14 November 2011
Cupcake Fail = Cake Ball Win
It wasn't my intention to make cake balls. I made them once before for New Year's Eve, mixed in too much frosting with the cake, and ended up with something that disgusted me. Initially, I planned on making cupcakes flavored with Celestial Seasonings' Sugar Plum Spice tea.
Every year, mid-November, their holiday teas reach the shelves of the grocery store. I really like all their flavorings, like Gingerbread Spice, Nutcracker Sweet, and Candy Cane Lane, a peppermint green tea. I haven't tried Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride yet, so I can't say what it's like. But my favorite of them all is Sugar Plum Spice. It's spicy with a floral note and perfect to sip when the weather outside is frightful. While drinking a cup, I thought back to previous cakes I made with tea and figured Sugar Plum Spice would make for a delicious cupcake flavor.
I have my favorite go-to cupcake recipes, though today I mixed it up and used the Amy Sedaris Vanilla Cupcake recipe,, but halved the original recipe (the link I gave shows the original cupcake recipe scaled in half). I figured that although I hadn't tried it before, I'm sure it would work out well. It looked like a basic recipe.
To begin, I scalded milk and steeped two tea bags in it. After five minutes, I removed the bags and let the milk cool to room temperature.
I also cut open a tea bag and added the leaves to the butter and sugar. I found this adds even more flavor to the cake and you don't notice the tea leaves when you eat it.
When you make a pot of Sugar Plum Spice tea, the tea has a reddish plum color. That wasn't going to work with the cupcake batter because the steeped milk was a little gray, so I added a tiny bit of Wilton food gel coloring to the butter and sugar.
After those two little additions, the recipe proceeds like standard cake recipes. The eggs and vanilla are added to the creamed butter and sugar followed by the flour, in three additions, and the milk in between the flour. I always give cake batters one final stir with the spatula.
I noticed that there didn't seem to be much batter and I was worried the cupcakes weren't going to look very impressive. I like tall, domed cupcakes, not small squatty cakes. There wasn't enough batter to fill the cups up 2/3rds of the way, which technically is what you want. Personally, I always fill them up a little higher when I make cupcakes but there wasn't anywhere near enough to do that this time.
As I expected, the cupcakes didn't really rise much higher than the top of the tin. I also failed to grease the tin properly and almost all of the cupcakes tore as I prodded them out with a butter knife. Failure. Fortunately, they at least tasted flavorful and buttery, with a delicate crumb that melted in your mouth.
I didn't really know what to do with the cupcakes until I decided to turn them into cake balls.
Thinking back on my last cake ball venture didn't leave me with fond memories. Because I didn't want to waste perfectly good tasting cake, so I proceeded with the idea, making a quick batch of buttercream. I may have made a bit too much because the mixture was kind of tacky after combining the buttercream with the crumbled cake. I stuck it in the fridge overnight and hoped it would be edible.
The next day, I melted two cups of white chocolate chips over a double boiler with shortening. Shortening helps create a smooth consistency that makes it much easier to coat the balls. I don't know how much I used, but it was probably close to 1/3 of a cup until I got the consistency I wanted. It easily flowed from a spoon and wouldn't result in a gloppy mess. I would use Wilton Candy Melts or bar chocolate next time since they melt more easily than chips, which are made to keep their shape. Chips can be used and I often use them because that's what I usually have in the pantry, but it takes longer.
The process went quickly and the cake balls were firm enough to be rolled in the chocolate without melting. I think I was a little sloppy when I transferred them to the wax paper-lined baking sheet, though, because mini disks of chocolate spread out underneath. The tops of the balls were sprinkled with coarse sanding sugar mixed with raspberry jello powder to make a subtle pink sugar. They looked pretty and festive.
They tasted really good, too. The spiciness was dulled a little by the frosting (which I didn't flavor with more tea for whatever reason), though they still were good and the tea flavor did come through. The white chocolate coating wasn't overpowering, either. All in all, success!