I’m a bit of an expert when it comes to cake balls. In fact, I’ve written a book on the subject called Cake Balls (Harvard Common Press), and since we are about to bring you our first recipes for them, I wanted to share with you Cake Balls 101.
At their most basic, cake balls are a base, a binder and a coating. You might know cake balls as mashed up cake and frosting, rolled into balls and dipped in chocolate, but they are so much more than that! You do usually begin with cake, although you can start with something cake-like (think brownies, doughnuts, or muffins, for instance), but I think the most variable part of this dessert is what holds the cake together into a spherical form. Frosting and buttercream are typical, but I refer to this as the “binder,” as that is what it does and also because I suggest branching out beyond frosting to jam, peanut butter, lemon curd, even pastry cream. Anything that moistens and helps the cake bind together can be used. As far as the outer coating is concerned, white, milk or dark chocolates are the most popular, but a simple confectioners’ sugar glaze can be used, or a dry coating like a crunchy covering of nuts or sparkling cinnamon-sugar.
Dipping and coating in chocolate is the most common, however, and because of that, and because the binder is usually sweet, I like to reduce sugar as much as I can. This is why you might come across recipes on Bakepedia that say something like “cream cheese frosting for cake balls.” This is because I developed that recipe intending the cream cheese frosting to be combined with cake, and that ball would be further embellished with a chocolate shell. Thus, the frosting recipe doesn’t need to have the amount of sugar that I would use in a classic cream cheese frosting (as the latter needs to cover a cake smoothly and bring a layer of sweetness). So, the cake ball component recipes will always be clearly labeled where a special accommodation has been made (and that cream cheese frosting should just be used for cake balls and not used to frost your next carrot cake, for example).
Also, the cake recipes for cake balls will tell you how many golf-ball sized balls you will most likely produce as your yield, as opposed to saying a “this makes a 9-inch cake/12 slices.”
By the way, what’s the difference between a cake ball and a cake pop? A stick! Who needs a stick? I like to put cake balls in fluted paper cups.
Cake balls are very easy to make but there are a few things that will make the process even easier and more fun.
- Definitely invest in a #40 food disher. This makes those golf-ball sized balls quickly and easily; all of your cake balls will be the same size and look very professional.
- When dipping your cake ball in chocolate or chocolate coating, allow as much excess to drip off as possible before placing cake ball on prepared baking sheet. This will eliminate a thick shell and a thick puddle of chocolate around the base.
- Sprinkle on any decorations while chocolate is still wet so that they adhere.
- For storage, most cake balls are best refrigerated in single layers, but should be brought to room temperature before serving.