Serious Eats: Sweets
Mixed Review: How to Make Cake Balls
"I've always been perversely fascinated by its florescent pink hue."
How is it possible that I had never heard of cake balls before this week? The Dallas News ran an article on them back in February. The AllRecipes.com recipe for "cake balls" has been bookmarked by more than 30,000 people. You can even buy gourmet versions of them at stores like Neiman Marcus.
Somehow, the cake ball phenomenon managed to escape me. Until now. For this week's Mixed Review I decided to give you a detailed account of just what it takes to whip up a batch of the impressive looking yet deceptively simple bite-sized treats. Cupcakes, meet your match.
To make "homemade" cake balls, you will need one box of cake mix, a can of frosting, and chocolate for dipping, all of which can be purchased at any supermarket for under $10. (It's worth noting that The Cake Ball Company sells a six-piece box for $18.) You can use any combination of flavors you like. I chose Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Strawberry Cake Mix ($2.39) because I'd never tasted it before, and because I've always been perversely fascinated by its florescent pink hue. I decided it would pair well (in relative terms, of course) with plain vanilla frosting and a coating of semi-sweet chocolate.
I baked the bubble gum-colored cake according to the package instructions. Then, while it was still barely warm, I crumbled it in a large bowl using clean hands. The artificial strawberry aroma was overwhelming; my kitchen smelled like it employed 1,000 Easy-Bake Ovens. Seriously, I've never felt more like Strawberry Shortcake in my life—not even when I dressed up as her for Halloween.
Once I had reduced the cake to crumbs, I stirred in the entire can of vanilla frosting until it was well incorporated, and then refrigerated the mixture overnight. You don't need to chill it for a full eight hours, but I would suggest a minimum of two. You want the mixture to be cold and firm enough to withstand the heat of your hands as you roll it into balls, and then the heat of the chocolate you dip them in.
I formed my balls using heaping tablespoons of the cake-frosting mixture so that each one was about the size of a ping-pong ball. Next, I melted a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. (If you're planning to travel with your cake balls or mail them as gifts, you may want to invest in chocolate confectionary coating. It's more stable and won't melt as easily.) Using a fork, I dunked the balls one at a time in the chocolate, then set them on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and let them set up in the fridge.
The final results weren't as gorgeous as fancy store-bought truffles (hey, I never claimed to be a chocolatier) but they were impressive in their own way, and definitely unique. The strawberry cake filling was... well, strangely addictive. I found myself popping the bite-sized bonbons in my mouth with a mixture of oh-I-shouldn't guilt and sugar-fueled glee. The cake-frosting mixture was creamy and moist, like the ladyfingers at the bottom of tiramisu. While the strawberry flavor was anything but authentic, I rather liked it because it reminded me of the birthday cakes devoured as a child.
I would highly recommend that you try your hand at making cake balls. You don't have to spring for strawberry. Next time, I might opt for carrot and cream cheese, or lemon and white chocolate. One or two tied up in a bag with a ribbon would make a fabulous party favor, or the perfect addition to any dessert buffet.