cake balls

I know I’ve said it before, and I will tell you again – I am no baker. I’m no good when it comes to creating amazing sweet things. See! I don’t even have adjectives for sweet stuff! I often end up in some sticky mess of chocolate and by the end of the process I’m so overwhelmed by the smell of chocolate that I just want to eat something salty! I understand that this is some weird condition that I have developed, that this is not normal. While I still love, and enjoy chocolate, I sometimes actually prefer cheese to chocolate! GASP! I know, you’re not here to hear about my eating problems. You want to hear about cake balls!
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Cake Balls

1 store bought package of chocolate cake
1 can of frosting such as German chocolate cake frosting
1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Prepare the cake according to the directions on the box. While still warm, dump the cake into a mixing bowl and crumble with a fork. Mix in frosting and stir well until the frosting is well incorporated into the cake.

Allow the cake/frosting mix to chill until you can comfortably handle the mix. Roll cake/frosting into approximately 1 inch balls. Some folks prefer to use a spoon or melon baller, but I have made enough kabob in my lifetime to just use my hands. I usually stick them in the fridge at this point while I start to melt chocolate.

Melting chocolate: This is were I fail. I prefer to use a mini crock pot (16 oz) or a fondue pot for melting chocolate, but a double boiler also works. I’m clearly not the best person to tell you how to cover cake balls in chocolate, but I will tell you what works for me. I like to warm ¼ of a bag of chocolate in a mini crock pot, I find that adding 1tsp of cooking oil (coconut is mighty tasty) helps to thin the chocolate out a bit – but this isn’t a necessary step.

Once the chocolate has melted roll the cake balls in the melted chocolate. To coat the cake balls I prefer to use a fork and a spoon, though I hear toothpicks work as well. I thought about using chopsticks, but have not tried it. I like to avoid getting my fingers involved in this chocolaty mess, a notable difference from my 2006 cake ball adventure. Once a cake ball is coated in chocolate, place it on a wax paper lined baking sheet. I’ll continue to dump in chocolate chips and melt them as I work. Too much chocolate at once and I’ll end up being covered in it. After all of the cake balls are covered in chocolate I stick them in the fridge to harden while I forage for cheese. Once the chocolate has set, they are ready to go. They will be the star of the show and everyone will think you’re some sort of baking queen.

One last note on cake/frosting combinations. I prefer the chocolate cake with German chocolate frosting dipped in semi-sweet chips. This has worked as a crowd pleaser. Other combinations that work are red velvet and cream cheese frosting; yellow cake with chocolate frosting; carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. The combinations are endless, have fun with it. Also, if you’re fancy, you can decorate the cake balls. I have been wanting to try a salted caramel on these, but by the time I’m done rolling them in chocolate I’ve sworn I will never make them again.

(This was taken in 2006, you’ll be happy to know that I have improved my technique. Photo credit: Farah N.; 3rd hand: Fouzia H.)
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pumpkin flan

Happy Thanksgiving friends! It is that time of year again, I will invariably gain an additional few pounds just from being around people who are in the holiday spirit. Though I remain on the outside of most of these festivities, I am inevitably, and without hesitation, drawn in. Despite the cold I find myself in Bryant Park sipping soup and watching people ice skate. I wonder if the holiday decorations are up in Rockefeller Plaza. I even went outlet mall shopping at midnight on Black Friday! Though retailers are trying to insist that the holiday season begins after Halloween, I know it really begins with Thanksgiving.
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This year we spent Thanksgiving with Martin’s parents. My father-in-law likes to prepare amazing feasts so I occupy myself with side dishes or with dessert. I saw this recipe about a month ago and I NEEDED to make it. I mean how can you go wrong with flan AND pumpkin. The combination sounded heavenly and I wanted to eat it immediately. I’ve been thinking about it, reading about it, finding reviews and learning how to make caramel. Mind you, I am not good at desserts. Someone once said cooking is an art and baking is a science. You can adjust stew “to taste” but can’t adjust a cake. Baking sweet stuff is not where I shine, so there were about 80,000 things that could go wrong. I’ve never made flan, or made caramel or steeped things in eggs and then strained them and why are there 4 million steps for ONE dessert? Fortunately, there isn’t much to distract me when I’m in Virginia so I had plenty of time to steep stuff in eggs. Thanks Bon Appetite!
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6 large eggs
6 large egg yolks
1¾ cup sugar, divided
1 tsp orange zest
2 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
5 whole cloves
3 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cracked cardamom pod
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree

Whisk eggs, egg yolks, ¾ cup sugar, and orange zest in a large heatproof bowl.

Bring 2 cups heavy cream, milk, cloves, star anise, cinnamon and cardamom to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once heated slowly whisk into egg mixture. Steep for 30 minutes. Strain. Whisk in vanilla extract and pumpkin puree. Chill for 3 hours.

To make caramel sauce stir 1 cup sugar and ¼ cup water in a small heavy saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until syrup is a deep amber, brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush and swirling occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in ⅓ cup heavy cream – caramel will bubble. Divide caramel among twelve 6-oz ramekins; chill until set.

Divide custard among ramekins; place in a large pan. Add hot water to pan to come halfway up the sides of ramekins; cover pan with foil. Bake at 350 until center is just set, 20-25 minutes. Chill until cold, invert onto plates.

Recipe notes:

This was pretty delicious, but I hesitate to even call it flan. It does not have the same texture as flan, we decided it was closer to a pumpkin egg mousse. There are a few things that I did differently. I used steeping pods for the spices instead of letting them float around freely – this saved me the straining step. I basically used the metal pods one uses to fill with lose tea – it worked out well. I also let the custard chill overnight instead of 3 hours – next time I will leave the spice pod in the custard while it is chilling. The custard is runny and doesn’t firm up until baked. Also, do not forget to use hot water when baking the ramekins – I totally forgot and this extended my bake time to nearly an hour, yikes.