In 1934, a lively red haired man named O.D. McKee used his new panel truck as collateral for a $288 loan on a cookie shop. He wanted to compete with the snack wagons, which catered to industrial workers in those days. So in 1935, he began to experiment with the hard oatmeal cookie his little shop was baking at the time. He made formula changes to make the cookie soft. He put two of his soft oatmeal cookies together with fluffy filling in-between. These new “creme pies” sold for a nickel. Mr. McKee was always looking for better ways to make his products. He expanded his company time after time. Once he had to fill in for an employee who was absent. All day he turned a hand crank. Later, he drove to a salvage yard and found a gear from an old washing machine. He went back to the bakery, replaced the hand crank, added a small motor, and began the automation process, which turned his small bakery into one of the largest producers of snack cakes and wafers in the nation. “The Oatmeal Creme Pie has been our mainstay”, said Mr. McKee, with a twinkle in his eye. It’s still the favorite and as good a value today as it was 50 years ago.
The brand Little Debbie is better known than the company itself. Debbie is the granddaughter of founders O.D. and Ruth Mckee, and daughter of Ellsworth McKee, the current chairman of the board and chief administrative officer.
In the 1960s, the McKees decided to name a product after one of their grandchildren, 4 year old Debbie. The photo was taken by a company called Olan Mills. The original photo was black-and-white, and an Atlanta artist, Pearl Mann, did the original color artwork. She made Debbie look older, around 8 or 9. Minor changes were made to the photo in 1987.
1 and 1/4 cups unsalted butter (2.5 sticks), softened to room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon dark molasses
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 cups uncooked quick-cooking oats (NOT whole-rolled oats)
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons heavy cream (using anything with less fat will result in a much less creamy consistency)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt, as needed.
Preheat oven to 375F degrees. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Set aside.
With a stand or handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugars together at medium speed until light and creamy. Add egg, vanilla, and molasses, scraping down the sides as needed. Set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves. Whisk it all around. Add the quick oats and combine.
With the mixer running on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to wet ingredients. The dough will be quite thick and you may have to mix it all by hand after a few seconds in the mixer. Drop dough with a large cookie scoop, or make sure each ball of dough is 2 Tablespoons in measurement. Cookies will spread in the oven, so drop each ball of dough 2 inches apart.
Bake for 10 minutes, until cookies are lightly golden around the edges. Allow cookies to cool on cookie sheet for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the filling: With a stand or handheld mixer, beat butter for about 1 minute until creamy. Add the powdered sugar and mix on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Pour in heavy cream and vanilla extract. Mix on high for 3-4 minutes until fluffy. Taste and add a pinch or two of salt, as needed. If filling is way too thick, add a couple more teaspoons of heavy cream. Spread 1.5 Tablespoons of cream filling on the bottom side of half of cookies; top with remaining cookies, right side up.
Cookies stay fresh and soft (with creme filling) at room temperature for 2 days in an airtight container. After that, store in the refrigerator to keep the creme center fresh. These are best eaten within 2 days.