As rational human beings, we are all aware that some things we eat and drink are better for us than others. A glass of water is superior to a sugary cola after exercise, for instance, and an apple is nutritionally more sound than a cream-filled Twinkie or Swiss Roll.
So why do we so often reach for the less beneficial option? The answer, of course, is indulgence. That is why the snack cake endures as an American favorite, even many decades after America’s fitness obsession first took hold.
After fully exploring the category by wandering through the snack food aisles of various grocery stores, I settled on five principal snack cake categories: cream-filled vanilla cakes, cream-filled chocolate cakes, fruit pies, oversized cookie sandwiches, and various forms of glazed or frosted dough, from packaged donuts to honey buns. Then I got to work.
What became quickly apparent is the satisfying symmetry of the American snack cake partnering pretty perfectly with the iconic American spirit: bourbon. When pairing Twinkies and bourbon, however, target a whiskey with ample oak and vanilla richness and not too high a proof, since excess alcohol strength will overwhelm the cake-and-cream combination.
After trying several whisky styles with the chocolate and cream-filled Little Debbie Swiss Rolls, I concluded that scotch single malt is the way to go, either with abundant richness for a complementary pairing or impressive peatiness to develop a more contrasting relationship. I eventually settled on the peat, though it took me some time and quite a few Swiss Rolls to get there.
When it came to the Little Debbie Honey Bun, which various savants suggest is superior to the Hostess version, on a whim I tried Canadian Club Chronicles 42 year old, and found the combination to be quite superb. The bun’s sweet, cake-like character drew forward every last bit of spice in the spirit, creating a decadent cinnamon-bun experience that can be replicated with most moderately rye-forward Canadian whiskies.
Where hand-held or, as Drake’s Cakes puts it, “personal” fruit pies are concerned, the issue is more the pastry and glaze than the fruit filling, since the ratio of the former to the latter is much higher than in a regular fruit pie. I found that contrasting the sweet dough with something bold and spicy, like a straight rye, serves best. I settled in with a Wild Turkey rye poured over a couple of cubes of ice.
Lastly, while there might be a touch of romanticism involved in the idea that a whiskey from Ireland, a country so associated with oatmeal, would pair well with two oatmeal cookies sandwiched around cream, there is definitely a flavor connection between the Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie and a sweet, rich, lemony whiskey like Hinch 5 year old Double Wood.
Doubling Down on Indulgence
Little Debbie Swiss Roll & Ardbeg Wee Beastie
A simple partnership that mixes smoke and chocolate to delightful effect, with a cream addition that complements both.
Little Debbie Honey Bun & Canadian Club Reserve
The bun coaxes out the spice of the spirit just as it did to the 42 year old, while the sweet oakiness of the whisky adds depth to the flavor of the bun.
Hostess Twinkie & Four Roses poured over an ice ball
With the ice taking the edge off the spicy spirit, the vanilla is allowed to emerge and enhance the flavor of the snack cake.