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'More iconic than Warhol': Chefs wax nostalgic about Twinkies, Ding Dongs

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Some iconic Hostess snacks that many Americans grew up eating served as inspiration for seasoned pastry chefs.

My favorite Hostess product has always been Sno Balls, that bright pink lump of coconut-covered marshmallow that any kid would gladly take over the real thing. It’s been years since I thought about that snack, and the envy I felt toward the girl in my class who got two Sno Balls in her lunchbox. Hostess, the maker of this snack, might be closing up shop for good, the company announced Friday, prompting me and many others to wax nostalgic about their many snacks.

And while Hostess’ products are cheap, packaged, unhealthy all-American eats, even gourmands have a soft spot for them.  For many chefs and food lovers, Hostess products like Wonderbread, Ding Dongs, Dolly Madison and of course, Twinkies, bring to mind childhood.

Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese in San Francisco and New York associates the fluffy, white Wonderbread and Ding Dongs with school lunches, and remembers downing Hostess’ Texas Toast bread with barbecue. “It’s kind of crazy,” he told TODAY.com. “It’s like if Kraft stopped making macaroni and cheese.”

Pastry chef Christina Tosi of New York’s Momofuko also has a place in her palate for the spongy Hostess cakes, saying she even thought about making a dessert as an ode to the Sno Ball when she started the Momofuku dessert program. Though that idea never came to fruition, the loss of the company struck a nerve.

“I'm so bummed Hostess is closing shop,” she said. “My teenage years and school lunches revolved around their fruit pies, doughnuts and Sno Balls.”

Hostess' products actually have served as inspiration for menu offerings. California pastry chef Josh Graves told TODAY.com that his hand pies were indeed inspired by Ding Dongs he ate as a child. For pastry chef Duff Goldman, star of Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes,” the Twinkie symbolizes what inspired him to get in the kitchen in the first place.

“If I ever had an inkling to become a pastry chef as a kid, before I knew what the word was, it was based on the idea that somebody, somewhere made a Twinkie,” Goldman told TODAY.com. “I couldn't believe that was a job.”

But not everyone has fond memories of Twinkies and Ding Dongs. Celebrity chef Mario Batali responded on Twitter to and inquiry on the subject:

“Never liked the stuff RT. @BrianBernardoni: I wonder how @Mariobatali feels about the loss of the childhood favorite Twinkie and HoHo.”

Anthony Bourdain also tweeted about Twinkies:

“Don't know that I want my daughter eating them, but sad to hear Twinkies going under. I will miss them”

Zoe Nathan, a James Beard-nominated pastry chef and owner of Huckleberry in Santa Monica, Calif., echoed Bourdain's sentiments.

“It must feel really awful to have to lay off all of those people,” Nathan told TODAY.com "But from a food snob's standpoint, I'm excited.  [Hostess] didn't try to change with the times. People are going to continue eating sweets, but they'll be more thoughtful sweets. Perhaps [Hostess] should have offered a lower sugar or organic option to reflect the times."

While it's true some people may have left the Twinkie behind for healthier snack options, others have been just as happy to deep fry the spongy cake, and now, deep-fried Twinkies are almost as iconic a dessert as the original. Foodie website Eater even put together a list of restaurants where one could still procure the fatty treat, in advance of the "Twinkie apocalypse."

Chip Shop, a restaurant in Brooklyn, sells around 100 of them a week and owner Chris Sell was at first devastated. While experts say it's unlikely Hostess treats will actually disappear, Sells was quick to research an alternative, one that other Twinkie fans might flock to as well.

“Little Debbie has a product called the Cloud Cake, and it’s everything a Twinkie is but the name,” he said. “The Twinkie is dead, long live the Cloud Cake!”

While Americans will certainly find other snacks, for chef Duff Goldman, nothing can ever replace the Twinkie.

"These desserts are more iconic than Warhol ... ," he said. "Twinkies are just part of who we are as Americans."

Krista Simmons contributed to this report. 

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