Things I learned about dipping cake balls in ganache

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Some people make cake balls from scratch. I make cake balls only when a baking project turns out bad. In short, making cake balls, for me, is a salvage operation. The first time, it was brownies gone terribly wrong because I mistakenly thought that substituting cooking oil for butter and cocoa powder for baking chocolate would yield good results. Bad mistake. So as not to be wasteful, I crumbled the icky brownies, mixed the crumbs with butter icing, formed the mixture into balls and rolled them in coconut flakes and crushed peanuts. And the cake balls were so good.

The other weekend, I baked a cake. I modified the perfectly wonderful glazed cinnamon cake by using a mixture of butter, grated dark chocolate and coconut flakes in lieu of the streusel. The cake came out hard and dry. Probably not because of the topping but because I ran out of cake flour and used all-purpose flour instead. We ate some of it but, you know, more because we didn’t want to just throw it out.

When only about a third of the cake was left, I decided — enough of the penitence of eating bad cake. Earlier today, I made cake balls. Unlike my first attempt at making cake balls, these were not rolled in dry ingredients. Rather, they were dipped in dark chocolate ganache. And I learned a few things that I ought not forget, ever, when making cake balls in the future.

Let’s go back to the basics of cake balls. Crumbled cake (or brownies) plus butter icing. You’ll find the details in the previous cake balls post. Form the mixture into balls then roll in whatever coating you like.

Now, here’s the thing. When rolling the cake balls in dry ingredients like crushed nuts or coconut flakes, you want to roll the cake balls in them while they are soft and wet so that the dry ingredients will stick to them better. In short, as soon as you form the balls, roll them in the dry ingredients immediately pressing the coating lightly onto the surface of the cake balls. Then, chill the cake balls.

When using a wet coating like ganache or even plain melted chocolate, you want to chill the cake balls first before dropping them into the wet coating. Why? Because soft cake balls will crumble when rolled around in the thick chocolate. It’s just too punishing for them and they will fall apart. So, chill them first. I put my cake balls in the freezer for half an hour before coating them with ganache (see how to make ganache).

The chilling serves another important purpose. Ganache hardens faster when it touches something cold. So, dip cold cake balls in ganache and the ganache sets immediately. But although the ganache will set immediately around a cold cake ball, it will not harden — at least not enough to be lifted with the fingers without making a mess. Chilling is still required. So, after dipping and rolling the cake balls in ganache, lift out with a fork and set carefully on a sheet of non-stick paper. Then, chill for at least an hour.

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The smart way is to place the non-stick paper on a tray, arrange the ganache-coated cake balls on the paper and put the entire tray in the fridge. Which, sadly, I was too negligent to think about. I placed the paper on the kitchen island and arranged the cake balls on it. Then, I couldn’t figure out how to move them all into the fridge. I held a tray by the edge of the island with one hand and pulled the paper, with all the cake balls, to slide onto the tray. And the cake balls almost flew every which way. Almost. I managed to get everything on the tray.

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If you’re wondering why some of the cake balls have crushed peanut coating… Well, it’s summer. Terribly, terribly hot. But the time I was done dipping and rolling most of the cake balls in ganache, the last two or three had softened. No way I was going to drop them into the bowl of ganache. So, I took the bag of crushed peanuts from the fridge and rolled the last few cake balls in it instead.

After an hour of chilling, the ganache had hardened sufficiently. I lifted the cake balls off the non-stick paper and transferred them to a plate. No problem because they came off the non-stick paper easily.

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And that’s the inside of a cake ball. As usual, Speedy was my model. I asked him to bite a cake ball in half so I could photograph a cross section.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, the dark chocolate ganache-coated cake balls are delicious. I’m going to save some for Sam and Alex.

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