We originally published this piece on June 9, 2011. We’re looking back at the start of Whisked to get excited for this Saturday’s Cookies and Cream. All the cookies, all the cream, for one, low, low price at Penn Social. Join us, get fat and witness a bunch of young adults wear ice cream sandwich costumes for our amusement!
all photos: Kimberly Cadena
Ever wish you could quit your day job and do something crazy? Like open a small baking business?
That’s exactly what Stephanie Willis and Jenna Huntsberger did earlier this spring when they created Whisked!. It was pretty balls-y. Cake balls-y, that is, as the two have turned their shared love of baking into a full-time pursuit.
Willis fancies herself as the next “Barefoot Contessa.” Another government analyst-turned-food-professional, she took the plunge into pursing her passion for baking on a more full-time basis several months ago. Her business partner Huntsberger also left her “real” job last year to focus on training with pastry chefs and pursuing baking full-time. They now rent space out of 1905 Restaurant’s kitchen and prepare a range of sweet and savory baked goodies to sell at the 14th & U Street famers market each Saturday and through an online store.
The women are both active in the DC food blogging scene—Huntsberger writes Modern Domestic and Willis is the voice behind Adventures in Shaw. They met initially in 2009 at a food bloggers bake sale and became fast friends. The women found that they shared a lot of the same tastes in the kitchen and had a penchant for baking updated, modern takes on American classics.
Indeed, Whisked! is all about classics like hand pies (a much more delicious nod to the stale-but-still-nostalgic-tasting PopTart), cookies, dessert bars, cakes, savory tats and of course, cupcakes. Both women grew up baking, citing strong memories of childhood comfort desserts and being in the kitchen with family. Their style and menu items combine Huntsberger’s northern background and Willis’ southern heritage: they nod to Willis’ upbringing with classic red velvet and 7Up pound cakes, and to Huntsberger’s roots with molasses spice and salty oatmeal cookies. Their goal is to bring back familiar American classics with a modern twist, and trigger positive food memories though their baking.
I had the sweet good fortune (har har) to sample an amazing spread of Whisked!’s menu earlier this week at 1905 restaurant. Upon walking in, I felt like one of the kids in the (original) Willy Wonka movie. There were cookies and cake everywhere—all that was missing was a chocolate river. Was I really SUPPOSED to try everything?! Well, twist my arm…
Before digging in, I just took in the enormous spread wide-eyed. For two people renting out space in a commercial kitchen and baking during the restaurant’s off-hours, I was really blown away by the sheer volume and variety of their menu. Huntsberger and Willis test new recipes regularly and pretty much prepare their full menu for the market each week, in addition to special catering orders. Only certain delicate items like cake balls are limited to delivery orders only.
No one was going to go hungry that night. Bracing myself for a (well worth it) sugar crash later in the evening, I picked up a fork and dug in.
To say that everything was good doesn’t do Huntsberger and Willis’ work justice, but it’s true. From a savory quiche to brownie sandwich cookies and quite a few bites of various dessert bars, cookies, and cakes in between, I was impressed with the Whisked! spread.
My favorite bites of the evening were the brownie sandwich cookies, red velvet cake, and a sun-dried tomato, spinach and basil quiche.
The brownie sandwich cookies looked deceptively like trendy whoopie pies, but were a delightful improvement over cake-based sandwich cookies. The women of Whisked! seem to agree with my sentiment that a rich, chewy brownie is always preferable over cake, and adapted the whoopie pie concept accordingly. The brownie “cookies” were wonderfully moist and rich, with a deep mocha fudge flavor. The vanilla frosting peeking out between the two cookie sides also had a complex flavor and thick, creamy consistence. I could actually taste the high-quality vanilla extract likely used in the recipe, and it reminded me of ice cream.
The red velvet cake, which Willis proudly shares is made with her grandmother’s recipe, was also a winner. Perfectly “brick” in color, the moist cake was chocolate-y and rich (noting a theme here?). It was so refreshing to see a red velvet cake that wasn’t a freaky shade of red and didn’t taste like artificial food coloring.
I probably would have been happy with the cake on its own, but the cream cheese frosting piped between the cake layers and around the cake really took this to the next level. The cream cheese icing wasn’t overly-sweet, and complemented the rich cake perfectly. I also loved that the cake was decorated simply with walnuts; Willis explained that this is something her grandmother’s always done, and she’s proud to continue it in her own baking.
One of the most unique items on Whisked!’s menu is the crackerjack bar, which is a shortbread cookie topped with peanuts tossed in salty caramel. The bar was salty, sticky and brought me back to some childhood memory that I couldn’t exactly place—but it reminded me of a better, cookie version of a PayDay bar.
Other hard-hitters included turtle bars, shortbread cookies topped with chocolate, salty caramel, tossed walnuts and an oatmeal crumble; chocolate chip cookies that were simple, chewy and delicious; strawberry handpies made with seasonal, local fruits encased in light, flaky dough; the 7UP Pound Cake that reminded me of my grandmother’s lemon loaf; and grasshopper bars, which were pretty much perfectly fudge-y, dense brownies topped with a light, refreshing mint icing and then drizzled with chocolate.
I was also intrigued by the savory items on Whisked!’s menu, including various quiches and hand pies. Since they’re regulars at the 14th & U farmers market, they’ve made friends with the farmers and source all of their produce from them. Seasonal veggies play a big role in Whisked!’s savory offerings, including the sun-dried tomato, spinach, and basil quiche that I LOVED (there were also caramelized onions in this, which stole the show for me) and zucchini-based quiches and hand pies that will debut at the market later this week.
Whisked! isn’t a brick and mortar bakery just yet—Huntsberger and Willis say that this step isn’t quite on their radar at the moment—but more of a virtual and farmers market-based business model. You can find them at the 14th and U Street farmers market every Saturday, and they hope to expand to other local farmers markets soon. In addition to their market stand, the duo also accepts online orders (until 11:59 pm on Wednesdays!) for pick up at the market, and will commission special delivery or catering orders. Sweeeeeeeeeet.