Last summer, a family friend set my mum and me a challenge. She was getting married, and knowing that I like to bake (and that the long pause before going to uni was driving me a little bit crazy) she asked if we could help out by providing something sweet for the guests at the reception. Now, we’re both perfectionists and people-pleasers (an unhealthy combination – thanks for that Mum!) so we wholeheartedly accepted the challenge and set about dreaming up the perfect after-dinner treats.
But what makes a good dessert for an occasion like that? You want something simple, that will cater to everyone’s tastes. You can’t really use nuts or anything that people could be allergic to. You want them to look pretty and presentable. Above all, whatever we chose couldn’t be too time-consuming. Our target was to make 150 of these after all!
Having decided to split that 150 up into five lots of thirty, we scoured recipe books and shortlisted allsorts: mini versions of ANZAC biscuits, patty cakes, chocolate bark, mint chocolate slice… One day we were wandering through Lakeland (as you do) and Mum pointed a cake pop machine out to me. I knew of them, having seen them online and on the front pages of those beautiful, glossy cookbooks, but I grumbled and said they looked like a lot of effort. She bought the machine and the sticks anyway. Up for the challenge as always (read: stubborn and wanting to prove a point), I gave them a go as soon as we got home and was promptly converted.
Cake pops are basically small spheres of cake on a stick. You can decorate them however you like; my favourite website to look at for cake pop inspiration is definitely Bakerella – she’s so creative! You make up a basic fairy cake mix, spoon it into the holes in the machine, close the lid, and in 4 minutes you have 12 perfect little spheres. (After doing a little research on the internet, I found out that they’re not traditionally done this way – the orthodox way to do things is by baking a cake as normal, then crumbling it up, mixing it with icing and then rolling it into balls).
So far, so good! Decorating them proved a bit more of a challenge. Firstly you have to join the cake to a stick, using melted chocolate. Once the chocolate’s set, the two are sealed together. However, patience isn’t my strong suit and I didn’t leave them long enough to chill – cue balls of cake comically and frustratingly falling into icing mixture! I tried coating them in icing and then in the remainder of the melted chocolate, with mixed results. The icing was a little too thin, the chocolate was too thick, and they didn’t look very neat. (I’m a perfectionist, remember). But the important thing was that they tasted good, they had that novel factor, and I was fairly sure that after a few more practices I’d feel happy enough to put them out there.
We soon decided on another set of thirty – a classic recipe of Mum’s called lemon slice, which is made by crushing up rich tea (or Marie) biccies and combining them with coconut, condensed milk and butter, and covering the whole lot in a very tangy lemon icing. We still felt the need for something chocolatey though. I found a few recipes on the internet that I tried out (peanut butter & pretzel truffles, anyone?) but nothing really fit the bill. After looking through our books again, I found a recipe for chocolate truffles that was simple and quick – just melted dark chocolate and double cream, with a few drops of peppermint essence. A friend agreed to make thirty little meringues and thirty brownie pieces – so all was well, now I just had to wait ’til the weekend of the wedding.
|The ganache looked good but got everywhere!|
Luckily, trying to perfect the cake pop as well as doing my usual summer waitressing in the village kept me busy enough. I experimented with chocolate-flavoured sponge and covered them in chocolate ganache to celebrate my brother’s homecoming from tour.
Finding Candy Melts was my big breakthrough. They look like chocolate buttons, but they’re basically pure sugar in an array of crazy colours. (Anything that comes with a warning about E numbers and hyperactivity’s gotta be good, right?!) You melt them down, and dip the pops into the mixture as normal. The difference is that the candy sets hard and sets quickly, forming a sweet shell around the cake and leaving you free to decorate and move them around without fear of them smudging each other.
So, by the time the day before the wedding rolled around, I was fairly confident I knew what I was doing and set to work. I made two trays of the biscuit part of the lemon slice, a big bowl of the mint truffle mixture and 40 cake pop balls plus their sticks. I left them in the fridge overnight (ever so slightly paranoid about them setting haha) and the following day it was time to decorate them all! The lemon slice got iced; the truffles rolled, and then I said a little prayer and started the cake pops.
|The finished truffles, rolled in cocoa or chocolate vermicelli.|
|A few of the lemon slice squares.|
I had a bag of red melts and one bag of white ones, as well as a few different types of sprinkles (I’m a big believer that 100s and 1000s can hide a multitude of sins, haha!). The vague idea I had in my head was to create a coating colour gradient from white to red, six pops or so in each shade and to top each one with something different. To my surprise, it went more-or-less without a hitch!
Please excuse the slightly dodgy iPhone photos – as this was quite a while ago so I don’t have all the photos that I’d like.
|The darker pink pops drying.|
|Nearly done! By this point I was running out of places to stand them up…|
I didn’t go to the reception, so after plating everything up as neatly as I could I handed it all to my Mum and Dad to take with them. They returned the following morning with empty plates so I was very pleased! All in all, a crazy challenge for a very amateur baker, but a hell of a lot of fun.