Sweet sandwiches

Hand-made sandwich cookie (Styling by Corrine Kozlak, Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)

Any preschooler could name the country's most well-known dessert sandwich — the one with the vanilla cream nestled between crisp chocolate cookies.

But there's so much more to dessert sandwiches than the humble (but lovable) Oreo: Think fun-loving whoopie pies, ritzy French macarons, fresh-baked shortbread sandwiched with rich chocolate or cut-out cookies nestled around ice cream.

Dessert sandwiches offer the ultimate in post-main-course versatility. Dress them up with cacao nibs; make them kid-friendly with ice cream and sprinkles. Cut them into bite-size rounds for a buffet, or make them larger for individual desserts.

When Wilton Enterprises introduced its whoopie pie pan last year at Sur La Table stores, the seller of cake decorating supplies and bakeware was "wowed" by the response, said Nancy Siler, vice president of consumer affairs and public relations. Next up: The company will introduce an ice-cream sandwich pan this spring.

Nostalgia for childhood treats is one reason for the renewed popularity of dessert sandwiches, Siler said. But portion size is important too.

"People want to indulge, but maybe they don't want to have a seven-layer cake," she said. "When you look at smaller treats, they're just really inviting."

Homemade ice cream sandwiches beat the commercial products. Try small chocolate chip cookies with a filling of caramel ice cream, wrapped individually and stashed in the freezer for quick snacks. They hold up well for a month or two in the freezer.

Whoopie pies — cakelike, cream-filled dessert sandwiches — were born in New England, but are becoming popular across the country and have been hailed as "the next cupcake."

Maine-based writer Nancy Griffin loves the hand-held treats so much that she wrote "Making Whoopies: The Official Whoopie Pie Book." Griffin remains partial to the traditional whoopie pie, with a chocolate exterior and fluffy vanilla filling.

But, she said, "the bakers have just gone wild" with cakes embellished with chocolate chips, strawberries, coconut and other variations.

Whoopie pies were born during the Great Depression. Then, as today, tough economic times called for comforting treats, Griffin said.

"They would have been popular for people who could afford very little. So, you buy a cheap dessert with a happy name. People wanted to be cheered up."

They still do.

Chocolate whoopie pies

Prep: 1 hour
Cook: 12 minutes
Makes: 2 dozen

Note: Adapted from a recipe from the "Boston Globe's Cookbook for Brides," reprinted in "Making Whoopies: The Official Whoopie Pie Book" by Nancy Griffin.

For the pies: