Call them cake balls, call them cake pops or call them plain delicious.
Today’s news that Austin Cake Ball is hitting the Williams Sonoma catalog made me remember a 2010 story I did with uber creative Austinites Kathy Phan and Aimee Pruett. These two friends had been collaborating on the cutest cake pop posts that I asked them to teach me how they made them. We timed the story for Easter, but you could easily make these into a winter holiday dessert, too.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on March 31, 2010.
Tired of chocolate bunnies and Cadbury eggs? Sweet treats are as essential to Easter baskets as the rainbow of dyed eggs that the Easter Bunny hides each year, but this year, make room for a new treat: cake pops.
And with a few strategically placed sprinkles and chocolates, you can create animal-shaped cake pops so cute that they will send Peeps cheeping back to the marshmallow factory.
Cake pops, chocolate-coated cake balls on a stick, are the cupcake of 2010. Several local companies, including Holy Cacao and Austin Cake Ball, sell the trendy dessert that is surprisingly easy to make at home. With a box of cake mix, a can of frosting, lollipop sticks, melting chocolate (also called chocolate bark or candy melts) and a helping hand from a creative young chef in the house, you can make cake balls on a stick that might just make kids on Easter morning forget there are eggs to be hunted in the first place.
When cake ball shops started popping up around Austin last year, Kathy Phan tried them and thought they were good, but she didn’t catch cake-pop fever until she saw the cutesy cake balls on a stick that sites like Bakerella have popularized.
Phan, a crafty twentysomething with an eye for design, first made cake pops in the shape of the Twitter bird for a New Year’s party in January. Friends raved about them – where else – on the social networking site, and Phan started posting her creations on her blog, making cake pops in the shape of dogs, basketballs and fish. “For me, it’s an outlet for me to be creative, ” she says. She’s moving on to more complicated pops, like Fabergé eggs. Will she quit her day job marketing kitchen appliances online to sell cake pops? Not any time soon, she says, but she is looking for a space to make custom cake pops to start a side business.
Phan says that you can make cake pops from scratch, using homemade cake and frosting, but it’s easier and usually just as tasty to use boxed cake mix and canned frosting. The easy part is making the cake mix according to the directions on the box. The hard part is waiting until the cake has cooled entirely before starting the project. Phan says you can make the cake up to two days ahead of time, as long as you cover it well with aluminum foil.
After you’ve baked the cake and have let it cool, break it apart in a large bowl until the cake has an even crumbly texture. Mix in the can of frosting by hand or with a stand-up mixer. Depending on how moist the cake is, you might not need to use the entire can of frosting, Phan says. Then, using your hands just as you would make meatballs, roll the cake-frosting mix into small balls. (A melon baller or cookie scoop will help make evenly sized balls.) The size of the cake balls depends on the size of the lollipop or cookie sticks you’re using. For thin paper lollipop sticks, cake balls should be about the diameter of a quarter. For cookie sticks, which are made of plastic and are thicker, the cake balls can be larger. Place the cake balls on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and refrigerate for at least an hour. (You also can place them in the freezer for 30 minutes.)
To prepare the chocolate coating, heat the melting chocolate in a small dish or ceramic dipping pot in the microwave at 50 percent heat, stirring chocolate every 30 seconds until completely melted. A double boiler also works to melt the chocolate.
Phan says you’re looking for a texture that is slightly thinner than yogurt or pudding, and you might need to add a hint of shortening to thin it out.
Once the cake balls are cooled and the chocolate is warmed, dip about half an inch of the end of a stick in the chocolate coating and push about halfway into the ball. The coating helps the ball stay on the stick. After putting sticks in all the cake balls, refrigerate the cake pops again for at least 30 minutes.
When they are cooled, hold on to the stick and swirl the cake ball in the chocolate coating, covering the entire surface. (It took me a few pops to get the hang of this, but if the chocolate seems to be uneven or too thick, try heating it just a few more seconds in the microwave.)
To let the cake pop dry upright, push the stick of the pop in a foam block.
To make a chick from a basic cake pop, you’ll need yellow melting chocolate, candy-coated miniature chocolate chips, flower-shaped sprinkles and a marker with edible ink. After making a regular cake pop coated in yellow chocolate, allow the coating to set. While they are cooling, pick out orange and yellow sprinkles and chocolate chips. Using a toothpick to apply the coating, place a dab on the pop to act as glue and apply the chip and sprinkles as the beak and feet; then draw the eyes.
Using this technique, you can make a whole zoo of cake-pop animals. To make parts like ears, use the melted chocolate to create the desired shape on wax paper and let it cool. Once the shape hardens, affix it to the pop with more melted chocolate. Pretzels, licorice and chow mein also make fine arms, tails or antlers.
Phan created Fabergé eggs by piping small lines of melted white chocolate from squeeze condiment bottles and then sprinkling them with silver balls, sugar pearls or dusting sugar before the lines dry.
For a simple decoration, try sprinkling the pops with any kind of sugary sprinkle, toasted nuts or coconut just after dipping the cake balls in the chocolate coating.
Most grocery stores carry an array of cake mixes and frosting, so get creative in your flavor combinations. You could dip carrot cake mixed with cream cheese frosting in orange-colored coating. What about lemon or orange cake with vanilla frosting dipped in yellow candy melt? You can combine half peanut butter and half chocolate frosting to make cake balls that taste like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, another Easter favorite that might get squeezed out if you go cake-pop crazy this year.
Craft stores such as Hobby Lobby and Michael’s have foam blocks and many of the lollipop sticks and candy melts you’ll need to create cake pops, but specialty bake shops such as Make It Sweet have an even larger selection of chocolate colors, sprinkles and decorating supplies, including markers with edible ink. Most grocery stores will have regular or white melting chocolate or chocolate bark, but you’ll need an oil-based food coloring from a specialty bake shop to turn white chocolate into spring chick yellow.