This time last year I introduced you to Sally’s Baking Challenge. Can you believe it? A whole year? That means 12 challenge recipes including the very first one, which also landed a spot on the 2017 most popular recipe list: chocolate lava cakes!! (Here are the top 10 recipes of 2017 if you missed that.)
Chocolate HAD to be included in February’s Baking Challenge again. I decided on chocolate cake pops because many of you request them, especially after I shared my favorite vanilla version. Your wish is my command.
What I love most, however, is that you have creative control. You can decorate these cake pops in your own unique way, which makes the challenge 100x more fun.
I have plenty of step-by-step photos and lots of tips/tricks. I want you to understand every instruction so you can follow along and know what the heck you’re doing. The process isn’t difficult– you’re literally just baking a chocolate cake and making frosting then mixing them together. Things just get a little particular when it comes to rolling, lollipop-sticking, and dunking/dipping. If you can make bread bowls, you can totally handle cake pops! (They’re more fun to eat too… sprinkles!)
By the way, if you’ve ever eaten store-bought cake pops– these taste totally different. They’re from scratch. No cake mix. No canned frosting. No preservatives or other crap-o-la. You can actually TASTE the homemade. ♥
CAKE POPPING PROCESS
- Make single layer chocolate cake
- Make just enough homemade chocolate frosting
- Crumble the cake
- Mix the two together
- Form into cake balls
- Dip the cake balls in chocolate
Quick tip: Whenever I make cake pops from scratch, I always begin the night before. I make the cake, cover it, and let it sit out at room temperature overnight. I also prepare the frosting, cover, and refrigerate. This way everything’s ready to go.
Ok let’s do this thing!
SINGLE LAYER CHOCOLATE CAKE
It might seem like the switch from vanilla cake pops to chocolate cake pops is easy. Replace some flour with cocoa powder, right? And vanilla frosting with chocolate frosting? I wish! Chocolate is a complicated soul and requires a little finesse. I baked a couple single layer chocolate cakes before stopping at this one. The first few began with creamed butter + sugar. My favorite chocolate cakes and cupcakes typically rely on oil for the fat because (1) HELLO MOISTURE and (2) the flavor of butter really isn’t necessary because chocolate overpowers it anyway. My initial thought with cake pops, however, was that I needed a slightly drier cake to get the best texture for cake pops (because it will be mixed with frosting). Well this was just a huge mess from the start because dry cake is gross.
That being said, you’ll need oil for the cake. And a few other basics like cocoa powder, sugar, flour, and eggs. Hot water is also a must. Remember why? The hot liquid encourages the cocoa powder to bloom and dissolve. When I make chocolate cake, I usually reach for hot coffee (instead of hot water) because coffee accentuates the chocolate favor– but that’s not as crucial here. Because we’re just crumbling the cake and mixing with chocolate frosting!
By the way, you can totally enjoy this chocolate cake on its own. If you ever need a single layer chocolate cake– use this guy. It’s so good. Like, italicize and bold good. Deep and dark chocolate flavor. Super moist. Super rich. Top with chocolate buttercream, peanut butter frosting, or red wine chocolate ganache. (!!!)
What was a little more difficult than testing the perfect single layer chocolate cake was figuring out how much frosting I needed. Too much frosting and the cake pops are wet and greasy. Too little frosting and you won’t have enough to bind the cake crumbles. I have the perfect amount of frosting you’ll need. It’s not much because the chocolate cake is already so moist.
Crumble the cake into the bowl of frosting and yes, you’ll feel very weird doing this. You just made this beautiful chocolate cake and will now break it up into a bowl of frosting. Because that’s what cake pops are– cake crumbs and frosting. Weird.
Crumble up and use your mixer to combine the frosting + crumbs:
Once the two are mixed together, it’s time to roll the mixture into balls. This part is EASY. I found the chocolate cake pops much easier to roll into balls than my vanilla version. This mixture is just sooo smooth! Your hands will get a little sticky, but just roll with it. Hahahaha get it? get it?
DON’T MAKE THIS MISTAKE
Smaller wins. If you roll the cake pops too large, they’ll wobble off the lollipop stick. They’re too heavy. You need 1 Tablespoon of the cake pop mixture per ball. No more, no less. You’ll end up with 40 of them. Quite a lot– but these babies freeze beautifully! And you can gift them to anyone and everyone. Who doesn’t love a homemade cake pop? Seriously WHO.
These cake balls need to chill in the refrigerator before we pop ’em with a lollipop stick. Why? They’re much too delicate right now; they’ll completely fall apart. Which reminds me… you do NOT have to make these as pops. You can make them truffle style by simply rolling them up and coating in chocolate. Either way you enjoy them, chill the cake balls before coating. I just place them on a lined baking sheet and refrigerate them for a couple hours.
Speaking of chocolate, you can dunk the cake balls into pure chocolate, which is what I prefer for best taste, but that’s pretty expensive. You need a good amount for all 40 cake pops! You can use candy melts/candy coating instead. I give both options in the recipe below along with notes for each choice.
3 EASY TRICKS
- To ensure the cake ball stays secure on the lollipop stick, dip it slightly into the coating first. Then stick in the center of the cake ball. See photo above.
- A 2-cup glass liquid measuring cup is the perfect depth for dipping the cake pops. If I’m using pure chocolate, like I did in these photos, I melt it in a double boiler then spoon a little at a time into the measuring cup. I don’t like dipping right into the whole pot of melted chocolate.
- The best way to allow the coating to dry and set– without ruining the perfectly round cake pop– is to place them right side up in a large styrofoam block or even a box. I used a box, as pictured below, for this batch. I just poked super tiny holes into it. Easy and cheap.
Cake pops will be dry within an hour. (This is my vanilla version.)
Contrary to my wordy post (sorry!!!) and 1 million photos, I promise chocolate cake pops are simple. As long as you follow my tips in this post and get started the night before per my suggestion, it’s simple!
If you’re not into this recipe, here is the alternate February Baking Challenge:
After you make the baking challenge recipe or alternative, share your photos throughout this month using #sallysbakingchallenge on Instagram or Twitter, or upload a photo of your recipe to my Facebook page or Facebook group. By doing so, you’re automatically entered in the $250 giveaway!!
Chocolate Cake Pops
- 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 6 Tablespoons (31g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder (1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (120mll) canola, vegetable, or melted coconut oil
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (120ml) hot water
- 6 Tablespoons (86g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup (90g) confectioners' sugar
- 1/2 cup (41g) unsweetened natural or dutch-process cocoa powder
- 2-3 teaspoons heavy cream or milk
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 32 ounces candy melts or coating (or pure chocolate)*
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease a 9-inch pan (round or square) or 9-inch springform pan.
- Make the cake: Whisk the flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. Whisk the oil, eggs, and vanilla together in a medium bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, add the hot water, and whisk everything together until combined. Make sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients hiding.
- Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 25-27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack.
- Make the frosting: With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. This isn't a lot of butter and it will get stuck on the sides of the bowl, so you may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to really help get it creamed. Add confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons of heavy cream/milk, and vanilla extract with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until it really comes together. Add another teaspoon of milk/cream if it looks a little too thick.
- Crumble the cooled cake into the bowl on top of the frosting. Make sure there are no large lumps. Turn the mixer on low and beat the frosting and cake crumbles together until combined.
- Measure 1 scant Tablespoon of moist cake mixture and roll into a ball. Place balls on a lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 2 hours or freeze for 1 hour.
- Melt the coating in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup (best for dunking!). Use a microwave or you can use a double boiler and pour some at a time into the liquid measuring cup. Let the coating cool down for a few minutes before you begin dipping. If it's too hot when you dip, the coating will crack.
- Coat the cake balls: Remove only 2-3 cake balls from the refrigerator at a time. (Keep the rest cold!) Dip a lollipop stick about 1/2 inch into the coating, then insert into the center or the cake ball. Only push it about halfway - 3/4 through the cake ball. Dip the cake ball into the coating until it is completely covered. Make sure the coating covers the base of the cake ball where it meets the lollipop stick. Very gently tap the stick against the edge of the measuring cup to allow excess coating to drop off. Decorate the top with sprinkles and place upright into a styrofoam block or box (as explained above). Repeat with remaining cake balls, only working with some out of the refrigerator at a time. The cake balls must be very cold when dipping!
- Coating will set within an hour. Store cake pops in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Make ahead tip: I always make the cake 1 day ahead of time. Cover and keep at room temperature. You can store the undipped cake balls in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or freeze them for up to 6 weeks. Allow to thaw in the refrigerator then continue with step 7. You can also freeze the finished cake pops for up to 6 weeks once the coating has fully set. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
*You can use candy coating/candy melts, almond bark, or pure semi-sweet chocolate. If using almond bark or pure chocolate, chop it up before melting. Melt it down with 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil to thin out so it's easier to use as a coating. Bittersweet, white chocolate, or milk chocolate work as well. Coarsely chop and melt down with 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil to thin out. Keep warm over a double boiler. You can also temper pure chocolate for the coating. My full tempering tutorial is in Sally's Candy Addiction if you have a copy.
Want to skip the lollipop stick? Go for it. Just dip the cake balls in melted or tempered chocolate to make delicious chocolate cake truffles. Whenever I dip truffles, I always use this spiral dipping tool. Place the truffle in the chocolate and lift it out with the dipping tool. Quickly flip it upside down on a lined baking sheet. You can see exactly how I do this in this video (scroll down for video): dark chocolate chocolate rum truffles. Go to the 1 minute mark. That’s how I dip and neatly release truffles. So easy!
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