Chocolate cake pops are a rich, bite-sized bits of cake goodness drenched in a candy coating of pure chocolate. They’re a process to make, but well worth the effort!
To try or not to try…
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: chocolate 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.
Chocolate in a temper
[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 homemade 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.
How to make cake pops
The actual cake-popping process is pretty straightforward:
- 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
Sounds simple, right?
For me the most tedious step of the whole project is tempering the chocolate and dipping all the balls. It’s slow work waiting for the chocolate to heat and cool properly, and you have to keep cleaning the dipping tools so the dipped cake pops release easier onto the baking pan. On the positive side, there’s all those chocolate bits to taste (what, do you really think I’d let it go to waste, did you?).
Updated July, 2018: The second time I made these cake pops, I had better dipping tools and a better way to keep the tempered chocolate warm using a KitchenAid Precise Heat Mixing Bowl. Both these items made the whole dipping so much easier!
Sally really did a great job of explaining the steps, and the results of her recipe were wonderful. With my substitutions, there was 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!
Chocolate Cake Pops
- 9-inch round cake pan
- stand mixer with paddle attachment or hand mixer
- small cookie scoop
- dipping tools
- half sheet baking pan
- Silpat or parchment paper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (125g), spooned & leveled
- 1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
- 6 Tbsp cocoa powder (1 oz, 31g), unsweetened natural
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup canola, vegetable, or melted coconut oil (120mll
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup hot water (120ml)
- 6 Tbsp butter (86g), unsalted, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar (90g)
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder (41g), unsweetened natural or dutch-process
- 2-3 tsp heavy cream or milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 32 oz chocolate (dark or semi-sweet), preferably tempered (see Recipe Notes)
- decorations, cocoa nibs, sprinkles, etc
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with baking spray.
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.
- 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 stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or hand mixer, 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 powdered 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 using a small cookie scoop or 2 spoons. Place the balls on a half sheet baking pan lined with a Silpat or parchment paper.. Refrigerate for 2 hours or freeze for 1 hour. Transfer the cake balls to a plate and keep in the regrigerator (you need the sheet pan for the dipped cake pops)
- Melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowlthe top of a double boiler. 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. If you're using pure chocolate, temper it, keeping it warm as needed.
Coat the cake balls
- Remove only 2-3 cake balls from the refrigerator at a time, keeping the rest cold. Once at a time, dip the cake pop in the chocolate, then use a dipping tool to remove it from the bowl. Gently tap the ball on the side of the bowl to allow excess chocolate to drip off. Transfer the cake pop onto the Silpat-lined sheet pan, turning it upside down and gently swirling the cake pop off the dipping tool. Periodically clean the dipping tools so the cake balls release easily. Repeat the dipping process with the remaining cake pops, 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 the cake pops in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- Make ahead tip: 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 them to thaw in the refrigerator then continue with dipping them. You can also freeze the finished cake pops for up to 6 weeks once the coating has fully set. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
- Use a 2-cup measuring cup to hold the melted chocolate...it's best for dipping using a popsicle stick.
- 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.
- 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. Sally used a box...she just poked super tiny holes into it. Easy and cheap.