Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Goodbye, Twinkie; Hello, Dinah Finger
Is a Twinkie by any other name still a Twinkie?
The Red Arrow 24 Hour Diner would tell you it's even better.
For the past several years, the iconic Manchester restaurant has been baking Dinah Fingers, golden cream-filled snack cakes that would make Twinkie the Kid cry copycat.
"I've never been a Twinkie fan, but I'm a Dinah Finger fan, said Brian Medynksi, the diner's general manager. "When they come right out of the oven, that's when I put cream in them. I'll eat them when they are still warm."
News that Hostess is shutting down operations and eliminating 18,500 jobs, including hundreds in Maine and Massachusetts, has become less a story about the downfall of a giant baking company than America's obsession with the Twinkie.
Even though the death of the Twinkie is premature - the maker of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer is reportedly among the companies that want to scoop up Hostess' assets - the Internet and social media have been abuzz with eulogies for the supposedly indestructible snack cake.
That's been good news for the Red Arrow, which has generated some buzz for its homemade knockoff while grocery store shelves become depleted of what could be the last batch for a while of the industrial-baked variety.
The Red Arrow bakes Dinah Fingers at both its Manchester and Milford locations. At the Manchester restaurant alone, the company makes 400 to 500 a week, Medynksi said. Most of the cakes sell individually for $1.50, but the restaurant also uses them for its strawberry shortcake and has been known to give them away for a patron's birthday.
Medynski, who joined the Red Arrow three years ago, has a shorter history at the restaurant than the Dinah Finger, but he's pretty sure of its origins.
"They were looking for a quick type of staple-item dessert that a customer can grab that is not three or four dollars. Pay a buck-and-half and you're ready to rock," he said.
Medynski touts the Red Arrow's version of the Twinkie as made from more wholesome ingredients - remember when "wholesome" was the catchword of Hostess TV commercials? - and says they are a little bit larger than the boxed variety.
"The shape is a little bit different," he said. "Twinkies are a little smaller and less dense."
A look behind the scenes at the diner on Friday offered proof we're dealing with an honest-to-goodness homemade snack cake.
While short-order cooks were busily preparing cheeseburgers, fried chicken fingers and omelettes, Lindsay Brigham was on the other side of the kitchen cracking eggs into a stainless steel bowl, separating the whites so she could then spin them in a restaurant-grade Hobart electric mixer.
After the eggs were whipped into a meringue-like froth, she stirred them into a big bowl of yellow cake batter, which she said was to make the cakes fluffy. She didn't have an exact count on how many eggs she had cracked to prepare enough batter for about 50 Dinah Fingers.
"Too many," the 23-year-old said.
The ingredient listing for Twinkies says they contain animal shortening and/or vegetable shortening. Asked whether Dinah Fingers contain any lard, Medysnski, the general manager, laughed.
"Never. We use standard vegetable shortening," he said.
Oh, and most importantly, Red Arrow's cakes are a superior culinary experience to the everyday ordinary golden cream-filled snack. "Dinah Fingers taste fresh. They taste homemade," Medynski said.
His basis for comparison, however, is based on a fuzzy memory: "I can't remember the last time I had an actual Twinkie."
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Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.