How to Make Cake Balls for Cake Pops
Until just a short time ago, I'd never heard of cake balls before. It all started when my husband said his stepsister was "craving cake balls" on her Facebook profile. Cake balls? I consider myself somewhat informed when it comes to the world of baking, so I had to figure out the mystery behind these so-called edible balls of cake. After doing a little bit of research online, I discovered that cake balls are also referred to as "cupcake pops" or "cake pops." What you call them all depends on their presentation. Either way, the result is always delicious!
Basically, you bake a cake, crumble it all up, mix the crumbs with frosting, roll into balls, and dip in chocolate. Sounds delightful doesn't it? That's exactly what I thought. You can eat the balls with your fingers or create cake pops and put them on lollipop sticks. Once my research was done, I found this all very intriguing and had to try it out for myself.
For my first attempt at making cake balls, I decided to try German chocolate cake with coconut/pecan frosting and chocolate coating. One of the great things I discovered about this dessert is the endless variations you can try. Think about how many different types of cakes there are. These different variations can be combined with all the different types of frostings and coatings. Yum!
Have You Ever Eaten a Cake Ball?
Gather Your Ingredients
There's basically three things you need to bake cake balls:
- Cake (Use a ready-made, boxed variety or make your own)
- Frosting (Whatever floats your boat)
- Coating (Such as meltable chocolate)
For a more in-depth discussion:
- Cake: You can make your cake and frosting from scratch, or you can use a pre-packaged cake mix and frosting. As far as the coating goes, you can use any sweetened, meltable chocolate. For my first project, I used the chocolate bark coating that Kroger carries for $3.79 for 24 oz. (12 bars in the package are 2 oz. each). I would imagine just about any other grocery store would have something like it. I found it in the baking aisle hiding out next to the chocolate chips.
- Bark Coating: You'll need one package of bark coating for each batch of cake balls you want to make. I found for the 30 balls I made that there was just enough. My first attempt was pretty messy, and I probably wasted some chocolate coating, but it all worked out OK. Update: Now that I have some experience under my belt, I've found that I normally have about two bars left of the bark coating. I usually end up using the last two bars for decorative drizzle or save them for another project.
- Confectionary Wafer Coating: Instead of the bark coating, you can also use those little confectionary wafers. The nice thing about those is that they come in all sorts of different colors. I've seen these at Michael's in the cake decorating aisle. If you chose to add coloring to your bark coating or wafers, be sure to use oil-based coloring or paste. Coloring that contains water will cause the coating to become crumbly and unworkable.
- Mints as Coating: I also recently made some mint chocolate cake balls using Andes mints for the coating. I ended up using about 75 mints, which is about 3 packages or 1 pound of mints. It's usually cheaper if you can buy them in bulk. I've purchased them in bulk at Meijer.
The Birth of a Cake Ball
Instructions for Making Cake Balls
Step One: Bake Your Cake
This one is pretty easy. Just bake your cake the way you usually would. You can use a rectangular sheet pan because you'll be destroying the cake anyway once its done baking. It's really fun! Let your cake cool for a while, but it should still be slightly warm before you crumble it into the bowl. I think I let my cake cool for 15-20 minutes. Once your cake is crumbled by hand, you can continue the process a step further by using a hand mixer or food processor to get a finer texture.
Step Two: Add Frosting
Now, mix in your frosting to make a paste. You'll need to add 3/4 to a full can of frosting. It all depends on what type of cake and frosting you use. I started off with 3/4 of the can and the mixture still looked a little dry so I added to the rest of the container. If you want your cake balls to be more cakey, you'll probably want to add less frosting. In the words of Martha Stewart, your mixture is going to "feel weird." So if those are your thoughts—don't worry—you're on the right track!
Before you roll out the balls, you want the mixture to chill for a while. If you try to roll them out while warm or at room temperature, they will crumble into bits. I put my mixture in the freezer for two hours only because I was busy and didn't have time to get back to it right away. However, according to the cake ball experts the mixture only needs to stay in the freezer for 15 minutes. I noticed after rolling out about half the mixture that it started to get warm again and hard to work with. So I put the rest back in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes and finished it up.
I used my hands to roll out the balls, but I've heard using a melon baller can make things easier. You can make the balls as small or as big as you like, but 1 to 1.5 inches is recommended. I found some of the larger cake balls were a lot harder to dip in the coating and was wishing I had made some of them smaller. After rolling them out, I placed the balls in a plastic container to keep in the freezer. You can stack them on top of each other between sheets of waxed paper.
Some websites recommend putting the rolled balls onto cookie sheets, but I don't have that much room in my freezer!
You'll want to freeze the balls for at least 6 hours. This makes it much easier to dip the balls in melted chocolate. If the balls are too warm when you try to coat them with chocolate, you'll have a big mess on your hands!
Step Three: Coat With Chocolate
Once your balls are nice and chilled, you're ready to dip them in chocolate. I used the microwave to melt my bark coating, but you can also a saucepan or double boiler. Here's melting directions from the back of the bag:
Double boiler: Heat water in bottom of double boiler to boiling. Remove from heat and add coating in top of double boiler. Stir until melted.
Saucepan: Melt candy coating in heavy saucepan at very low temperatures, stirring constantly until smooth.
Microwave: Place candy coating in microwave safe dish. Microwave for one minute at full power, then stir thoroughly. Continue microwaving on high for 15 seconds intervals, stirring well after each interval, until smooth.
Helpful Hints: Chop or break up coating to speed melting times. Melt at lowest temperature possible to produce the smoothest final product. Overheating will cause bark coating to scorch. Use only dry utensils or cooking pans because moisture will cause the coating to separate, solidify, or granulate.
Bake Your Way to Success
Some More Helpful Hints
Get a Smooth Coating With a Fork and Spatula
Coating the balls in chocolate was the hardest part for me. I'm somewhat of a perfectionist, and I had a hard time trying to figure out how to cover the entire thing with a smooth coating. Some baking websites recommend manipulating the balls with a toothpick or fork while others recommended using a spoon.
I made a huge mess with the spoon and ended up using toothpicks. I would stab a ball with the toothpick, roll it around in the melted chocolate, and twist it around to get most of the excess chocolate to drip off. Then I had to figure out how to get the ball off my toothpick and onto my sheet of waxed paper without messing it up. While I was trying to figure this out I noticed that the chocolate set and dried very quickly. I could just pull it off with my fingers.
I've found the easiest way to coat your cake balls is with a fork and spatula. Hold the fork in one hand and the spatula in the other hand. Drop the cake ball in the coating, and make sure all surfaces get covered using the fork and spatula. Lift the cake ball up out of the coating with your fork, and let the excess coating drip off while you tap the fork on the edge of the bowl. Gently let the cake ball roll off the fork onto a piece of waxed paper. If you have a plastic fork, break off the two center tines and this will make it even easier for you. For less than the cost of a nickel, you've just created a dipping-fork much like those the professional candy-makers and chocolatiers use.
Work With Fewer Balls at a Time
It's best to only work with a few balls at a time and leave the rest in the freezer. Once the balls warm up, they become much harder to work with. The chocolate coating also becomes harder to work with once it begins to cool off so you have to find a happy medium. It's best to only melt 2-3 of the chocolate cubes at a time. I think next time I might try using the saucepan instead of the microwave because I think it will be easier to keep the chocolate at a good temperature.
Sprinkles Need to Be Added Quickly
After your balls are rolled in chocolate, you're pretty much done unless you want to get fancy and add more decorations or sprinkles. If you want to add sprinkles, you'll have to work pretty quickly and decorate one ball at a time because the chocolate hardens very fast. I placed the finished balls on a sheet of waxed paper while I worked on the others.
Store Them Properly
These treats can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Chances are you won't have to worry too much about long-term storage because they'll be gobbled up right away! If you store your cake balls in the refrigerator they might get sweaty. This usually isn't a huge problem taste-wise but can make them look a little strange—especially if they've been decorated.
Have More Fun With It
Funfetti Cake Balls
After my original adventure with German chocolate cake balls, I decided to give a Funfetti version a try. The result was equally delicious! This time around, I used Funfetti cake mix with vanilla frosting (the Funfetti variety that comes with the package of sprinkles on top) and white almond bark. While the coating was setting, I also dipped them in rainbow sprinkles for some extra flair. Instead of dipping them in sprinkles, you can also just "sprinkle" the sprinkles onto the cake balls.
One thing I learned with the Funfetti cake is that, after you bake the cake and mix in the frosting, the colored bits seem to fade quite a bit. So what I did was mix the sprinkles that came with the frosting into the mixture. It seemed to work out pretty well. When you bite into the cake ball you still get to see some of the bright candies. I also learned that you need to buy A LOT of sprinkles if you want to make your cake balls look pretty. I bought a small container and only had enough for half the batch. Oops! Oh well. No one that ate them seemed to complain!
Decorate to Your Heart's Content
How to Decorate Your Cake Balls
I didn't decorate my cake balls the first time around, but this is something you might want to consider since it's really not that difficult. There are all kinds of different ways to decorate your treats. When I make the Funfetti ones, I like to decorate them with different colored sprinkles. An important thing to remember when decorating your cake balls with any type of sprinkle is that you need to add the sprinkles BEFORE the outer coating has set and dried. Otherwise, the sprinkles will just slide off and that's no fun at all. You can also dunk your cake balls into a bed of sprinkles for more coverage but that can get pretty messy. I prefer to just sprinkle on the sprinkles.
One embellishment that can make your treats look fancy is to drizzle on a contrasting color of coating using either a squeeze bottle filled with melted coating or a spoon or fork dipped in the coating. You can also pipe different designs onto your cake balls using a variety of cake decorating tips. Some people also go so far as to decorate their cake balls with pieces of fondant to make them resemble different creatures and characters. I've even seen some decorated to look like little football helmets! Clever!
If you have a golf fan in your family, you can make some of these with white coating and then purchase some round paper candy cups. Using Wilton tip #233 and some green frosting, pipe some grass around the edge of the candy cup and then place a cake ball inside the cup. Cute!
Really, the possibilities are endless when it comes to decorating cake balls, and you're only limited by your imagination.