I've spent a lot of time thinking about Hostess and its sister snack companies—Little Debbie, Tastykake, Frito-Lay, and the like—over the past year while writing my cookbook Classic Snacks Made from Scratch. Creating the book's 70 recipes meant tasting every single treat under consideration until I nailed the homemade version; I've probably taken more bites of Sno-Balls and lemon fruit pies in 2012 than I had in the preceding decade.
Casey's homemade Hostess-style cupcakes
As adults, we file our love for Twinkies and their brethren as guilty pleasures: though I'm not a girl who embarrasses easily, you can bet I stuck to the supermarket self-checkout when my cart was filled with nothing but Krimpets, Mallomars, and Zingers. But I know I'm not the only 30-something with a hearty appreciation for all things kitschy, and it's clear that the unapologetically retro Hostess cakes hold a cherished place in our collective memory. Like knowing all the words to "Walking on Sunshine," there's a part of us that never forgets the pleasure (and teeth-rattling sweetness) of our first Ring Ding.
As I tested recipes for the cookbook and offered samples of homemade Devil Dogs and Hostess cupcakes to my friends, it was a gas to watch their faces light up with recognition. Their surprised, gleeful reactions proved that these snacks were hitting a happy nerve; one taste and we were all sitting around the school lunch table again.
Casey's homemade Red Zingers
We all joked about how a Twinkie would survive the apocalypse, but Friday's news of Hostess's liquidation called their very indestructibility into question. As I became an unofficial grief counselor, fielding calls and Facebook messages from friends stunned by the prospect of a world without Hostess, I was once again reminded of the surprisingly deep chord these snacks strike in our hearts. They're so often disparaged as a cultural punchline, but a spongy cream-filled cake can have an emotional effect greater than a French madeleine.
Casey Barber is a freelance food writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in Gourmet Live, Better Homes & Gardens, iVillage, ReadyMade, DRAFT, Time Out New York, and other print/online publications. She contributes regularly to Serious Eats as Slice's New Jersey correspondent. Casey is the author of the forthcoming cookbook Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats (Ulysses Press, 2013).
→ Visit Casey's blog: Good. Food. Stories