Do you love a good challenge? After all, it’s called a comfort zone for a reason. The tried-and-true is safe, a known quantity, and yet…sometimes a challenge can be appealing. That can-I-pull-this-off-even-if-it-hasn’t-worked-before feeling can propel me into trying something new or trying something once more in the hopes of a better result. It’s how we grow, right? One of my favorite sayings as a kid was “only those that risk going too far can possibly find how far they can go.” Pretty powerful stuff. Of course, there’s the saying “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Hmmm…well, as I said in Taking a risk I do like to try new recipes (or at least get better at them). Case in point: cake pops.
(What is challenging about cake pops? They’re just little balls of cake on a stick and dipped in chocolate.)
The pitfalls are numerous, but here are but a few…first of all, impaling any food runs the risk of it falling off, so I try to avoid that hazard whenever possible. Next, if you’ve had commercially made cake pops they might look cute and all, but they can go from dry, tasteless bits of sawdust-on-a-stick to greasy balls of mush, and who wants that? You need to find the perfect balance of cake-to-frosting to combat those two opposing endpoints. Finally, the chocolate coating…what can I say, but dipping things into melted chocolate is harder than it should be because the chocolate has to be tempered* in order for it to have that lovely matte finish and pleasing “snap” when you break it.[* Nerd Alert: Tempering chocolate is when you heat and cool melted chocolate to specific temperatures (based on the type of chocolate you’re using) in order to get the cocoa crystals to align properly. Untempered chocolate doesn’t snap (it more like breaks feebly) and can develop a whitish powdery substance on the surface (called blooming). In other words, just melting chocolate and sticking stuff into it just won’t cut it if you want a quality product.]
(So if cake pops are so hard, why do it?)
Well, it was a challenge, and I wanted to see if I could do it. To be specific, making Chocolate Cake Pops was the February Baking Challenge from Sally’s Baking Addiction…Sally made the whole process less daunting, more doable. Coincidentally, I had an occasion for which I wanted to bring a treat, and cake pops seemed a tasty and impressive way to have chocolaty goodness. Actually, the most important reason is that my younger daughter’s birthday is Sunday (as of this posting date) and my older daughter was going down to visit her this weekend, so I decided to surprise them with a treat to share. Food is love, after all.
The directions and tips below are all taken directly from Sally’s website. However, I myself didn’t make Chocolate Cake Pops (wait, what?!?)…I made Chocolate Cake Balls instead (…oh…). I didn’t have any popsicle sticks when I set out to make them, and besides, they were more portable (and suitcase-friendly) when the sticks were ditched. I also used pure tempered chocolate (not candy melts, which taste artificial to me). All the pictures here show my version, but you can head to the website to see how Sally herself makes cake pops. The same general process applies in any case.
yield: 40 CAKE POPS
prep time: 2 HOURS
cook time: 26 MINUTES
total time: 6-7 HOURS (INCLUDES CHILLING AND COOLING)
CAKE POPPING PROCESS
- Make single layer chocolate cake
- Make just enough homemade chocolate frosting
- Crumble the cake
- Mix the two together
- Form into cake balls
- Dip the cake balls in chocolate
3 EASY TRICKS
- To ensure the cake ball stays secure on the lollipop stick, dip it slightly into the coating first. Then stick in the center of the cake ball.
- A 2-cup glass liquid measuring cup is the perfect depth for dipping the cake pops.
- The best way to allow the coating to dry and set– without ruining the perfectly round cake pop– is to place them right side up in a large styrofoam block or even a box. I used a box…I just poked super tiny holes into it. Easy and cheap.
- 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 6 Tablespoons (31g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder (1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (120mll) canola, vegetable, or melted coconut oil
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (120ml) hot water
- 6 Tablespoons (86g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup (90g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 cup (41g) unsweetened natural or dutch-process cocoa powder
- 2-3 teaspoons heavy cream or milk
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 32 ounces candy melts or coating (or pure chocolate)**
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease a 9-inch pan (round or square) or 9-inch springform pan.
- Make the cake: Whisk the flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. Whisk the oil, eggs, and vanilla together in a medium bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, add the hot water, and whisk everything together until combined. Make sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients hiding.
- Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 25-27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack. (It’s best to bake & cool the cake the day before you want to make the pops)
- Make the frosting: With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. This isn’t a lot of butter and it will get stuck on the sides of the bowl, so you may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to really help get it creamed. Add confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons of heavy cream/milk, and vanilla extract with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until it really comes together. Add another teaspoon of milk/cream if it looks a little too thick.
- Crumble the cooled cake into the bowl on top of the frosting. Make sure there are no large lumps. Turn the mixer on low and beat the frosting and cake crumbles together until combined.
- Measure 1 scant Tablespoon of moist cake mixture and roll into a ball. Place balls on a lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 2 hours or freeze for 1 hour.
- Melt the coating in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup (best for dunking!). Use a microwave or you can use a double boiler and pour some at a time into the liquid measuring cup. Let the coating cool down for a few minutes before you begin dipping. If it’s too hot when you dip, the coating will crack. (Note, if you’re using pure chocolate, temper it then pour some into the measuring cup & keep the rest warm).
- Coat the cake balls: Remove only 2-3 cake balls from the refrigerator at a time. (Keep the rest cold!) Dip a lollipop stick about 1/2 inch into the coating, then insert into the center or the cake ball. Only push it about halfway – 3/4 through the cake ball. Dip the cake ball into the coating until it is completely covered. Make sure the coating covers the base of the cake ball where it meets the lollipop stick. Very gently tap the stick against the edge of the measuring cup to allow excess coating to drop off. Decorate the top with sprinkles and place upright into a styrofoam block or box. Repeat with remaining cake balls, only working with some out of the refrigerator at a time. The cake balls must be very cold when dipping!
- Coating will set within an hour. Store cake pops in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Make ahead tip: I always make the cake 1 day ahead of time. Cover and keep at room temperature. You can store the undipped cake balls in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or freeze them for up to 6 weeks. Allow to thaw in the refrigerator then continue with step 7. You can also freeze the finished cake pops for up to 6 weeks once the coating has fully set. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
** You can use candy coating/candy melts, almond bark, or pure semi-sweet chocolate. If using almond bark or pure chocolate, chop it up before melting. Melt it down with 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil to thin out so it’s easier to use as a coating. Bittersweet, white chocolate, or milk chocolate work as well. Keep warm over a double boiler. You can also temper pure chocolate for the coating.
Sally really did a great job of explaining the steps, and the results of her recipe were wonderful. Nothing artificial tasting here…just rich cake surrounded by a satisfying dark chocolate shell. I still need to work on my dipping technique (some balls were messier than others), and it’s important to keep the tempered chocolate warm so it doesn’t become hard to work with. All in all, challenge accepted…challenge accomplished!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
p.s. to my birthday girl down south: you look a challenge in the face and spit in its eye…saying “you can’t” to you just makes you more determined to succeed. You may be growing older but your spirit refuses to grow up, and I love that about you. Happy birthday to my #1 second-born sweetheart!