I've had a lot of questions over the last couple months, regarding cakepops. There are tutorials all over the interwebs, but I want to show you my method and address some of the more common questions that seem to come up.
Because I didn't do a separate shoot just for this post, I'll be using a composition of different photos from various projects to illustrate each step. Sorry if that's distracting. Consider it...er, eclectic. :D
I'll start with some of the FAQ I've gotten recently.
Q) How much frosting do you use?
A: That all depends on how much cake you've got. For an 8x8 pan of cake, I usually use about a cup of "filling".
Q) Why did you call it "filling?"
A: I call it filling because I don't always use frosting. Sometimes I use cream cheese. Or hot fudge. Or condensed milk. Or caramel. Or jam. Or peanut butter. Whatever ingredient you use to moisten the cake will alter the flavor, so be creative, and you can achieve endless numbers of unique flavors. The idea is to find something that will bind the cake crumbs together, soak into the cake to make it creamy, and firm up enough in the refrigerator to make dipping easy.
Q) I can't get my chocolate thin enough, it's too gloppy!
A: This is the only time in my entire chocolate-loving life I will ever recommend against using chocolate chips. They contain additives to help them keep their shape, which also keeps them from melting thinly. I recommend using something specifically marked, "melting chocolate", or "couverture". You can find these all over the place, usually in craft shops or cake-decorating stores. You can also use bricks of flavored bark.
Merkins, Wilton, and a number of other manufacturers make chocolate discs in all colors, meant specifically for candy making. Discs tinted in various colors are actually made from white chocolate, so they will be much thicker, and may require some thinning. To thin your chocolate, simply add a teaspoon of cocoa butter or vegetable shortening during melting, and stir well. You can buy cocoa butter in most upscale groceries. Don't go squirting your hand lotion in there... I promise, it's not tasty.
Couverture chocolate has a really high fat content (cocoa butter), which allows them to melt really thin and smooth. Bar chocolate and super dark chocolate has a lower fat content and won't have that same consistency.
Q) How do you keep the cakeballs from slipping off the stick and into the chocolate?
Cakeballs MUST be firm for easy dipping. If you're making pops, dip the end of your sticks into the melted chocolate and insert into the "dough-ball". Chill thoroughly, about half an hour at least.
If you're making truffles (cake pops without the stick), I use toothpicks to dip. Same thing--they need to be firm. (Firm balls are the best. Nobody likes mushy balls. Ahem.) I like to roll mine the night before and let them chill overnight. If they start slipping when you dip, stick them in the fridge for an hour.
It may be tempting to freeze them, but don't. The cakeballs will constrict when frozen, and as they thaw, they will expand and bust out of the candy shell. It's a little like me trying to zip myself into a leather bustier. Not pretty. Nobody wants to see that.
If you have any other specific questions, please send them along--I'll be happy to answer!
But now, onto the general tutorial and my mismatched photos. :)
First, you have to think about what flavor you want. This is more important than it sounds, because you want to match your filling to your cake. Not matchy matchy, necessarily, but they should complement each other well. Say you wanted double chocolate. That's easy--chocolate cake, chocolate frosting. But say you wanted something super fancy, like... oh, pumpkin pie.
You'd probably make a pumpkin cake, but what would you mix it with? Vanilla frosting is the classic standby, but when you think about pumpkin pie, there are a lot of flavor layers there... pumpkin custard (represented by the cake), cinnamon, whipped cream, and of course, the buttery crust. To get a truly authentic flavor profile, you want to incorporate as many of those elements as possible. You might consider mixing it with pumpkin pudding, or maybe cinnamon flavored frosting.
So you bake a pumpkin cake.
Let the cake cool. The quickest way to do this is to invert it onto a rack and tear it into pieces. The more surface area exposed to air, the quicker it will cool. A lot of bakers will tell you this next step is unnecessary, but I don't think it is.
Stick your cake chunks into a food processor. Pulse it down to fine crumbs. Some say you can simply crush it with your hands, but I find having nice, even crumbs makes for much finer, creamier texture.
Dump your crumbs into a bowl. With a silicone spatula or a flat-sided spoon, blend in your filling. again, I recommend about 1 cup of filling per 8x8 cake. But depending on your choice of filling, more may be needed. Use your judgment--the dough should feel thick and damp, but not sticky. It should roll into a ball without cracking or crumbling. Don't be afraid to get in there and mix it with your hands. You dirty, dirty cakeballer.
Now for the rolling. I use a 1" cookie scoop to make sure my portions are even, but you can just eyeball it.
Pinch off a piece of dough and roll it between your palms, pressing it into a ball. You will need to squeeze and press it as you roll--this condenses it and keeps the ball tight and firm so it doesn't fall apart.
Place the rolled balls into a pan, so you can pop it into the fridge and chill later. Roll another one. And another.
When you're all done rolling, chill those puppies down. Like I said earlier, I prefer to do mine overnight.
When they're chilled and ready for dipping, prepare your chocolate. I usually use chocolate or vanilla bark. I break off pieces and put them in a thick, deep mug. Then I zap 'em in the micro for 30 seconds at a time, stirring with a butter knife between each interval, scraping down the sides of the mug as I stir.
You want the chocolate to drip from the end of a spoon in a thin, consistent stream.
Now, for the dipping! This seems to be the part that gives people the most trouble. I've been asked often, "How do you get your coating so thin and smooth?" I swear, I really don't have a trick. I just rely on a few key things:
1) The chocolate has to be the right consistency
2) I tap off as much excess chocolate as possible
3) I rotate the pop as I tap to make sure the chocolate drips off evenly
If you're making pops, dip the ends of your sticks in the melted chocolate and insert into the pops.
If using toothpicks, you don't need to dip them first, but it may help.
Whether you're using sticks or toothpicks, the method is the same. Dip your chilled pop straight down into the chocolate until it's completely submerged. This is why your dipping container should be deep. And you'll use way more chocolate than you think you need.
Lift it from the chocolate, and holding the pop at a 45 degree angle, tap the stick (or toothpick) against the rim of the mug and let the excess chocolate drizzle off. Like I said, I turn it as it's dripping so I don't end up with obvious drip-marks.
Now, what do you do with them after they're dipped? You can sit them on parchment, of course, but that tends to create puddles and ruins the spherical shape. I use a foam piece from a craft store. This way, I can dip the pops, tap off the excess, and just insert the stick (or toothpick) into the foam for the cakeball to set undisturbed.
If you're using toothpicks to dip truffles, wait for the chocolate to harden over the pop, and gently twist the toothpick to remove it. You can then use that toothpick to fill the hole with a little remaining melted chocolate to seal the shell.
If you're using toppings-- nuts, sprinkles, sugar, crushed pie crust, whatev-- you want to sprinkle it on or roll the pop in it before the covering has set.
I hope this helps. And now that I've spilled my guts and given away all my secrets (or lack thereof), go make some cakeballs!
And if you have any questions, send them along!
Enjoy, and happy baking!