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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happy Hour Martini Cake Balls - How to make them.

I've been experimenting quite a bit with these little guys...and they've become a staple outlet for my manic creativity urges...or splurges. I've trial and error'd my way through all the internet recipes and tips/tricks for making cake pops and I'm currently devoted to a pretty honed in process. It is my pleasure to share it with you and hopefully you can use it or take from it what you need for your process. Because anyone who has attempted cake pops knows it is not a simple as it seems and almost every step requires the skill of seasoned cake popper to avoid the "1 good pop for every 10 bad ones" technique. Read on to learn my steps on how to make cake pops and scroll down to follow my steps to decorating your cake pops like my Happy Hour Martini ones.

How to Make Basic Cake Balls/Cake Pops

Basic Ingredients - Cake mix (and ingredients to bake a cake), jar of icing, sweetened condensed milk, vegetable shorting in block form, almond bark or candy melts, skewers or lolli sticks, foam board, sprinkles or candy to decorate.

A basic cake ball's consistency is very...well, basic. Cake and icing. So you want to get your box of cake mix (and ingredients needed to bake it) and jar of icing, taking into consideration flavors that compliment each other. I have recently become more adventurous using other mixing agents other than icing from a jar (like Nutella and condensed milk) but at first, I stuck to...the basics:) Some ideas: Strawberry cake and strawberry icing, chocolate cake and chocolate icing, lemon cake and lemon icing, red velvet cake and cream cheese icing, and brownie mix and milk chocolate icing, white cake and vanilla whipped icing adding package of powdered icing flavoring.

If you're using a mix, simply follow the instructions on the box. Bake it just as you would if intended result was an entire cake.

Let the cake cool enough so you aren't burning yourself handling it but cooling is not for any other reason than that. So whenever you can stand it, dig in! I cut the cake into equal sections and start crumbling each section, with my hands, over a large mixing bowl until the whole cake is devolved into crumbles. DO NOT CRUMBLE THE CAKE INTO DUST OR SUPER FINE PIECES. Once you add your icing or mixing agent you still have a lot of kneading and breaking down of the cake to do and if you are working with such a fine mixture, your cake balls will be waaaaay too doughy and gooey. A couple taste tests resulting in, "PLEGH! (Spitting out of cake ball bite) This isn't cooked!" and you'll understand.

Adding icing into your crumbled cake will give you a yummy, easy to roll and shape dough. So many recipes I've read call for 1 jar or icing to 1 box cake mix but I find (and my taste-testers agree) that a whole jar of icing is way too much. It makes the cake balls too liquidy and under-baked tasting and also too sweet. I suggest 1/3 to 1/2 jar of icing to 1 cake mix. Taste-testers also gave two thumbs up to cake balls in which I added sweetened condensed milk coupled with whipped icing to the cake...I used about 1/4 jar whipped icing and about 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk. Once you've made a few batches, you will be able to eye-ball it and know when you've got THE mix depending on the consistency. Using a fork works great to blend the icing into the crumbled cake until icing is distributed into the mixture evenly and you have a dough. (One box of cake mix makes a large batch of cake balls so I suggest using a couple different flavors of icing/mixing agents after crumbling the cake into two bowls or three if you have three different mixing agents or icing flavors. Again the powered icing flavor packages come in handy here so you're not opening several jars of icing and dumping or saving and never using the rest.)

Stick your bowl of dough in the freezer for 15 mins. This will make it easy to roll the mixture into balls/shapes. You can save the mixture to roll for later or even another day by keeping dough in refrigerator or freezer but be sure to cover if you do to avoid any fragrance from other foods seeping into your dough. Nothing worse than "Fish Taco Cake Balls".
From your dough bowl, you are going to pull out chunks and roll into balls 1 inch in diameter. I've found an inch and a half to be too big! Once you've iced/decorated inch and a half dough balls, they are too heavy to maneuver, especially on sticks (they fall off), AND half the treat gets tossed in the trash anyway because people cannot eat a whole one at an inch and a half. Place each perfectly round ball onto a pan covered with aluminum foil or wax paper and refrigerate/freeze again for 15 minutes. You can save the balls to ice for later or even another day by refrigerating or freezing with cover.

If you are making Happy Hour Martini cake balls, do NOT proceed to step 7 but scroll down to the How To instructions below. Onward to step 7 to continue traditional cake pops.

You will need your foam board close or in your freezer. You will be dipping, decorating and setting one cake ball pop in the foam to dry/set all in the matter of about fifteen seconds so your space will need to be arranged for efficiency. I have my foam board in the freezer, my dough balls on a pan next to my mircrowave, and aluminum foil covering my counter where I coat and sprinkle/decorate the cake balls. Because I work with different colors and flavors of almond bark/candy coating in one batch of cake balls, I prefer using the microwave over a double boiler/melting pot so I can use multiple microwave safe containers instead of all the scraping, cleaning and reheating that goes along with the one-pot-process. If you have tried and failed with the microwave before, please read on. I feel your frustration. I've lived it. I think I've come out on the other side though. I use barbeque skewers for sticks. They are long so I break them in half or start by using scissors to cut them in the middle and then break them on the cut. Lolli sticks work just fine, but they are a bit larger in diameter which makes a larger hole in the cake ball when inserted and ultimately the risk of the cake ball sliding down the stick once they become heavier with the chocolate coating is larger too. In order to help your balls stay on the sticks, you need to first dunk the sticks into melted almond bark or candy melts (melting instructions in step 8) about 1/2 an inch and then put the melted chocolate end of the stick straight into your dough balls. Best that you repeat this for your entire batch, followed by another short vacation in the freezer with sticks in place, and then begin coating them with melted almond bark or candy melts.

So you have your dough pops ready for dipping...
Grab a few squares of your white almond bark or if you are using candy melts, a couple handfuls and put into a microwave safe container. Again, I've trial/error'd every type of container, mug, bowl, etc. you can think of and it's the small ZipLock containers that are perfect in size as well as conducting and distributing the heat from the microwave evenly so your coating doesn't burn when melting. Fill the container about halfway with candy melts or a couple squares of almond bark and microwave on half power for 30 seconds. Stir contents though not much melting has begun. Microwave in 30 second intervals while stirring in between until melting has taken over about half of the bark/melts. Now it's time to add the vegetable shortening to thin the coating. DON'T BE CRAZY AND SKIP THIS STEP. If you forgot to get shortening, go to the grocery now and save yourself a couple hairs that you would be pulling out of your head should you proceed without it. Add shortening by the tablespoon, stirring then microwaving in 30 second intervals. You may need to add bark/melts to attain a consistency adequate for flawless coating and have enough in your container to be able to dip and engulf the cake ball. "Tasty Cake Pops" on YouTube rocked this procedure in her tutorial. I suggest you watch it if the process isn't quite coming together in text.








Color Coating - If you are using white almond bark/candy melts and want your coating to be colored, add food coloring or icing dye, a little at a time in between heatings/stirrings until desired tint achieved.

Once your coating is warm and smooth, you can start dipping the cake pops. Cover the ball entirely with the coating, then let excess drip by holding the pop sideways or ball down. Tapping the stick on the side of the melting container while spinning it slowly helps remove excess coating so your coating finish is flawless in texture. If you are going to add sprinkles or decorations you have to be very quick. The coating cannot dry before you decorate or nothing will stick. Dry time begins the moment the pop is removed from the coating and is completely set in about 10 seconds.

When you are done decorating your cake pop, put the pop stick into the foam board (I put them in at a slant so the ball doesn't get too heavy and start to slide down the stick.) and let them set. Again, I have my foam board already in the freezer so when I put each pop into it, the cold air helps them set quicker and avoids dripping or moving of the ball. I like to keep the pops on the foam board in the freezer for 20 mins or until outside is hard and then remove them and place them on a foiled cookie sheet or place in large Ziplocks. Store cool but do not keep in freezer for long periods or the coating will crack and the dough will harden.

(Click foam board image to purchase.)

Decorating Happy Hour Martini Cake Pops
(Mini plastic martini glasses bought at Party City)

Ingredients/Materials - Green food coloring or food coloring gel, white almond bark or white candy melts and plain M&Ms (orange).

This really is the easiest deco idea I've done...and easiest not to mess up. All my olives looked pretty perfect.

Once you are ready to make your cake balls turn into martini olives (after completing steps 1-6 above) you just need to be ready with green food coloring or food coloring gel and orange plain M&Ms. BEFORE YOU PUT YOUR STICKS INTO YOUR DOUGH BALLS, you need to make a hole for the M&M to stay inside the cake ball to make the orange interior of the olive. If you simply dip the cake ball into the melted chocolate and expect the M&M to stick to the chocolate, you'll be playing a little game I like to call "SH*T!". The candy won't stick for very long and it won't look like a real olive with the inside on the outside anyway.

So take your dough ball and while holding it in your hand, push your M&M through it about 1/3 of the way. While the M&M is in the ball, reshape the ball, rolling it between your palms so it is round because it will have flattened a bit when you push in the M&M. You need to roll it back into a ball but keeping the M&M just at the surface so the M&M hole is prominent but not too deep and you can pluck out the M&M once your desired shape is achieved. Put the M&M to the side as you will reuse same M&M in a second.

For my stick or "tooth pick" (tooth pics are too small and too thin and the cake ball will plop off or it will be too hard to dip into the chocolate) I use skewers again. The skewers that I had cut in half for my usual cake balls I cut into half again.  Gently push the skewer threw the dough ball with the M&M hole facing out. I use two cake balls to one stick for this project because I thought two olives looked better than one, especially if you put them in the mini plastic martini glasses. So, hold first dough ball in between thumb and fore finger while pushing stick all the way through leaving just enough space for another ball to be added on to the end, and just a smidge of stick in between the two. If you leave this small space in between the balls, when you dip them into the chocolate, the chocolate will seep in between them a little really making it look like two olives instead of a uni-olive.

Once both dough balls are on the stick, you are ready to dip. White almond bark can be colored green with food coloring as instructed in Step 8 above. Dip your dough balls into the warm, melted coating, tap excess off and place orange M&Ms, logo down, into the pre-made spaces in each ball. Continue to Step 9 above to set cake balls.

(Click on candy coating dye image to purchase.)