Friday, December 16, 2011

Good Food: Christmas in a Ball

Imagine you could take the essence of Christmas, wrap it up in a little ball, cram it in your mouth and allow that Christmas essence to explode in your face, in a good way.  Well, these little gems may not truly explode, but they do have a certain something that certainly makes people do a double take.

I’ve found myself watching the cake ball/cake pop trend over the past few years.  I must confess I’ve not been exactly chomping at the bit to try my hand at this latest baking fad.  I’ve had an opportunity to try a few cake balls/pops myself and have found myself too often underwhelmed at their flavor and texture.  To be sure, many are quite a delight to look at, much as a fondant draped cake may be a site to behold.  But for me, if you cut past the beautiful exterior only to find a mediocre or even disappointing dessert hiding there, I just can’t help but find myself let down.

Cake balls, however, are somewhat the rage right now, and I felt I really needed to give it a shot, if for no other reason than to be ‘with it’, at least in baking circles.


So I did some searching of Al Gore’s 'Internets' and found a wide variety of options to choose from.  Several, however chose to go the spice cake/gingerbread route, and they are the ones that grabbed my attention. I must state for the record that I am a big fan of spiced cakes.  Gingerbread, spice cake, pumpkin cake, carrot cake.  Somewhere in the mix of brown sugar, molasses, ginger, cinnamon and a variety of ‘Fall and Winter’ type spices, I find myself truly in goodie love.  So the thought of developing a ball based on these flavors peaked my curiosity.

The biggest problem for me is that most cake ball/pop recipes I’ve found start with a boxed cake mix that is baked, cooled, crumbled in a bowl and mixed with a can of pre-made frosting.  As I have been working hard to get away from boxed mixes, I knew I would have to make at least some effort to do this from scratch (at least partially).  I searched for some good gingerbread cake recipes and came up with 3 worthy of a test. 

I baked up 3 batches and found one in particular I like above the rest.  It was a widely available ‘famous’ recipe, which I tweaked to suit my preference for a slightly spicier gingerbread.  In the end, I was not to be disappointed in my choice of cake recipes.

As for the frosting, I was very much wanting to make home-made frosting to keep in line with my from-scratch theme, but time was becoming an issue and I did have a few cans of Cream Cheese style canned frosting readily available.  Since the frosting was to be more of a supporting player than the star of the show, I conceded to using said frosting.

The recipe itself came together quite easily.  I whipped up the ‘dough’ that was the cake/frosting mix, churned out a tray full of balls and set them to firm up in the refrigerator while I prepared the white chocolate coating.

I have to say that I had some trepidation about working with my old nemesis, White Chocolate, for this recipe.  You see, my past experiences at using melted white chocolate as a coating have ended in much frustration and wasted chocolate.  I was tempted to go ahead and use the supermarket standby ‘Candy Coating’, which kind of scares me a bit.  I just really don’t quite understand what that stuff is supposed to be.  Sure it melts nicely and looks good, but beyond that, just questions.

Again, thanks to all the work Mr. Gore did on his Interweb, I was able to locate some information on the proper method of handling melted white chocolate.  Within that information, I located what was most likely the source of my previous failures:  I allowed the white chocolate to become too warm during the melting process.  Apparently, white chocolate is very sensitive to heat, and over-heating will cause it to seize.  And once it seizes, there is no rescuing it.  So I took note of the cautious procedure and set off to make my white chocolate coating. 

As you can see from the photos, I managed to pull it all off.  The balls actually looked pretty good for someone of my limited creative capabilities if I do say so myself.  But the real test for me was not in the cosmetic department.  I wanted to know if they would pass the taste test.

I made a large batch for an office Christmas party and debuted this new recipe to my co-workers.  We have no shortage of sweet treats that arrive this time of year, so the competition would be fierce to be the coveted goodie on the table.

Guess what?  People talked about them.  They talked a lot about them.  I had more compliments on these bad boys than anything I’ve brought before – and I’ve had some decent compliments before.  One guy demanded I get the recipe to his wife so she could make a whole batch just for him.

I love it.  THAT is exactly what I love about baking.

Yep, little balls of Christmas.  Spicy yummy holiday goodness.  I suggest you try them yourself.  You won’t be disappointed.

For your holiday pleasure, here is the recipe and the procedure:

Erik’s Favorite Gingerbread Cake Balls
Ingredients
    • 1 ½ cups water, divided
    • 1 cup dark molasses (regular is fine, don’t use black-strap)
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
    • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ½ cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
    • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 16 oz can of pre-made cream cheese frosting, or homemade frosting (about 1 ½ cups)
    • White Chocolate or White Candy Coating (see notes below)
    • Vegetable Oil
    • Crushed Gingersnap Cookies (about a ½ dozen)
Directions

For the Cake:
In a 2-3 qt saucepan, bring 1 cup of water to a boil.  Remove from heat and add molasses and baking powder, stir to combine.  Once the mixture stops foaming, stir in remaining ½ cup cold water.  Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 325°F.  Prepare a 9x9 baking dish with butter and flour or non-stick spray and parchment.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar.  Add the eggs and mix until combined.  Add the flour mixture and cooled molasses mixture alternately, about 3 additions for each, and mix until well incorporated.  Once all of the ingredients have been added, mix on high for 1 minute.  Note: the batter should be very runny.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean from the center of the cake.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before making cake balls.

For the Cake Balls:

In a large bowl, crumble the cooled gingerbread cake.  Add the frosting and mix together.  This will be most easily performed in a stand mixer using a beater attachment.  Mix until the frosting is very thoroughly incorporated. The finished ‘dough’ should be moist, but able to form a solid ball when pressed together.

Using a medium scoop, portion out the dough into mounds on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Once all of the dough has been portioned, roll the mounds into balls, cover the pan with foil or plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to several days in advance.  I find the flavor improves after a day or so.

Prior to dipping the balls in the coating, transfer to the freezer for at least 30 minutes.  This will help prevent the balls of dough from breaking apart while being dipped.

Prepare the melted chocolate or candy coating (see notes below on using white chocolate).  Remove the balls from the freezer, about ½ dozen at a time and dip in the coating of your choice.  The coating will set up quickly, so once you dip the balls and drain off the excess coating, set them on a parchment or wax-paper lined cookie sheet.  Immediately sprinkle the tops with a pinch of crushed gingersnap cookies. 

Once the cake balls have ‘set’, trim any excess coating that may have run onto the pan and serve.   The cake balls can be stored up to 1 week, preferably in the refrigerator.

Notes:

The Gingerbread Cake recipe is somewhat spicy (the way I like it) and is a great Gingerbread Cake recipe on its own.  Feel free to cut the Ginger and Cinnamon in half if you prefer a less spicy cake.  Also, to save time, you can you a store-bought Gingerbread Cake mix, just be sure you have a mix that will fill a 9x13 cake pan.  Just prepare according to package directions and allow to cool completely before proceeding with the cake balls.

Cake balls can ‘bleed’ a bit.  As the coating cools, it will contract and may force a little bit of filling out of any openings left in the coating.  This is normal.  If I have this happen, I just clean off the excess.  For the gingerbread, they sometimes weep a bit of yellow liquid (molasses) on the bottom as well.  If I notice this happening, I put the finished balls on a layer or two of paper towels to absorb any excess moisture.

If using Candy Coating, follow the directions on the package for melting the coating.  If using white chocolate, here is my preferred method:

Start with 2 cups White Chocolate Chips (1 bag).  Place ½ cup of chips and 1 tsp vegetable oil in a medium sized glass bowl and set over a small pot of barely simmering water.  Stir over the heat until almost completely melted, then add another ½ cup chips.  (Periodically remove the bowl from the simmering water to prevent the temperature from getting too high.  High heat will cause the chocolate to ‘seize’, and that can’t be fixed.  Keep the chocolate just warm enough to melt.)  Keep adding chocolate chips, ½ cup at a time as each previous addition becomes smooth.   Keep the water simmering on the stove.  Once all of the chocolate is melted, begin rolling or dipping the balls, returning the bowl over the simmering the water every few moments to keep it warm or as needed.  The cold cake balls will cool the temperature of the chocolate fairly quickly.

To dip the balls and have a nice finish, here is what I did:

1.      I made sure to stick the balls in the freezer for at least 30 minutes prior to coating.  This helps them to stay firm enough to dip without breaking as well as to cause the candy shell to set up quickly.
2.      Once the chocolate coating was ready, I removed only about a ½ dozen balls from the freezer at a time to work with.  After a half dozen, I needed to re-warm the chocolate again.
3.      Do dip the balls, I used a small 3-prong cocktail/shrimp fork shoved into the bottom of the balls.  I also took a disposable plastic fork and removed the inner two tines – leaving just the outer two tines.
4.      Once I had a ball on the small fork, I tilted the bowl with the chocolate and quickly ‘rolled’ the ball to coat it almost completely (I didn’t coat the area where the fork was pushed in).  Next I ‘rolled’ the ball to allow the chocolate to coat evenly, then let a little excess drip off.
5.      Before the chocolate could set, I moved to a parchment lined cookie sheet and used the plastic fork to remove the ball from the shrimp fork.  I did this by putting the plastic fork at the base of the ball and pulling up to remove the shrimp fork.  Then I set the ball on the parchment and used the shrimp fork to nudge the ball off the plastic fork.  Next I quickly dropped a pinch of crushed gingersnaps on the top of the quickly solidifying coating.  There is some chocolate overflow and the base of the ball isn’t coated in white chocolate, but who cares?  Not a single person complained!!  They were too busy making yummy sounds!
6.      Between dipping balls, I would have to clean the excess chocolate off the two forks.  Then I just repeated the process, re-warming the chocolate as needed. 

2 comments:

  1. I was hoping to get an email to you. How do I?

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  2. You can email me at: etrain16 at gmail dot com

    ReplyDelete