Friday, December 23, 2011

Fun & Festive Cake Pops

Hello readers! As many of you know, while this week has ended with cozy family holiday time, it began with a move from Philadelphia to my new home in western Massachusetts and a bit of chaos in between. All went smoothly, though, and now I am happy to be on Cape Cod with my loved ones for the holidays.

... But lets get back to the reason we are all here. Food.

Every year for the last 7 Christmases or so, my sister Allie and I have baked, dipped, or otherwise assembled a seasonal treat for our extended family members as low-cost, high-cheer-impact Christmas gifts. We've made many types of treats, from ginger lemon cookies the first year to pretzel rods dipped in chocolate and rolled in chopped pistachios, but we always have a riot of a time working together in the kitchen. In pretty festive packaging, even the simplest sweets make very welcome gifts. This year we thought we would try something new and adventurous, the cake pop. Also known as cake balls or cakesicles, they happen to be very trendy at the moment, stealing some thunder from the fading cupcake craze.

We began with the very clever and simple technique described on The Kitchn (not a typo). But, rather than making our cake from scratch, we turned to the good people at Trader Joe's. Basically, this method involves baking a cake, crumbling it up, making a simple cream cheese frosting, and combining the two into tasty little morsels on sticks. We baked two batches each of TJ's Truffle Brownie Mix (dipped in milk chocolate) and Vanilla Cake & Baking Mix (dipped in white chocolate), decorated with festive silver and gold dragees and crushed candy canes. You could decorate your pops with sprinkles, coconut, colored sugar, mini marshmallows, or even mini M&Ms. These are so much fun to make, gift and eat.

Since most of us are baking for a crowd this time of year, this recipe is for two boxes of mix and enough frosting to glue it all together.

Ingredients & Supplies:
2 boxes Trader Joe's Truffle Brownie Mix or Vanilla Cake & Baking Mix (these each call for butter, eggs, and milk, so read the package before you finalize your shopping list)
2 cups confectioner's sugar
4 tablespoons butter
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
About 1 tablespoon milk (or more, as needed)
12 oz. dark, milk or white chocolate for dipping (you can use meltable chocolate, found at craft stores, or regular bar chocolate with a small square of edible wax optional for a more melt-resistant shell)
Cardboard or plastic lollipop sticks (get these at Michael's, A.C. Moore or other craft stores; may need to be cut to size)
Cookie sheets or trays
Wax or parchment paper
Cookie and/or cake decorations of your choice

1. Bake your cake according to the package directions. (In a large baking dish, you can bake both boxes at once). Let cake cool completely, ideally overnight.
2. Using two forks or your hands, break the cake up into fine crumbs. (We did forks then hands).
3. In a separate bowl, whip together the butter, sugar, milk and cream cheese until smooth. Pour into the cake crumbs and mix with a spoon. [Note: If using the brownie mix, add about 2/3 of the icing, mix, and check texture. The full frosting recipe may not be needed.] Continue mixing with your fingers, until frosting is fully incorporated into the cake.
4. Try rolling the dough into a ball. If it is malleable and holds its shape (as it should be), it's ready to go. If it is too dry, add milk a teaspoon at a time until the dough is easy to mold. When the dough is ready, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. Dough can be refrigerated for up to three days.
5. To make your pops, first line 3 or 4 baking sheets with wax paper or parchment. Take about a tablespoon of dough, roll it into a smooth ball. Insert the stick and place ball on paper-lined baking sheet. As you fill up the sheets, stick them in the freezer to harden the balls.
6. To decorate your pops, melt the chocolate (and wax, if you're using it) in a double-boiler on the stove, or in the microwave, taking care not to over-heat it. Dip the ball in, and place back on the papered baking sheet. Dip in sugar, chopped nuts, or coconut, or sprinkle with your decoration of choice.
Gold and silver dragees and smashed candy canes for decorating.
So pretty!
[A Note about Decorating: Since you want your sprinkles or what-have-yous to stick well to the chocolate before it hardens, we found that the best assembly method was for one person to do the dipping and the other to do the decorating, trading jobs occasionally.]

Please enjoy this fantastic video of the cake-pop making process, made by my future brother in law Sebastian Ebarb of Sebastian Ebarb Design. It features overly dramatic Trans-Siberian Orchestra music chosen by yours truly, and hand-modeling appearances by both Allie and myself. (Photos in this post are also his handiwork).

Cake Pop from Sebastian Ebarb on Vimeo.

We way underestimated the total number of sticks we would need, so we ended up with some cake "bites" that can't really be called pops. Still, they are just as delicious as they are adorable. You will probably need about 50 sticks, to be on the safe side.

Pops in process. The naked vanilla ones look a lot like plain donut holes!
After the slight snap of biting through the chocolate shell, you reach the super moist, rich center. These can be frozen, but don't refrigerate them or the chocolate shell will get weepy and strange. Of course, these are meant as an occasional treat, so indulge in moderation, but "tis the season," so whatever.

Happy Holidays, everybody! With love from my kitchen to yours,

UPDATE: It was unfair of me to talk of festive packaging and not show you what ours looked like all ready to be gifted, so here is a glimpse:

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