Back again after a small hiatus, my class Finals are finished and now I can spend a bit more mental time on writing up various posts again. Like my little adventure in confections I had a week ago.
So a friend of mine challenged me to reproduce the Birthday Cake Pops they sell at Starbucks; being somewhat competitive, confident, and curious about my reproduction capabilities, not to mention it’s the perfect street food version of a loved confection. Had to try it first, though, so I popped down to the nearest nationally-chained coffeehouse.
… bright pink white chocolate and sprinkles covering a very interesting center. Not my normal choice of baked item, but there were some intriguing components. For those who haven’t had it yet, the center isn’t just a simple cut white cake (like I thought it’d be). It’s noticeably “moist,” it possesses this very unique texture, sorta crumbly but sticking together at the same time, and there’s a flavor reminiscent of the childhood box-made birthday cake and cheap frosting. Which is all coming from the cake, as the outside is just a cheap white chocolate (seriously). So now the work comes in trying to reproduce it.
There are a couple different recipes and methods of productions I’ve found online to attempt to reproduce them, and though I like elements and methods of each I think they all need touching, so I combined a bit of two main ideas that I liked.
We start with the cake of course. If you want to try completely duplicating the flavor notes of Starbuck’s, I think you could safely use a Box Cake Mix at home; in fact, I might actually SUGGEST doing that, or at the very least finding a REALLY good White Vanilla Cake Recipe to make from scratch (especially one using Oil). I went off the cake recipe from one of the main Recipes for these Cake Pops, which my Friend actually tried themselves before challenging me. Apparently they thought the cake was pretty close to original, but other parts of the recipe screwed things up… I’ll explain later.
Basic Vanilla Cake Recipe (from site)
1 cup Butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tb vanilla
3 cups flour
1 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
Basic cake-making procedure here. We start by creaming the Butter, Sugar, and Vanilla (electric hand mixer always works well).
Add Eggs in one at a time. Once that’s done, get all those Dry ingredients mixed together and start carefully adding about 30% of it in.
Add a similar percentage of the Milk in and switch the additions back and forth 1-2 times until both milk and flour-mixture are fully incorporated. Mix well so there be no lumps; and an fyi, no real need to be careful and try and “preserve a light cake” by sifting flour or anything else. We’re gonna be mashing this all up at the end of the day, any delicate texture will get destroyed anyways. Which makes Poundcake a really good and tasty cake substitute if you wanted to try something different.
350F oven in a 9x13in Cake Pan, HIGHLY buttered, for about 30-35 minutes is what the recipe states; mine took longer than that for the same pan actually (look how much I got in there…), and ultimately one can use whatever pan they like, just keep close watch.
And there we have a simple, boring, and sorta bland white vanilla cake. Almost perfect for adding in loads of frosting and forming into balls of sugar joy.
Speaking of Frosting, we can get to making that while the cake is cooling (over a rack preferably). Now, the original recipe called for a very simple icing mixture of ½ cup each of butter and milk along with 3 ½ cups of powdered sugar… yeah, that’s right, 3 ½ cups. No wonder my friend’s attempt was reminiscent of gingivitis.
This being one of, or actually THE key element into what gives these Pops their identity, I really couldn’t stand the idea of using SO MUCH of this in just one cake, not to mention all that sugar; you just know all sense of the butter would be completely lost. So, what I ultimately ended up with was a recipe/ratio that looked like this:
¼ cup (2 oz, ½ stick) Butter
¼ cup Milk
1 Tb Vanilla extract
1 Cup Powdered Sugar
Now, I only used about ½-2/3rds of the actual cake for this entire batch of frosting, so if one wanted to make more just increase proportionately with the same ratios (you’ll notice that if I had ½ cup butter like the original recipe the Powdered Sugar used would only equal 2 cups, noticeably less than before).
Steps are the same for any simple icing; cream the butter with vanilla, add some of the powdered sugar and carefully mix in the rest with the milk back and forth, similar to the cake batter. The ACTUALLY recipe calls to cream the butter with the milk, no sugar, in the beginning: do not do this, for the love of god DO NOT DO THIS!! I have no idea what sorta crack this guy was smoking when he wrote it, but these two things just do not want to get along…you’ll end up with a puddle of milk and butter that still won’t fully come together no matter how much powdered sugar one adds… like me. Luckily, though, even if one’s frosting DOES break, it doesn’t really matter too much for our application, as we’re only using the mixture for added moistness, sweetness, and flavor.
Now, take all the cake that we’re going to use and break it all up into a bowl quite thoroughly, like so.
Add the icing in ¼ths; if you know exactly how much you need/want for the amount of cake being used, then go ahead and dump it all in. Otherwise I would suggest being careful and adding only a bit at a time, mixing carefully with a spoon or, even better, one’s hands, until it gets the exact flavor and stickiness/consistency that YOU want it. Taste and test the consistency as we go.
Damn that’s a big ball…
When I did it, I actually got to the point where you didn’t even need to SQUEEZE it to create a ball that sticks together. You should ideally be able to just take some now-sticky frosting-cake and gently roll it in a palm, with only a little bit of pressure, to make your balls. This is a really nice alternative to the second recipe/method I found in my research, which called for none of this frosting steps and just squished un-affected cake into balls. Though the flavor is still good, it’s noticeably different than the original Pops; plus, by not having to press it down, one is able to use less cake for the same sized ball.
I did learn one fun trick from the “press” method that I applied here; before rolling, smear a little bit of butter into your palms. Besides helping to grease them so fingers don’t get all “cakey,” I like to think it adds just a bit more of that special richness to the orbs.
Once you’ve rolled the desired amount, stick ‘em with whatever handle one decides to use. Ideally, one should use some nice long, somewhat thick sticks like they use for caramel apples or others. However I didn’t want to pay all that money for those so I thought I’d try something else: straws! Brightly colored straws!
Yeah that wasn’t the best idea… they hold the pop very well once everything is done, but they’re a pain during the dipping process. I would suggest one either cut them much longer than me or just find something a lot sturdier; get a pack of those thick wooden picks and just re-use them afterwards.
After sticking the “sticks” in, making sure to give a good press to the cake around it so that it sticks (that’s 3 sticks in a sentence… well, 4 now), move them into the fridge to cool and set up. Many recipes just say 10-15 minutes for this, I say I’m more comfortable with at least 1-2 hours to make sure they’re solid. Plus, this way one can make the balls earlier in the day and then dip whenever they want to later on.
While this is cooling, we can start dealing with our coating. Now, that “pressed cake” method recipe also suggested using something on the lines of “colored candy discs” made for people to just melt down and dip whatever they want in. Supposedly they’re the same thing as what Starbucks uses (I wouldn’t be surprised if they were similar) and one can find them at Walmart or something. They basically look like this:
And they’re basically just really cheap, pre-colored white chocolate, or the closest one could make to it; not to mention they cost a bit more considering the “production cost” for making a packet of these little discs. I personally don’t care how close I’m trying to reproduce the flavor of these, I will NOT stoop so low as to buy crappy chocolate. At the very least I’m getting a decent quality White Chocolate and melting it myself.
This is a block of white chocolate, taken off from an even BIGGER (think about the size of a small countertop) block of white chocolate. I got it at a Cake and Candy Supply shop that I happen to live relatively close to; places like that often sell various kinds of good quality, block-cut chocolates for one to peruse. If one doesn’t have a shop like that near them, I’ve also seen some good quality chocolates (sometimes in block form, sometimes in Chip) at the larger shops of Kitchen Window, some Co-ops, etc. I always try to go to a place like that for my quality chocolate needs; stay away from the National Grocery Store Baking Aisle.
I also picked up a little container (which will last me years I’m sure) of mini-pearl white sprinkles! I didn’t want to, but the friend said it wouldn’t count if I didn’t have them… for those wanting to duplicate entirely and unable to find a thing of just white sprinkles, I hear there are some black n white mixes that use the style, just gotta pick them out…
Alright, let’s get back to things. Cut off as much of the white chocolate as you need; you’ll want a lot, say 2 cups-ish. Also, just a little note to remember, though it’s easy to slice off pieces of white chocolate, the Milk and Dark ones can be a bit of a Bitch. For those playing with them, a good method for quick, easy, and less messy separation, take any solid knife (a duller one that you use for whatever is perfect; no need to use the finest blade in the kitchen), stab it an inch or so back (or however far back for the size pieces one needs) and just lever off chunks. With the firmer dark chocolates, will probably need to hit the handle with your hand or a wood/plastic mallet to get it down enough to crack.
We now have our white chocolate in a bowl, which we gently melt over a pan of warm/simmering water (double boiler). Stick to the same chocolate-melting suggestions used in my Cheesecake Bar experience, minus the oil thing.
Swirl in your food coloring (yes, apparently I forgot that I didn’t have any red, so I made baby blue colored ones instead) to the preferred shade and begin your dipping!
So, here’s what you want to do: Get some Styrofoam. Seriously. The idea is that, after you’ve dipped the cake pops, you press the end of the stick into the foam so the whole thing stands upright while it cools/dries. This leaves a nice, smooth orb with no marks or flat parts or whatever, maybe some drips on the stick (or swirls around it if there was trouble with dipping). For whatever reason, I actually couldn’t find any styarofoam in the house, so I tried making my own little platform out of a cardboard box with holes in it:
Yeah, this didn’t work too well… I had one stick that staid up, but the other ones either sank all the way down to the base of the pop or just wouldn’t go in the hole. So I just ended up having to carefully dip them, take them out without the straw popping out (which it did), and tenderly pull them OFF the straw with a fork and transfer to wax paper in a way that at least the top was smooth. It still looked nice, but once cool I had to break off a lot of thick, built up chocolate “bases” at the bottom.
Add the sprinkles right after you’ve dipped, otherwise it’ll cool quickly and you won’t be able to get any on; I might suggest having a friend help if you’re having a messy time like me. Especially towards the end, when the chocolate is getting low and you’re trying to spoon it on all sides and such… not easy.
But, when you’re done, you should still have a little pile of your own Birthday Cake Pops like they make at Starbucks, if not better! Look how smooth and pretty it is!
And the friend’s judgment? : “Pretty damn close actually.”
That’s a win in my book! As for next time (the friend is making demands now), I think I’ll try a box cake mix, get myself some damn Styrofoam and wooden sticks (and red food coloring yes), and I think I’ll try something different with the chocolate. The shell, though tasty, was a bit thick to my liking, and again I was having some issue with dipping, and it ran low pretty quickly. I think next time I might find a recipe for a White Chocolate Glaze, like with cream or something; that way I can increase the volume of the actual dipping without spending so much on pure chocolate, while creating a slightly thinner coating that A: stays smooth easily and B: uses less glaze. Just need to find one that actually sets up firm…
Well, that’s it for my Return-Post. Wait a little bit and I’ll post a fun recipe one can do to use up any of that leftover Cake you have! Until then, Good Luck and Good Eating.