Jennifer Steinhauer covers Capital Hill for The New York Times -- and bakes Twinkies in her spare time.

When Hostess filed for Chapter 11 bankruptsy protection back in 2012, Steinhauer, a life-long lover of snacks, or "junk food connoisseur," as she says, was inspired. Already a foodie (she has a column on Food 52), she set out to see if she could replicate the snacks of her childhood. She wrote an article in The Times about the experiment, and brought treats to the Washington bureau on Monday's. She told her co-workers, enjoy, but give me "honest feedback."

"People would tell me stories from their childhood, about a special store or a memory... It was this funny getting to know you thing," Steinhauer said.

And so her experiment turned into something much bigger: an exploration of memory and nostalgia and how they relate to food. Also, a cookbook!

"Treat Yourself" features 70 recipes of classic snacks (tagline: You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today), and stories, both humourous and touching, to go with each. Steinhauer recounts the ritual of going to 7-11 with her father, and the drive home in a smoke-filled car eating Twinkies, with tenderness.

Steinhaur's cookbook is not just a paean to snacks that are very bad for you. By creating at-home recipes of the classics, she actually makes these treats a bit better for you.

"A snack cake is a snack cake," she said jokingly. "But [at least] you know what's in it."

"Treat Yourself" will show you how to make Moonpies, Mallomars, Strawberry Pop Tarts, Fig Netwons, Heath Bars and Thin Mints, among other classic snacks. Here's Steinhauer's recipe for Twinkies, which she calls "the ultimate snack cake."

Twinkies


Makes 14 cakes

For the cake

  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ? cup whole milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

For the filling

  • ½ cup marshmallow fluff
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 5 tablespoons salted butter, softened

1.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Use unsalted butter or nonstick cooking spray to lightly grease your muffin pan or canoe pan.

2.
Make the cake batter: Separate the eggs into two separate bowls, yolks in one and whites in the other. In a heavy-duty stand mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Transfer the egg whites to a clean bowl.

3.
In a heavy-duty stand mixer, cream the butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Add the egg yolks and continue to beat until the mixture is thick, creamy, and pale yellow, about 4 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and milk, and beat for an additional 5 seconds. Gently stir a third of the egg whites into the mixture by hand.

4.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the remaining egg whites to the wet mixture, folding them in by hand until just incorporated. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, and gently combine the two mixtures just until all the dry ingredients are incorporated.
 
5.
Spoon the batter into the canoe or muffin pans, filling each cup with ¼ cup of batter. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the cakes are lightly golden and spring back when lightly touched. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
 
6.
Make the filling: In a clean bowl and using an electric hand or stand mixer, beat the marshmallow fluff, powdered sugar, and the 5 tablespoons butter until combined and fluffy, about 1 minute.
 
7.
Turn each cake over so the flat side is facing up. Using the handle of a small fork or spoon, gently make three holes in the flat side of each cake, spaced evenly apart and not too large. (If using a muffin tin, make just one hole in the center of each cake.) Gently rotate the utensil in each hole to create a small cavity at each opening. Transfer the filling to a piping bag and fill each opening with just enough marshmallow mixture to fill each hole. Serve immediately.