could tell this meant as much to them all as it did to me, nothing else existed in this moment but the eight of us and the job at hand. When the moment came it began smoothly but we were moving too slowly. All of the sudden we all could see that the cake was becoming stressed, and the threat of cracking was very real. I remember yelling out “pull the board, pull the board” and everyone immediately sped up doing exactly what they needed to do in unison with one another. While they were waiting for my call everyone saw the threat of what was potentially going to happen, and they were already preparing for the move before the call was even made. It was the team’s foresight and connection that saved the cake and the top layer landed right in place. At that moment we all became startled by this massive roar from a crowd we hadn’t even realized was there. We were all so focused on each other and what we were doing we hadn’t even realized the crowd that had grown around us. While the roar was startling it meant success and we all relished in the glory and excitement, a feeling I will never forget.
This is the most fun event of the year for us, and I know it is just as enjoyable for our customers and community as it is talked about for months leading up to and long after the event here in the bakery. I hope you join us this year to witness the moment when the whoopie pie hangs suspended from a bucket loader and we anxiously await the announcement of the weight. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would become more known for a whoopie pie over our wedding cakes but here we are.