I Heart Hostess: An Appreciation for the Fallen Snack Cake

Guest Post

Did you hear that Twinkies are about to be no more? As much as we love to hate those spongy confections, they do hold an outsized place in American food kitsch and childhood nostalgia. Our friend Casey Barber brings us a few thoughts on the subject!

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.

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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.

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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

Related: What's In a Twinkie? Photos of 37 or So Ingredients

(Images: Flickr member Christian Cable licensed for use under Creative Commons; Casey Barber)

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