Every so often I get a craving for Hostess snacks from my childhood. The majority of my childhood took place in the 70s—which seems to me to have been the Hostess snacks heyday. Or maybe it was my own personal Hostess snacks heyday because I was a kid then and they were the food of my childhood.
I think my mom kept my three siblings and me supplied with most of the main varieties of Hostess snack cakes: Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, Twinkies, Donettes, and CupCakes. Of course, each of us had our own personal pecking order of favorites. The one we all agreed on to the same degree were the Donettes (the mini doughnuts)—they were considered by our mom as a “breakfast food” (which boggles the mind now)–so we didn’t need to worry about them being around because they were always there. Of course, being a chocolate fiend, I loved the chocolate covered ones best–but the powdered sugar ones were just fine.
Twinkies were at the bottom of the pecking order for me—mainly because they weren’t chocolate, which was an instant strike against them. And sometimes they were banana flavored (the original flavor), which I really didn’t like. I think my brother put Twinkies towards the top of his list, so they stayed in the house. One of my sisters was crazy for Ding Dongs, the hockey puck shaped, chocolate coated, cream-filled cakes. I liked Ding Dongs, but they weren’t my ultimate favorite. I think the problem with them is that I thought the chocolate coating was too thin. And my other sister liked best the CupCakes with the twirly design on the top.
Even though Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, and the CupCakes were all basically the same ingredients molded into different shapes, I did have preferences. Ho Hos were my favorite, followed closely by CupCakes and then Ding Dongs. I think the reason for this is that you were pretty much assured at getting everything—the cream filling, the chocolate cake, and the chocolate coating–in each bite. With Ding Dongs and CupCakes, you took a chance of getting a bite that didn’t contain all three at once. As I write this, it seems odd to me that Ding Dongs didn’t come in second for me—you were assured of at least getting the chocolate coating and cake in each bite. Yet, CupCakes were my second favorite—the chocolate frosting was thick on the top, so I could forgive it for having more cake than the others (the frosting was my favorite). Ho Hos were the top for me. In addition to their superior ingredient arrangement, Ho Hos had the further advantage of an interactive component—you could unroll them and eat them flat. So, they were fun as well as delicious.
Every so often I’ve thought about creating a recipe for them over the years. Then, this past Christmas I got the amazing new Bouchon Bakery cookbook by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel. As you know, in addition to his amazing restaurants, Chef Keller has several Bouchon Bakeries around the US. I’m sad that I have never been able to eat at any of them because I became aware of them after I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. But, this may change–as you may know, Keller has now come out with a gluten-free flour mix called Cup4Cup. And I’m wondering if he will (or already has) started offering gluten-free items in his bakeries. If you find that he has, let me know! I applaud Chef Keller for opening up his market to gluten-free folks. It’s so nice to have a superstar chef let it be known that he is aware of and is trying to accommodate those of us who are gluten-free.
Like all of Keller’s books, the Bouchon Bakery cookbook is like a coffee table book in size and weight and beauty. But it’s full of the recipes from Bouchon Bakery—which makes it a goldmine of information. It is so fun look through and to fantasize over, even if it’s not that easy actually to use in the kitchen. I often go through the book and dream over what I’m going to make next. I will say, this book is more of a professional pastry book than an everyday baking book. But, that’s what makes Keller and his team so special and inspiring. They go above and beyond for all of their recipes. For this reason, I consider this book to be more for special, pull-out-all-of-the-stops baking than for everyday baking.
In addition to so many other fabulous recipes, it has a recipe for his version of Ho Hos. And they are the best dang Ho Hos ever. Like his version of Oreos, TKOs (which I adapted into gluten-free Oreos), his recipe for Ho Hos is amazing. It’s the childhood version all grown up. The ingredients are fresh and real. I realize that some folks want recreations of their childhood sweets to be exactly the same as those from childhood, but let’s be honest: actual Ho Hos aren’t that good. They are plasticky and bland and are full of horrible ingredients like transfats and high fructose corn syrup. After an adulthood of making my own delicious baked items, I want a Ho Ho that justifies the time and effort that goes into making them.
So, I set about adapting Keller’s recipe for Ho Hos, which he calls “Oh Ohs.” His version contains a cake layer with a cake type called a biscuit joconde, which an almond sponge cake. I took out the almond flour and turned the cake into a chocolate sponge cake. If you have my book, you will know that I used the Italian version of sponge cake, a genoise (which contains butter) for the bûche de Noël. The sponge cake for this recipe is a a classic sponge, which contains no butter. The filling is a sweetened whipped cream, and the coating is made with melted chocolate chips.
This recipe does take time. It has several steps, including baking, rolling, freezing, and enrobing. I recommend that you read through the entire recipe before getting started so you can plan your time accordingly. You will be richly rewarded with the best Ho Hos you’ve ever had!
Ho Hos, Gluten-Free
-adapted from Bouchon Bakery, by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel
For the cake
1/2 cup (70 g) Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All Purpose flour mix
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 extra-large eggs (1/2 cup/120 ml), whole
2 extra-large eggs, separated
1/2 cup (100 g) plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
For the filling
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the coating
3 cups (18 oz/510 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4. Line the bottom of a rimmed half-sheet pan (18 in x 13 in/46 cm x 33 cm) with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour and the unsweetened cocoa into a small bowl. Whisk to combine.
Place the 2 whole eggs, the 2 egg yolks, and the 1/2 cup of sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on low speed for a few seconds to combine. Raise speed to medium high and beat for 10 minutes. By the end of the 10 minutes, the mixture should be light in color and about 3 times its original size.
Place the 2 egg whites into the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat for about 1 minute–until foamy. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of sugar over the top and beat on medium high for 2 minutes, until the whites are glossy with soft peaks.
Fold the flour mixture into the egg yolk mixture in 2 additions. Do this by sprinkling half of the flour mixture over the egg yolk mixture and folding it in. Sprinkle with the remaining flour and carefully fold it in. Make sure that all of the flour mixture is combined with the egg mixture. You will find hidden pockets of it in the middle of the egg mixture as you do the folding–so make sure it’s all incorportated. Then fold in the egg white mixture in 2 additions.
Spoon out mixture onto the prepared pan. Tip: put equal amounts of the mixture onto each of the four corners of the pan and on the middle of the pan. Carefully spread the batter into an even layer across the pan–using your fingers here and there to stabilize the parchment paper. Smooth the top as best as you can. I use an offset spatula to do this. Be sure the mixture reaches the corners of the pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes–until a tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Do not overbake. Set the cake, in the pan, on a cooling rack to cool completely (at least an hour).
15 minutes before you want to use it, make your filling. In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, place the cream. Sift the powdered sugar across the top. Add the vanilla extract along the side of the cream. Beat on medium high until the cream holds its shape when you lift out the whisk. You don’t need it to be overly firm–just firm enough that you can spread it across the cake without it being liquid and runny.
Once the cake is cool, cut it. First, run a sharp knife around the edges of the cake to separate it from the pan. With the long side of the pan facing you, measure and mark with a sharp knife three equal 5.5 in/14 cm sections of the cake from left to right. Cut from top to bottom along the marks. You should now have three rectangular sections of cake cut, each about 5.5 in x 10 in/14 cm x 25 cm.
Spread the sweetened whipped cream on the cake as follows:
Place three heaping tablespoons of whipped cream on each of the three cake sections. Working by section, spread the cream in an even layer, leaving about a 1/4 in/.63 cm margin around the perimeter of each section.
Rolling the sections:
You are going to roll each section separately. Pick up the long end of the first cake (this will be the short end of the pan) and gently start to separate it from the parchment paper. Going slowly, simultaneously roll the cake onto itself while separating it from the parchment paper, being careful not to roll the parchment paper into the cake. The cake will crack a bit, but keep going. You can squeeze together the cracks. Once the roll is finished, place the cake roll seam side down back on the parchment paper and move on to the next section. Repeat the procedure with the two remaining sections.
Next, tightly wrap each section separately in a large piece of plastic wrap. Lay down the plastic wrap the counter and place the rolled cake log at one end. Then roll up the first section of cake into the plastic and fold the plastic over the ends. Repeat for the other two cake logs. Place each rolled section into a large ziploc bag and place each in the freezer for at least 1 hour. You will cut and enrobe the cakes in chocolate after they are frozen.
At this point you can leave the rolled cakes in the freezer for up to 5 days.
Enrobing the cakes with the chocolate:
This part needs to be done quickly, so it’s important to have everything set out and ready to go.
Cover a large cookie sheet with waxed paper. This is where you will place your chocolate enrobed cakes to solidify.
Remove your cake logs from the freezer, unwrap (but keep the plastic wrap), and cut each log into 4 equal pieces, each about 2 inches long. Keep the pieces in the log form and rewrap and place back in ziploc bag and return the bags to the freezer.
Place your semisweet chocolate in a heat proof bowl on top of a pot full of simmering (not boiling) water. Have ready another small, deep bowl that is just big enough for the 2 inch cakes to be rolled in.
Watch carefully as the chocolate melts, using a whisk to stir it. Once the chocolate is just barely melted, turn off the heat on the simmer water. You will now need to move quickly.
Spoon out about 1/3 of the melted chocolate into the smaller bowl, taking care not to get any water drips into the chocolate. Remove the first log from the freezer and unwrap. With your fingers, take hold of the first 2 inch section by the open ends. Place the log into the small bowl of chocolate and carefully roll one half. While still holding the section by the ends, use a butter knife or an offset spatula to spread some of the chocolate that is already on the cake to cover the remainder of the cake, leaving the ends uncoated (it’s too hard to get the ends coated). Note: it’s a messy process. Place the enrobed section on the pan lined with the plastic wrap and repeat the process with the remaining sections in that log.
The chocolate in the small bowl will now have some little bits of cake and cream in it. If this bothers you, scrape out the bowl before you add the next 1/3 of melted chocolate. I don’t bother doing this. I just spoon another 3rd of the chocolate into the small bowl and proceed to the next log sections. Repeat the dipping, rolling, and smoothing process with the remaining 2 cut logs. Be sure to place the remaining 1/3 of chocolate in the small bowl before you dip the last log sections.
Your waxed paper lined baking sheet will now contain 12 chocolate covered cakes. Let them sit at room temperature until the chocolate is fully set. At this point you can eat them. For storage, I place the cake lined baking sheet into the refrigerator to cool down the cakes. Once they are fully cool again (about an hour), I carefully place them into into a ziploc bag to store in the fridge.
Serve cold or at room temperature.
Store the Ho Hos in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. To defrost, place in the fridge for 24 hours.