Let me begin by saying that I have a love-hate relationship with cake pops. I LOVE that they are fun, bite-sized deliciousness and I LOVE that kids and adults alike light up at the mere sight of an Olaf on a stick! But I HATE that they turn me into a deranged lunatic whenever I bust out the candy melts. And I know my husband is less-than-thrilled when I take up three-quarters of ‘his’ counter space for days at a time.
So, as someone who has been making cakes pops for the better part of four years, who has cried at the mere ‘popping’ sound of the hard candy shell cracking and cursed like a sailor at lumpy, bumpy candy melts, here’s:
Erica’s Comprehensive List of Do’s and Don’ts to Make your Cake Pop Experience a Little Less Hell-on-Earth and a Little More Rainbows-and-Butterflies
It All Begins with Cake
DO: use your favourite scratch cake recipe or cake mix. Either/or, it is really your preference. My cake pops are a mix of both. I use up cake scraps from kids’ birthday cakes but I will also bake up extras from box mixes. Honestly, who wants to spend 30 minutes on a cake batter which is going to end up in crumbs? However, try to minimize the oil content in the box mix; substitute applesauce to reduce oil leakage (to be discussed later.)
DO: ensure freshly-baked cakes have been completely cooled before crumbling. Also, I like to cut off any hard edges. And, personally, with white cakes, I skim off the brownish top of the cake so the cake pop is actually white, without the brown bits.
DON’T: let the cake dry out. If not using immediately after baking/cooling, wrap in plastic wrap. Same goes after it’s been crumbled and mixed with the icing. Cover tightly if not being used immediately.
DO: use icing/frosting sparingly. Whether store-bought icing or your own butter cream icing (again, it’s up to you–I’ve used both), less is more. You can always add in extra icing. You can’t, however, take it out. And if the cake balls are too moist, they become heavy and suicidal when being dipped. For example, for one box mix, begin with about 1/3 of a cup of icing.
DO: use a cheese grater to ‘grate’ or crumb your cake. Yep. I stick the cheese grater in my big bowl, break off the cake into sections and grate it right in there.
DON’T: grate your finger.
DON’T: overmix. Blend cake crumbs and icing with a wooden spoon until mixture is moist and no dry, loose crumbs remain in the bottom of the bowl.
DO: use a mini scoop to create uniform balls. I have a couple of sizes but my fave is about an inch in diameter. Scoop and pop out then roll between the palm of your (very clean or gloved) hands until very round (or molded into desired shape) and lay out on a parchment- or wax paper-covered cookie sheet or cake pan. (I prefer a cake pan to a cookie sheet because the plastic wrap stretches over the edges of the pan, not touching the cake balls. Also, if working in large batches, you can stack a second layer on top of the first with a layer of wax paper in between.)
DO: conceptualize. Sketch out or research your cake pop design first and the edible decorations you’ll need so you can see what works before you begin.
DO: chill the balls in the fridge until firm. If not dipping right away, cover them tightly with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out. If condensation appears on the underside of the plastic wrap when you remove from fridge, remove carefully and dab any damp spots on cake balls with paper towel prior to dipping because, water will cause the candy melts to seize up.
The Candy Corner
DO: buy fresh candy coating/candy melts. My go-to brand is Merckens which I buy in bulk at Bulk Barn, but I have used the Wilton brand on occasion.
DON’T: use candy melts that have ‘bloomed’. This means there is a whitish film on the candy which, while it will not affect the flavour (go ahead and use them to decorate a cake), will prevent the candy from melting. Trust me on this. I have literally tossed money out the window with the amount of ‘expired’ candy melts I’ve had to dump.
DON’T: overbuy. (See above.) You will waste money. Unless you’re really far from the nearest Bulk Barn, be conservative. If you have to go back for more, go back for more. Seems like a drag but don’t waste your money unless you cake pop all the time and will use up your extra melts before they ‘expire’. As a rule: 500g of candy melts will coat about 24 one-inch round cake balls, dipped once.
DO: have some vegetable oil or vegetable shortening or paramount crystals on hand to thin your candy coating ever so slightly. If your candy melts are fresh, they should melt just fine without the aid of additional oils. Though I have noticed that red and white candy wafers can be a little more finicky.
DO: experiment with colour. I’ve gotten some cool neon green by blending just the right amount of yellow and green. For colour ideas you can refer to either this Merckens Rainbow Color Magic Chart or this one. You can also use Wilton’s oil-based candy coloring (not to be confused with the regular food or icing coloring).
Tools of the Trade
DO: have on hand:
- small 1″ scoop (as mentioned above) for forming uniform balls;
- small glass measuring cups or coffee mugs for melting. A narrower, upright vessel works better than a wide bowl as you need the depth for fully submerging your cake ball and you’ll require fewer candy melts;
- small spoon for stirring the melted chocolate/candy coating;
- a candy thermometer (optional, but recommended);
- 6″ lollipop sticks (Bulk Barn);
- assorted sprinkles or candies for decorating;
- edible markers for decorating –> Americolor is best; Wilton do not work on candy coatings;
- wax paper (I use this as a spoon/toothpick rest while working so the candy doesn’t stick to the counter when it hardens);
- paper towels for constant wiping;
- foam floral blocks for placing your cake pops upright to dry (Dollarama);
- plastic treat bags and twist ties/ribbon for wrapping up each cake pop (Bulk Barn);
- jamming music or Netflix;
- lots of counter space.
DON’T: cake pop with kids around unless you work well under a constant barrage of questions from your 6-year olds or want to risk cake pops disappearing into curious mouths.
Tips, Tricks and Troubleshooting: CANDY COATING
DO: review this whole post up to this point.
DO: accept that cake pops will be finicky and, unless your name is Bakerella, they may not be perfect the first time.
DO: and this is KEY INFORMATION, DO melt the candy coating SLOWLY in the microwave on low heat. After much trial and error, I’ve found that 40% power with an initial blast of 45 secs, then reducing subsequent intervals by 5 secs, i.e. 40 secs, then 35 secs, etc., works great. Stir gently in between and let sit for a few minutes to allow the candy to melt without over-mixing or risk of burning.
DO: fill your mug/dipping vessel with melted candy; however, this must be done gradually. The hard candy wafers take up a lot of space so you will only fit 1 to 1 1/2 cups-worth in your mug (filled to the brim) in the first couple of rounds in the microwave. As the candy melts, and you stir gently and carefully, you will be able to add more wafers and work them into the already-melted candy. Repeat until your mug is pretty full.
DO: reheat the melted candy/chocolate, adding additional wafers as you work. Obviously, as you dip, the level of melted candy goes down and as the coating cools with every dip of a cold cake ball, it begins to harden along the perimeter. I do the reheating in shorter blasts of about 20 secs, still at 40% power.
DON’T: let the candy coating temperature go higher than 90ºF. Check with candy thermometer, not your finger, and, if it’s too hot, let melted candy cool a bit before dipping.
DON’T: get water anywhere near the melted coating, because remember: it will seize up.
DON’T: overstir the candy coating or you will get bubbles in your coating. You can gently pop them with a toothpick but sometimes they pop after the coating has hardened and that little hole allows the oil from the cake ball to ooze out. If this happens, once the coating has dried completely, wipe off the excess oil with paper towel, then plug the hole with a dab of the melted candy coating on the tip of a toothpick. Smooth gently with your finger tip.
DO: take note that if the melted coating is severely thick and clumping, it has probably burnt; or perhaps the candy melts were not quite fresh enough. Sadly, you will need to throw this batch out and begin again. However, if there are just a few little hard bits that seem to resist melting, add a little shortening or vegetable oil or Paramount crystals (as mentioned above) and stir in gently.
DO: test the candy coating before dipping the cake balls. Dip a spoon in the melted coating and watch how it runs off the back of the spoon. If it runs off smoothly, you’re good to go. If it begins to separate, it has too much oil. You’ll need to add more candy melts.
Tips, Tricks and Troubleshooting: CAKE BALLS & DIPPING
DON’T: work in a hot kitchen. I find 18ºC/64ºF is a comfortable temperature.
DON’T: place your cake balls in the freezer. I’ve done this in the past and it is unnecessary. Plus the too-cold cake balls mixed with the too-warm melted coating is a scientific disaster waiting to happen. Refrigerating your cake pops until ready to use is all you need to do. I usually work in batches of six-to-ten at a time, removing them from the fridge while I melt the candy coating so they are cold-but-not-too-cold by the time I’m ready to dip.
DO: dip the tip (1/4″-1/2″) of a lollipop stick into the melted candy coating and insert into the centre of your cake ball, going in about 1/2″. I usually do this in the slightly flattened part that has been sitting in the pan so the top of the ball is nice and round. Let these sit for a minute before dipping.
DO: fully submerge the cake ball into the melted candy coating and pull straight out and turn right side up.
DON’T: shake the stick to get the excess drips off but DO gently tap your wrist while holding the cake pop over the cup, letting any excess fall off.
DO: use a toothpick to work off the drippy bits, gently turning the cake pop in one hand while skimming the drippings towards the stick, off and back into the cup.
DO: work quickly to add any embellishments (candies, sprinkles, sanding sugar) before the coating hardens. Alternatively, you can ‘glue’ extras after the coating has dried, with a bit of the melted coating.
DON’T: freak out if the cake pops crack. This could happen within seconds, minutes, or, yes, even days of dipping. Son of a…
DO: however, curse and swear; out of earshot of the children, of course. You are bound to get frustrated. Shake it off and move on. Cracks can be fixed similar to plugging the oil hole (ummm…moving on.) After the cake pop has hardened completely, dip the end of a toothpick in the melted candy and fill in the crack, smoothing with finger tip.
Tips, Tricks and Troubleshooting: Storage
DO: keep cake pops out of direct sunlight, in a cool, dry place until ready to consume, for up to one week.
DO: store cake pops in an airtight container, individually-wrapped, if keeping for longer than a week.
DO: refrigerate for several weeks or freeze for even longer freshness. I’ve had cake pops last for months this way.
A Final Word:
DO: take comfort in knowing that despite all the little bumps, clumps, knicks and oozy holes, your cake pops will taste awesome and your kids will declare you the bestmomeverinthehistoryoftheworld!
Check out Erica’s tutorial on how to make LEGO mini figure cake pops.