Admit it, the Twinkie scare of early 2013 still haunts you. Yes, the spongy snack cakes are currently making "the sweetest comeback in the history of ever," but your fragile psyche can't take the thought of them abandoning you again. If it happened once...
Fear not! Even if Hostess gently goes into the good night of bankruptcy, you don't need to live a life free of snack cakes. After all, the origins of these snack cake treats were based on sweets people used to make by hand.
Let me explain my argument before you protest that the whole reason you love Twinkies and Ding Dongs and fruit pies (oh, my!) is that you can stop at any gas station or 7-Eleven in the U.S. and grab one at midnight. Yes, I will acknowledge that there is not the same instant gratification in making your own versus buying one off the shelf. But there is the knowledge of how hard you've worked and how much you've earned it. Plus, leftovers! Who needs a two pack when leftovers abound.
So what do you need exactly to turn your kitchen into a mini Hostess factory? It depends on what you want to be cranking out. Let's talk supplies. To get that classic Twinkie (and Zinger) shape, you'll need an actual Twinkie pan, also known as a canoe pan. You can find one on Amazon for less than $20. If you're a little less exacting regarding your Twinkie's perfection, you can fashion a vessel out of heavy-duty aluminum foil. These have a tendency to spill, so watch them carefully while they bake. If Ding Dongs are more your style, a round pastry cutter will do your dirty work on any sheet cake. For CupCakes, you need a cupcake pan, and for Suzy Q's, any sort of metal pan will suffice.
Other tools you will need on your quest for snack cake perfection: a pastry bag and a piping tip with a medium hole (for injecting your cakes with nectar-of-the-gods cream filling), a small piping tip for decorations and a palette knife or a butter knife for frosting.
Now let's break down the snack cakes by components. Twinkies are essentially yellow sponge cakes with a cream filling; vanilla and raspberry Zingers are the same cake, with frostings. CupCakes, Suzy Q's, Chocolate Zingers and Ding Dongs are all combinations of devil's food cake, cream filling and chocolate coating.
The cake portion of the snack cakes are easy; most boxed cake mixes are so moist and springy there's no need to bake something from scratch. Find a yellow, vanilla or devil's food you like and follow the package directions, using the snack cake vessel of your choosing.
But what about the all-important cream filling? That is what truly makes or breaks any attempt at homemade snack-cake glory. And it isn't easy to replicate; the filling needs to be light and glossy with just a hint of sweet grittiness.
For a quick filling, any sort of whipped vanilla frosting will do in a pinch, like Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. Folding in whipped cream with the frosting makes it lighter and glossier -- though the frosting does need to be at room temperature for this to work.
For an experience closer to the real thing, Todd Wilbur of Top Secret Recipes recommends combining a jar of marshmallow fluff with a little vegetable shortening, salt and powdered sugar.
Now that you have all the tools, the cakes and the filling ready to go, it's time to assemble your snack cakes!
After you've baked and cooled the cakes completely, release them from their baking vessels. For the Twinkies and Zingers, they'll already be in the shape you need, so you can puncture the underside of the Twinkie and squeeze in the filling via the pastry bag with a piping tip. Depending on the flavor of your Zinger, you either need to frost them with vanilla or chocolate or coat the cakes in raspberry glaze.
For Suzy Q's, just cut out rectangular pieces of devil's food cake and slather the cream filling between two pieces.
Ding Dongs are probably the most time-consuming. First, use the pastry cutter to cut out small rounds of the cake. Top a round with cream filling and sandwich another round on top, then put the cakes in the fridge for 30 minutes or so. To get the chocolate coating, melt down couverture chocolate (available at most craft and baking supply stores, as well as online). Place the cold cakes on a baking rack with a sheet tray underneath. Using a pitcher, slowly pour the melted chocolate over the cakes, carefully covering all sides. Put the cakes back in the fridge to firm up the chocolate coating. Any runoff can be reused.
Now you're ready for the most important part: snacking!