Introduction: Making Cake Pops (the Easy Way)
Cake pops - tiny balls of cake and frosting on a stick, coated in chocolate or candy.
You can find them at Starbucks or any local bakery. Any of a dozen sites provide professional quality tutorials for making hundreds of them, in every color of the rainbow. As an intermediate baker, I found many of these tutorials inaccessible and intimidating. After a fair amount of trial and error, I found a recipe that isn't very difficult or costly.
This tutorial is moderate in difficulty, low cost (under $20), and takes less than two hours.
Cake pops make excellent gifts, as well as a tasty treat for yourself. This tutorial will make 30-50 cake pops depending on the baker's preference, enough for a birthday party or a baby shower. They travel well, and can go to the office or your child's class.
Cake pops will keep their perfect texture for about 4 days if not refrigerated. They will be perfectly edible for about a week, but the texture is part of the experience. But, trust me, they won't last a week!
Step 1: Tools and Ingredients
--Cake Pop sticks. These are available at most grocery stores. I've seen them at Target and QFC specifically.
--9x13 cake pan
--Wax/Parchment Paper. I used Parchment but Wax paper works just as well.
--Large sheet pan. Make sure it will fit in your freezer!
--Block of Styrofoam. Optional. When drying the coating, sticking the sticks in Styrofoam makes them more manageable. I tried to go without this for one batch and ended up fashioning a stand-in by poking holes in a small box.
--Standard kitchen implements. Mixer, bowls, spoon, spatula, etc.
--Double boiler. Optional. If you have one, by all means use it. It is not necessary, however. I melt my chocolate in the microwave and get by just fine.
--Small ice cream scoop. Optional. Will lead to even portioning, but I prefer to make smaller balls by hand.
--Boxed Cake Mix and associated ingredients (eggs, vegetable oil, etc.) Any flavor of cake works. See below for help with cake selection. I can't really taste a difference between boxed mix or from scratch when in cake ball form. If you want to make cake from scratch, it works perfectly well. However, I suggest saving yourself the time.
--Frosting of corresponding flavor. One container per batch will be more than enough. See below for help with pairing frosting and cake.
--Chocolate or candy coating. I prefer chocolate chips to bars because they're easier for me to portion. Two baking bars or two bags of chips per batch is usually enough. Note: For colored coverings, you could use food coloring mixed with white chocolate, or candy coating. I recommend candy coating due to issues with consistency. Food coloring tends to thicken the white chocolate coating and lead to unusual results about half the time.
--Sprinkles, coconut flakes, or other decorative toppers. Optional. I tend to decorate with a different type of chocolate, or occasionally coconut flakes.
These are all combinations I have tried with positive results and would recommend for a beginner.
Red Velvet Cake + Cream Cheese Frosting + White chocolate
German Chocolate Cake + Chocolate Frosting + Dark Chocolate (Pictured)
Lemon Cake + Vanilla Frosting + White Chocolate
Chocolate Cake + Strawberry Frosting + Milk Chocolate
German Chocolate Cake + Chocolate Frosting + Cherry Chips
Note: As delicious as it sounds, angel food cake has the wrong consistency for cake pops. Speaking from experience, the inside will have an awful gooey consistency and be very difficult to dip properly.
Step 2: Pop Preparation
This step includes baking your cake, shaping your pops, and chilling them in preparation for dipping.
1. Bake your cake according to the directions.
While cake is baking:
-Clear a space in your freezer for your sheet pan. Check the clearance with a cake pop stick to be certain the cake pops will fit.
-Clear a reasonable amount of counter space (4-5 feet is plenty)
-Cover your sheet pan with parchment/wax paper
2. Let the cake cool entirely before working with it. After the cake leaves the oven, if you want it to cool faster, feel free to cut holes in the top of the cake to allow it to cool quickly.
3. After the cake cools, crumble the whole thing into a large bowl. You want it to be very fine crumbles with no large chunks.
4. Add frosting to the bowl and mix. I start with two-three large spoonfuls. Ideally, you should mix the cake and frosting by hand in order to feel for the proper consistency. You want the mixture to feel squishy but still crumble slightly when pulled at. For me, it looked quite a bit like cakey play doh. See the picture for reference, but your goal is to have enough frosting to hold the ball together without drowning out the flavor of the cake.
5. Begin to form balls and place them on the sheet pan. If you chose to use a small ice cream scoop your yield will be about 30 balls from a whole cake. If you are rolling the balls by hand, I recommend quarter sized balls. At quarter sized, the yield will be around 50. Very little space is required between the balls, just make sure they aren't touching!
Note: The cake pops do not have to be in the shape of balls. If you're feeling confident, you can shape them into hearts, squares, stars, or any other shape you like. Cookie cutters are excellent for this purpose. For this tutorial, however, I will assume you are working with a ball.
6. After the entire cake has become cake balls, heat a small amount of chocolate (up to four ounces) either in a double boiler or the microwave (I recommend adding a small amount of vegetable oil, about a teaspoon for every four ounces, and not microwaving the chocolate for more than 30 seconds at a time)
7. Dip your cake pop sticks in the chocolate about half an inch and twirl to remove excess. Stick them into the cake balls about halfway. This chocolate seal will make the dipping much easier, trust me!
8. Put your fledgling cake pops into the freezer. They should stay there for about half an hour, or until they are firm to the touch. The chocolate should be quite frozen as well.
Now comes the fun part, dipping them!
Step 3: Dipping the Pops
This step is all about dipping your pops.
1. Set up your pop dipping station. Clear a space, get your Styrofoam (or impromptu box, or assistant) ready to hold pops.
2. Heat Chocolate. Make sure that if you're using your microwave, you're being careful not to burn the chocolate.Again, no more than 30 seconds at a time and then stir. I usually heat 4-6 oz. at a time, but you want enough to entirely submerge the cake pops.
3. Retrieve about 5 frozen pops at a time. This keeps the majority of the pops from thawing while you work.
4. Submerge pop entirely in chocolate. Lift out and twirl to remove excess coating.
5. If decorating with sprinkles, coconut flakes, etc., do so before the chocolate hardens. I tend to roll my ball through the flakes, or simply sprinkle a little on top. If you're decorating with melted chocolate, wait for the ball to harden.
6. Set pop upright to harden. If your pop was entirely frozen this will be very quick. I had about 10 that I started on early, and they were still not dry after I'd dipped the other 40. Plan accordingly.
7. Repeat until complete. The dipping will go faster the more experience you get with it. About an hour is an accurate estimate for a first run, but at this point I can knock out the whole step in about half that. Don't worry if your first few pops don't look perfect - You can definitely re-freeze and dip them again if you're unsatisfied, or just eat them yourself!
8. Bag pops, if desired. I have never done this, but individually bagging the pops adds that extra touch. The materials for this step are not listed in the beginning of the tutorial.
Step 4: Decorating Tips
This step covers the nuances of decorating your pops.
As stated in the previous step, if you want to use coconut flakes or sprinkles, you need to get them on to the pop before it hardens. If you failed to do so, I recommend sticking to chocolate as a decorative.
Note, the pops are lovely by themselves and do not necessarily need decorating. Even if your first batch are missing the extra flair, the flavor will speak for itself!
If you plan to decorate with chocolate, I recommend making a small frosting bag using a snack or sandwich bag and cutting the very tip of a bottom corner out. I keep my decorations simple, with zigzags or cross hatching. If the cake pop is still chilled, the dry time will be very quick for the decorations. If not, feel free to pop the pops into the freezer for a few minutes.
While complicated decorations are quite beyond me, some lovely things can be made with cake pops. These go far beyond the scope of this tutorial, but it never hurts to have a goal in mind.
Step 5: Tips and Tricks
This section covers some accumulated knowledge from personal experience. Please feel free to learn from my mistakes!
--Again, angel food cake just doesn't work for cake pops. I know, it's a tragedy.
--Freeze the pops entirely before dipping, or they will often fall off the stick in chunks.
--The chocolate seal on the stick keeps your pop in place, don't underestimate its power.
--Homemade frosting allows for interesting flavor combinations, but store bought is just fine.
--Too much frosting in the cake mix creates a gooey mess that doesn't taste nearly as good.
--Try chilling the pops before eating them. They are quite delicious cold! (Or warm. Or in general.)
--Avoid tapping the pops after dipping. While it will remove excess chocolate, it runs the risk of breaking the chocolate seal on the stick and sending the pop tumbling to its demise.
--Experiment with different types and brands of chocolate. Not all are created equal! (Ghirardelli is my favorite)
Thanks for reading! Any questions are welcome in the comments.