Friday, July 9, 2010

Cupcakes are Out... Cakeballs are In.

Disclaimer: I love taking photos. I really do. And thus I am aware how crappy these photos are, and how with just a little more work and aranging I could make them better... and maybe not using my iPhone camera. But really, after doing this much baking, I'm just too tired to care. I'll work on this in the future. I promise.

Recently I have noticed a shift in trendy desserts.

For a while it was the cupcake. Everywhere you looked new cupcake stands and shops were popping up. Gourmet cupcakes, they called them. And they charged you $2.50 - $4.00 for each of them.

And while cupcakes are still my favorite, there has been a noticeable trend shift from the cupcake to the cake ball. The dessert blogosphere has exploded with discussion about these little things. And if you thought $2.75 was a bit much for a cupcake (Hey Cupcake - Austin, TX), people are charging $2 a piece for these little gems (Holy Cacao - Austin, TX) and I can tell you that they are quite smaller than a cupcake.

So at $2 a piece, the first thing I thought was "you are out of your mind," followed by "When can I try making these things." For those of you that know me well, you know that the answer to that second thought was of course, "as soon as possible."

Well that was about a week ago. And here we are 7 days and about 150 cake balls later.

Trial Numero Uno - Red Velvet

Before I tell you the secrets that I learned during my first cake ball experiment, I will first give you the quick insight on how to make a cake ball.

First, bake a cake. No really, it's that simple. Grab your favorite cake recipe or box cake and whip it up. Since you'll be crumbling it up, there's no need to make sure it comes out of the pan cleanly, therefore don't bother taking the time to flour the pan. Once baked let it FULLY cool. Which brings us to cake ball secret #1:

Let the cake cool fully before crumbling it up. You'll have a much more difficult time if it's warm because your icing will start to melt and you'll wind up with a gooey mess. If this happens, don't panic. Just freeze your "slop" in the ice box for a while until it's firm enough to handle and mold into balls. People will still love them.

Second. While your cake is cooling, prepare your frosting. If you want you can take the lazy way out and buy a can of frosting from the store. Or, you can make your favorite that goes well with whatever cake you are making. Since I was doing a red velvet cake, I went with a cream cheese frosting.

Third. Once your cake is cooled and your frosting ready, crumble up your cake into a large bowl. Next thoroughly mix in the icing. Now for cake ball secret #2:

Start with just a little icing and continue to add more until you reach the desired sweetness and/or texture that you want. Most likely if you're making your own icing you'll have way more icing than you need for these little guys. I think about 1/2 an icing recipe seemed to work out well. If you put a lot of icing into your mix it will become too soupy to form into balls. If this is the case, see secret #1 above.

Once your icing and cake are mixed to your desired level, roll the mixture into 1.5"-2" balls. If you desire more chocolate-to-cake ratio, make the balls smaller. Freeze for a while. Say 30 minutes - 1 hour. The harder they are, the easier they will be to work with when you are dipping them into the chocolate. If they are super soft, they'll just fall apart.

When your balls are properly frozen (um... that doesn't sound right), prepare your chocolate. Again, this part is up to you. If you'd like a thick chocolate coating, then go with a chocolate ganache. You'll get a thick coat and a nice sheen. For the red velvet cake balls, I used white chocolate for some and then (when that ran out, oops) I switched to dark chocolate. Cake ball secret #3:

#3 - Because I didn't want a thick chocolate coating, I mixed a bit of butter with my dark (70% cacao) chocolate to thin it down.

When dipping your cake balls into the chocolate, work with only a few at a time and leave the rest in the freezer. I prefer to have them on a stick, cause it just makes life all around easier. Easier to dunk, easier to eat. I found that you can use candy sticks from the local craft store (nicer look) or you can use kids craft popsicle sticks (if you're just making them for your co-workers and you don't want to make a trip to the local craft shop).

To coat the cake balls, insert the stick into the ball almost to the bottom. One blogger suggests dipping a portion of the stick into the melted chocolate first, then into the ball, to help it adhear to the stick better. I haven't tried this, but it seems like a good idea. Then using a tall narrow glass for your chocolate (such as a coffee mug), make sure you dip the ball all the way down, until the chocolate comes up around the stick. This will help the stick and ball stay together once the chocolate is dried. Now, if you choose, go crazy with toppings; sprinkles, ground nuts, cocoa powder, cinnamon, whatever.

Once done, I like to place them in the fridge, but you could also leave them on the counter for a day or two before using. If you do put them in the fridge, you'll probably see the chocolate start to sweat when it comes out into the warm air. I really don't have a problem with this, and since my house is always warm in the summer (thanks TX), I keep them in the fridge just so the chocolate solidifies. I've heard placing them in a plastic bag with a paper towel can help the sweating issue, though I'm not sure.

So there you have it, cake balls. Once I was done with my red velvet batch, I of course took them into work. Really, what else was I to do with 50 cake balls? Well, people went crazy! They were insane for these things. Maybe it was the massive amounts of sugar, or maybe the fact that they felt like a kid again, but either way, they loved them. So this past weekend I went ahead and tried out the other two recipes that I was thinking of.

I made banana cake balls with a honey/cinnamon frosting and dark chocolate (some then dipped in crushed walnuts) and spice cake balls with cinnamon frosting and dark chocolate (some dipped in a dark chocolate infused with cayenne pepper, just for that extra little kick).

UPDATE: people seem to really like the hot ones infused with cayenne pepper. One guy said "Wow. The hot ones are fantastic." I love those emails :)

Overall I think these little gems are great for parties and walk around functions, where eating cake or even cupcakes is just too messy. But I have to say, I'm still a cake / cupcake girl, I just think they taste a little better when the cake and the frosting aren't mixed.

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