Cake Pops!

The last couple of days, I have felt inundated by images of cupcakes. (OK, so I looked in a magazine advertising cupcakes, and Paula Deen had that Hello, Cupcake! lady on her show--it's still a sign from the universe, gosh darn it!) So what better way to end a Friday afternoon than with some baking? Unfortunately, I recently began dieting, and the caramel corn cupcake recipe I was drooling over did not seem diet-friendly. So, I opted for something in a smaller, more diet-friendly size. And thus I give you...the cake pop.

Before starting, I looked at various cake pop designs. I figured I would use this first foray into the cake pop world as an introduction to basics, and just try to make something that looked like this:

The goal was to one day work up to something like this (and be sure to look at the rest of Bakerella's website--those cake pops are CRAZY awesome). Yay Star Wars pops!

The basic posed a few challenges of its own, however, so I am going to post what I did first and then post my suggestions for what I could have improved on at the end.

So, let's get to it: my basic cake pop. I'll be honest: I did the lazy baker's version. As suggested by recipes here and here, you can buy a box of store cake mix, a container of pre-made store frosting, a package of candy melts/baker's chocolate/almond bark, and pre-made decorations of your choice--nothing needs to be made from scratch. Add a box of lollipop sticks and a piece of styrofoam (to stick your cake pops into as the chocolate sets) from your local hobby store (i.e. Michaels, Hobby Lobby), and you're done.

I selected a box of red velvet cake mix, container of cream cheese frosting, and baker's white chocolate.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, when it comes to your choice of chocolate for the chocolate shell, buy the baking chocolate, almond bark, or candy melts, NOT the chocolate chips. The chocolate chip bags promise that you can simply melt the chips and add some shortening...and while I am more than willing to admit that I could have microwaved incorrectly, my chocolate chips came out a congealed mess. My Baker's chocolate? Came out perfectly. Either way, you save yourself a step.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Step #1: Make your cake according to package directions.

When finished, allow the cake to cool on the counter for 30 minutes. Next comes the fun part. See your lovely, oh-so-perfect cake? Time to destroy it! Using a spoon, break up the cake into crumbs, starting in the middle of the cake and stopping just short of the cake's edges (these are a bit tougher, so I just removed them to keep my cake crumb pile nice and soft).
Scoop in your frosting (you can do all of these steps in the pan you baked the cake in!), and use your spoon to integrate it into the cake crumbs so that they are evenly moistened and stick together. Hint: continue to use your spoon here. I was tempted to use my hands, but the mixture sticks to your hands and makes further integration difficult. When it's all mixed together, cover the cake/frosting mix, and place in the refrigerator for 3 hours or longer.

Cake balls can fall apart easily, so be sure to give the cake mix its fridge time. When the 3 hours are up, remove the cake from the fridge, and take out a baking sheet and line with wax paper--it's time to make the cake mix into balls! If you have one, a small ice cream scoop or melon baller helps you to make your cake balls easily and uniformly-shaped. If not, use your hands to roll pieces of the cake mix into balls about an inch, inch and a half big. The recipes suggest that you should have about 36 cake balls (I had 42). When all your cake balls are formed, place the baking sheet with the cake balls into the freezer for one hour.

And now, here is the challenging part: the chocolate shell, lollipop stick, and decorations. The way the recipes tell you to accomplish the final transformation from cake ball to cake pop is as follows:
1) Microwave or melt your chocolate over the stove (in a glass bowl atop boiling water).
2) Dip the lollipop stick in the chocolate and then stick the chocolately-end into a cake ball (the chocolate should act as glue to keep the cake ball on the stick).
3) Dip the cake ball in the melted chocolate to cover it in the chocolate shell.
4) Stick the completed cake pop in the styrofoam and allow the chocolate shell to set.
5) Decorate as you desire with sprinkles (do this BEFORE the chocolate sets) or with a drizzle of a different chocolate (i.e. white chocolate over dark chocolate or vice versa).

I followed these instructions and ended up with several lovely cake pops. See, evidence:

And, they were tasty. However, I had a few that simply slipped down the lollipop stick, and there was the congealed chocolate chip incident I alluded to earlier. My suggestions? 
1) Again, avoid the chocolate chips!!! Get the chocolate that was destined to become a candy shell. It will feel fulfilled, and you won't be irritated.
2) Either make the cake balls about half the size as that specified above (to reduce the weight on the stick) OR put the cake balls back into the freezer once you've inserted the sticks to allow them to set awhile OR lay the cake pops sideways as soon as the chocolate is set to reduce the weight on the stick. 

Follow these steps (with the modifications suggested above), and I know your cake pops will be fabulous! Enjoy!

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