We love how pretty much everyone has a childhood Twinkie memory. When we polled the folks in our test kitchen about their fondest cream-filled-snack-cake recollections, the answers ranged from “I used to pretend they were school buses!” to “My mom never let us have them, so naturally I ate tons of them at friends’ houses.” All that to say: Twinkies are an ideal DIY recipe candidate for our 70th anniversary for reasons of nostalgia alone … and then there’s the fact that they’re an icon of American food and pop culture.
Twinkies were first produced in 1930 by Continental Baking, the parent company of Hostess and Wonder bread. James A. Dewar, a manager of the company’s Illinois plant, invented them as a way to put some out-of-commission shortbread pans to good use — and supposedly got the name from an advertisement for “Twinkle Toe Shoes.” Originally, they were made with a banana cream filling; it wasn’t until World War II, when banana imports all but stopped, that Hostess switched to the vanilla cream filling we know today. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, vanilla-filled Twinkies sold way better than the banana ones.)
Ever since then, the little yellow snack cakes have had a rather colorful, storied existence. Here are a couple of our favorite moments in Twinkie history:
In 1995, two scientists launched the T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. project — Tests with Inorganic Noxious Kakes in Extreme Situations — to discover the scientific properties of the snack cake, like its solubility and response to extreme radiation. They even gave a couple Twinkies the Turing Test to determine whether they’re sentient. (Spoiler alert: they aren’t.) And in 1999, President Clinton put Twinkies in the millennium time capsule in honor of their iconic-ness (which didn’t exactly help to expel rumors that the cakes have a decades-long shelf life and can even survive a nuclear war).
Rest assured, these DIY Twinkies are not built to withstand radioactive fallout. We make them with natural ingredients and a simple vanilla chiffon recipe: everything gets whisked together, and then we fold in beaten egg whites to give the cakes their famously airy texture. From there, we pour the batter into Twinkie molds and bake!
(Where did we get the molds? “I just used my childhood Twinkie molds,” says our test kitchen baker, who developed this recipe. “I got them as a birthday gift, and they came with a mix. I used them once, and then put them away … until now.” See! Everyone has a Twinkie story. You can find your own Twinkie molds with a quick Google search.)
For the filling, we whisk together heavy whipping cream, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt, fold the mixture into some marshmallow fluff, and then pipe it into the bottom of the cooled cakes. The texture is a tad lighter than the real deal, but it also tastes a lot better (in our not-so-humble opinion). The combination of marshmallow and vanilla flavor is utterly delightful — and it has just the right amount of salt to balance the sweet.
The ratio of cream to cake is right on the money too: with each bite, your teeth slowly squish into the spongy cake, and then suddenly sink into the creamy, creamy filling — and neither overpowers the other.
These homemade Twinkies are so perfectly sweet, so light and fluffy, so full of happiness, we could eat an entire tray of them without even realizing it. And did we mention the whole batch comes together in about an hour? Before you know it, you’ll be walking down memory lane, seeing if you can smash an entire Twinkie into your maw, just like you used to do in the school cafeteria.
Our tip: DIY Twinkies are super fun to make with kids — they can help out with the whisking, the pouring, and most importantly, the taste-testing!
For the cake:
- Cooking spray
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ¼ cup water, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 large Gelson’s eggs, separated, divided
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
For the filling:
- ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 Tbsp confectioners’ sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Kosher salt
- 1 7-oz container marshmallow fluff (1 ½ cups)
Special equipment: 2 Twinkie pans, medium piping tip, piping bag
To make the Twinkies: Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray the Twinkie pans with cooking spray.
Using a large mixing bowl, sift in the cake flour, granulated sugar, and baking powder. Add the kosher salt and whisk to combine.
In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the vegetable oil, water, vanilla extract, and egg yolks.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the oil mixture. Gently whisk until smooth. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes.
Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter in three batches, folding just until the whites are absorbed each time.
Immediately scoop the batter into the Twinkie pans, filling each well two-thirds of the way up. Gently transfer the pan to the oven and close the oven door. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the edges of the cakes are golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Invert the cake pan onto a greased cooling rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Unmold the cakes and let cool completely.
Meanwhile, to make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy whipping cream, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, and a pinch of kosher salt. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.
Place the marshmallow fluff in a medium bowl and fold with a spatula a few times to soften. Fold a few spoonfuls of whipped cream into the marshmallow fluff until combined, then fold in the remaining whipped cream until combined. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or until ready to use.
To fill the Twinkies: Transfer the filling to a piping bag fitted with a medium piping tip. Insert the piping tip into the flat side of one Twinkie, about ½” from one end. Swirl the piping tip around to create a larger hole, then fill it. Note: use pressure to squeeze as much filling into the Twinkie as possible. Repeat 4 more times along the flat side of the Twinkie, making the holes about ½” apart. Repeat to fill the remaining Twinkies.
Serve immediately and enjoy! The Twinkies are best served fresh, but if you have leftovers, they may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.