The Misadventures of the Fruity Cake Balls and the Tempestuous Turkeys
My Thanksgiving Dessert Project
As the day progressed, and many hours passed, I became convinced that all of the day's culinary projects were going to prove complete disasters. There were the Mini Turkey Cakes that I was creating without a recipe and which weren't at all resembling what I had imagined, plus the disagreeable candy melts that were rather quickly being wasted by the unexpectedly fussy Cake Balls, and a teething 8-month-old who was demanding a bit more attention than usual.
Luckily, by the end of the night, I had figured out my mistakes with the Cake Balls and candy melts, figured out how to salvage the Mini Turkey Cakes, and my husband had returned home so that I no longer needed to figure out how to balance all the needs of a teething infant with the looming task of molding the explosion in my kitchen into something presentable and palatable.
In the end, I was shocked that I'd somewhat accomplished my goal, and so I'm going to take you through my (mis)adventures, so that you can make your own cake balls, and contemplate an undertaking of icing-sculpted turkeys!
My Inspiration - This is where the idea for the pumpkins (and eventually the apples) came from. Lots of great ideas here!
The Pumpkin and Apple Cake Balls
First: The Cake Balls. This is an idea straight from Bakerella. I love her blog and the first time I saw these little cake treats, I was smitten. I decided to make cake balls instead of cake pops because I wanted to put the little pumpkins on a serving plate with what I had imagined would be fabulously adorable little turkeys. Of course, this didn't all work out exactly as I'd planned, but, at least, I wound up with delicious, if slightly sloppy, cute fruit!
1 box cake mix (I used Chocolate)
1 tub cake frosting (I used Cream Cheese)
1 bag candy melts (unless you mess up like me, then you'll need 2 bags)
Colored sprinkles (optional)
4 to 5 Tootsie Rolls
Okay, here's the abridged version of how it should have gone: make cake, break cake into crumbs, mix in frosting, shape into balls, dip balls into melted candy, add sprinkles and candy "stems", let cool, and enjoy! Easy, right? Well, here is the detailed description of how it went for me, where I went wrong, and how I got back on track:
Using a cake mix, bake the cake according to the directions on the box. I used the Betty Crocker Super Moist Cake Mix in Chocolate Fudge because I like the taste, but you can use just about any flavor you like. And I baked the cake the night before and simply covered it with plastic wrap until the next day.
Crumble the cooled cake into small pieces, or crumbs, in a large bowl. Bakerella suggests rubbing large pieces of the cake together in her video, but I just mushed it all up with my fingers. What can I say? I'm Italian. Anyway, then mix in a container of frosting. You may not need the whole tub, so start with about 3/4 of it and judge from there. I used almost all of it, with just enough left over to give me a few spoonfuls of instant-sugar-rush. You can mix it with a spoon, but, again, I just used my hands.
Spoon out teaspoonfuls of the cake mixture and shape into balls. It should be easy to form. You should get between 40 to 50 balls, and they don't have to be exactly identical. Then put them in the fridge for awhile. They should be in there an hour or two before you try to coat them, or you could put them in the freezer for 15 minutes - but don't leave them in the freezer! I was a little, uh, distracted, and mine stayed in the freezer for over an hour, and, well, they didn't react well to the candy coating. So the fridge works best.
Use this time to make the tootsie roll "stems." Bakerella made some pumpkins and used green tic tacs for stems, which I though was cute, but I wanted to stick with the chocolate flavor. So, first, cut the tootsie roll in half, and then slice each half into 8 or 9 pieces. Mold each piece into a tiny ball and then roll into a snake shape on a wooden cutting board. You can roll them between your fingers, but I found rolling them on the board faster. Also, the tootsie roll pieces become quite sticky. My solution to this was to have a slightly damp paper towel nearby so I could occasionally clean my finger tips. Store them in the fridge (not on paper towels - they'll stick). At room temperature they're too soft to use.
I actually tried coating the balls before I made the orange sugar, but my cake balls were too cold (frozen, actually) and I'd made the candy coating too hot, and so I made a huge mess which filled the bowl of orange candy coating with a million tiny chocolate cake crumbs. So I made orange sprinkles to disguise the chunky and discolored pumpkins. I put about 5 drops of yellow liquid food coloring and 2 drops of red into a plastic sandwich baggy and smooshed it to make a light orange color, then I poured in about a 1/4 cup of sugar and mixed it all around with my fingers until totally combined. It was a bit too yellow, but I was too tired to try it again.
Next: the candy coating! As I mentioned above, my candy coating was too hot. I thought: the hotter the candy, the more liquid-y it will be and the easier to roll the cake balls! Not so much. I also only microwaved a handful at a time when I started. It turns out that you should just go ahead and microwave the whole bag at once in a bowl. You can always nuke it again if it gets too stiff. And I suggest always nuking it at half power to avoid burning the candy.
Anyway, take the cool (not frozen) cake balls and dip them in the bowl of melted (not scalding) candy. I found the best method for me was to put a ball in the candy and use a spoon to drape candy over it, and then move it around a bit - very gently - with another spoon that I then used to lift it from the bowl. Then I gently shook or tapped the spoon so the extra candy coating would drip off the ball and cause it to become smoother. Then tilt the spoon to place it on some parchment paper. Immediately add some sprinkles to the top and then push in a tootsie roll "stem." If there's a lot of candy pooled onto the paper, trace around the ball with a toothpick, which will make it easier to break the candy off once dried.
So my plan was to make only pumpkins out of the cake balls, but I lost a lot of orange candy in my failed attempts. I had red candy melts to use as an accent on the turkeys, which meant I had plenty to spare, and so I decided on the spot to also make some apple cake calls. I felt the apples would still be harvest-y, but mostly, I didn't want all that yummy cake to go to waste!
So I cut the remaining cake balls in half, to make sure the apples would be smaller than the pumpkins, and I also cut the tootsie roll stems in half and reshaped everything. I dip the not-too-cold cake balls into the not-too-hot melted candy, tap/shake the spoon to let the excess drip off, place the balls on parchment paper, sprinkle some red sugar on top and insert the stems. Voila.
Once I was certain the finished cake balls were completely cool and the melted candy firmly set, I lifted the balls off the parchment paper and broke off any excess candy still attached to the bottom. I found that it was especially easy to get rid of this excess candy by breaking it off with the side of a small, angled spatula while the balls were still sitting on the flat counter.
It was essentially an easy process - once I got the hang of it. They were incredibly delicious and received rave reviews from family, so I'll certainly make them again. Upon close scrutiny, the pumpkins and apples weren't perfect, but once arranged on the serving plate, nobody noticed the imperfections. I suppose that's the genius of all things tiny: they're naturally cute!
Watch Bakerella Make Her Famous Cake Pops
The Mini Turkey Cakes
Next: The Mini Turkey Cakes. Okay, this was based on something I saw on a Food Network show, and they were supposed to be tiny and cute two-bite turkey petit fours. This did not happen. Still, everyone loved their appearance and liked the taste, so I would consider making them again in the future, but I would certainly make some changes. Anyway, here's the quick version of how I made them:
2 boxes white or yellow cake mix (I used Butter Yellow)
2 bags dark chocolate candy melts
1 bag yellow candy melts
1 bag red candy melts
2 batches of Wilton's Chocolate Buttercream Icing, 1 stiff, 1 spreadable (see below)
First, I baked the cakes, making the 2 boxes separately and baking each in a 15 x 11 inch cookie sheet. I put parchment paper down first, and coated that in non-stick spray and kept an eye on them as they baked, to make sure they didn't overcook. Then I spread one batch of icing, the spreadable one, over a cooled cake and used the parchment paper to help me flip the other cake onto it to create a large layer cake. It was far too thick, however, for what I wanted, so I would probably just cook one cake mix batter next time, possibly in the two pans to avoid having to cut the large cake in half.
Then I took a 2 1/2 inch round cookie cutter and cut out circles from the layer cake. I put these circles on parchment paper. Then I took the stiff consistency batch of icing and put it into a gallon baggy, cutting off the corner. I piped a circle on top of the cake to represent the turkey's body. I then piped a small circle at end for the head and a crescent moon-shaped rope on the other end for the tail. You can smooth out the icing with a water-dampened finger if necessary.
I melted the dark chocolate candy melts and poured the melted candy over the turkeys with the help of a spoon. It was messy. And slow. I let the candy set, then melted a handful of yellow candy melts in a sandwich baggy, cut off a very small corner, and piped two eyes on the turkey head and zigzagged across the tail end to represent feathers. Once this set, I melted some red candy in a baggy and piped a wattle (red hangy thingy) on the front of the face and went over the yellow "feathers" with a slightly smaller zigzag.
Surprisingly, they didn't look half bad, but they were very rich and way too much work! If you decide to tackle this project, feel free, and be sure to let me know how it goes! Maybe one day I'll attempt this project again, but, like I said, I'll certainly make some changes!
Pumpkins, Apples, and Turkeys, Oh My!
A Few More Things You May Need
Wilton's Chocolate Buttercream Icing
This is the icing I used in the Mini Turkey Cakes. I've always had luck with Wilton's icing recipes, and the stiff consistency did do what I wanted. Tastes pretty good, too, though not overly sweet.
Wilton's Chocolate Buttercream Icing
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup cocoa or 3 - 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate squares, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners sugar (approx. 1 lb.)
3 to 8 tablespoons milk
In a large bowl, cream shortening and butter with a mixer. Add cocoa and vanilla. Gradually add sugar, beating on medium. Icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.
For stiff consistency, Wilton recommends using 3 to 4 tablespoons milk. I used 5. For speadable consistency, Wilton recommends using 6 to 8 tablespoons milk. I used 9.
They recommend covering the bowl with a damp cloth if you're not using it right away. Also, you can refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, but must rewhip it before using.