Here’s an experiment I’ve been wanting to do for awhile: turn my popular Ugly Cake into Ugly Cake Balls.
Ugly Cake came out of my early days of cake decorating when I wanted something yummy one night but didn’t feel like going to my ever-increasing lengths of spectacle in terms of fancy nerdgirl cakes. So I took a box mix for a Betty Crocker French Vanilla cake, dumped in some extra artificial vanilla (I’ve since determined it’s about 2 tablespoons), and baked it up in two 9″ round pans.
Meanwhile I made Alton Brown’s ganache recipe. When the cake was cool, I slapped the semi-thickened ganache all over one layer of the cake, plopped the next layer on top, poured on the rest of the ganache and made a half-hearted effort of spread it all around. No leveling, no worrying about corners showing through icing, no worries. Ugly cake. Incredibly delicious, moist, rich, awesome ugly cake.
I’ve since made it as cupcakes as well, putting the ganache in an icing bag and piping it on in little swirls which aren’t exactly ugly but certainly aren’t made centred, evenly, or otherwise prettified.
I’ve also dipped cupcakes in the ganache for a thin layer and then thrown sprinkles on top for kid events. Huge hit.
Ugly cake is celebrated in our household for its very ugliness. It is a deliberate step away from caring about the appearance of the food and going for a pig-out revel in taste. It is a big, wonderful mess.
Then there are cake balls, which are small and dainty and cute and, in the hands of Bakerella, miniature works of art. I’ve tried a few of those and they’re fun, so I intend to try more, but they’re too sweet for my liking, even using my homemade buttercream in lieu of canned frosting which is, in my opinion, nasty. I completely understand the utility of candy melts because they are colourful and do not have to be tempered, but I find the palm kernel oil leaves an unpleasant mouth-feel and they’re just far, far too sweet for my tastes.
So I challenged myself: can Ugly Cake translate into Ugly Cake Balls?
Here’s how I did it today:
I started with the Betty Crocker French Vanilla mix, as always, with the additional blort of vanilla. Baked it in a 9×13 pan and set about crumbling it. Unfortunately, this recipe is so moist that it doesn’t crumble well using Bakerella’s standard instructions and I was worried it’d gum up into lumps in the food processor (plus I loathe cleaning that thing), so I broke it up into chunks and ripped into it with two forks, sort of like pulled pork:
I worked on it until it became fairly uniform with no large chunks left:
Then I made up the ganache.
I used two 70% dark bars and one semi-sweet because I wanted a mostly-dark flavour but I’ve found that using three 60% or 70% bars is too dark for most of our friends who are used to sweeter chocolate. The recipe only uses 6 of the 8 oz in the heavy cream container, so I usually toss the leftovers into scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, or even a creamy hot chocolate (I make mine in the microwave, right in the mug, with milk, 2 tablespoons of cocoa, and 1 tablespoon of Splenda for baking, and with a bit of heavy cream it becomes super rich and thick).
I use the plunger-style measuring tool for corn syrup because it really does make life easier than trying to scrape out sticky stuff from a regular tablespoon. I considered omitting the corn syrup for this application since Brown says it’s there largely to give the ganache a nice gloss, and I knew I’d be mixing it up and hiding it, but decided not to stray from a recipe I know works.
Once the corn syrup and heavy cream were warming up in the pot, I broke up the chocolate still inside the wrapper. I know you’re supposed to chop it up evenly but this is faster and always works for me. Make sure each interior square is broken up at least once.
Then I put the chocolate into a bowl. Occasionally I’ve been foolish and dumped it straight into the pot and ended up with little scaldings from splashing hot goo. Don’t do that. Put it in a bowl.
When the stuff in the pot has begun to simmer (which it will probably be doing by the time you break up and unwrap the chocolate, especially if you’re spending extra time taking photos for a blog post), turn off the heat.
Carefully add the chocolate. I know it looks too chunky. Trust me, all will be well.
As you mix them, it’s going to take on a grainy, lumpy appearance. Remember the great Douglas Adams and Don’t Panic. Just keep mixing.
As you mix, it’ll start to come together nicely. If you were trying to do this secretly, forget about it: your kitchen now smells awesome and anybody within smelling-distance will be coming around soon to see what you’re up to.
Keep mixing until it’s uniform in colour and texture, being sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the pot.
At this point, if I was making Ugly Cake, I’d set this on a potholder in the fridge to get it to thicken up, stirring frequently until it was just before the sludge point, then I’d slather it all over the cake. But for cake balls, I decided the mixing would probably be at its best with it warm and gooey like this, so I made a well in the centre of the cake crumbs and scraped the whole lot in. I considered only doing part, but decided I was going for rich and dark here, and preferred too much ganache to not enough.
I mixed in from the sides to keep the ganache off of the cool bowl as long as possible.
After thorough mixing, it came together in a soft, somewhat truffle-like consistency, only a bit more grainy than truffles. Definitely more moist than a typical cake ball, but I wasn’t concerned about them being too soft because I know the ganache hardens up when cooled.
Then it was a simple matter of rolling it up into balls, about one inch in diameter. I’d like to pretend that this even array was intentional, but it wasn’t. Besides, the one in the bottom right corner is a bit of a runt, poor wee thing. Guess which one has already been declared Baker’s Trial Piece? Muahahahaha.
I put the tray in the fridge for about an hour to firm up the balls. Meanwhile, I engaged in some horrific parenting by encapsulating my child in a plastic cage. Or perhaps she was hiding under a basket and I gave her a second basket so she could play Sneaky SpiderGirl in greater comfort. Go with whatever narrative amuses you the most.
Keeping the balls in the fridge until the last minute, I put some waxed paper on the counter and grabbed a bag of decent-quality white chocolate chips. If I was any good at tempering chocolate, I might have tried a real chocolate coating, but I’m not so I didn’t. I considered using modelling chocolate, but after sampling some decided it was too sweet and would clash with the balls.
(Yes, the modelling chocolate I had on hand is left over from the Wolverine cake and yes my dirty mind was filled with all kinds of nefarious innuendo pertaining to nibbling on said spherical objects in a way related to Hugh Jackman but that’s about all I’m going to say on what I’m hoping to be a reasonably family-friendly blog.)
Anyhoo, I put some white chocolate chips in a small bowl and warmed them in the microwave until they were about 112 F (as measured with our laser thermometer because you’d better believe this household has a mega nerdy gadget like that…get an automotive/tool shed one because they’re cheaper than culinary ones and are exactly the same other than labelling). Then I added more chips to seed it and be at least in the realm of tempering.
Once the chocolate was smooth and ready, I got the tray of balls out of the fridge and dipped ’em. I’m really, really, really quite bad at covering these things. I made a huge mess trying different methods, from using a spoon to sticking them on the end of a skewer to fingers. The only ones I got in any way smooth were random accidents. Most tried to melt in the warm chocolate, which left little streaks and dots of brown in the white.
But I decided not to have a fit about it, and instead recall that these were a derivation of Ugly Cake. I took a deep breath, did the best I could, and let go…
Meanwhile, I sampled the mini one as the coating hardened. That’s when I realized I truly didn’t care about how lumpy they looked, because they tasted WONDERFUL. Rich, creamy, dark interiors with a sweet but not cloying exterior with just the right amount of snap.
I finished coating the rest of the batch, using up the whole one-pound bag of white chocolate plus almost another cup from a second bag, so if you’re repeating this, you’ll want more than a pound on hand.
Then I took the nicest looking ones and put them on my cake carrier to take to a social event that evening, where they seem to have been appreciated:
Check it out, there’s even one that looks nice and smooth hiding in there:
Pay no heed to the remaindered pile of rejects over here…
Anyway, there you have it. Ugly Cake does work as Ugly Cake Balls. You can make cake balls with ganache that are rich and dark, and you can coat them with white chocolate. These would absolutely work as cake pops as well, and in fact would probably have more even coatings. Just be sure the balls are very chilled so they stay firmly on the sticks. I actually prefer the texture and flavour when cold, but they’re also pretty good after sitting outside on a warm Texas spring evening for a few hours.