All of a sudden, cake pops are everywhere: Online, at Starbucks, in the Neiman-Marcus catalog. Late-night infomercials hawk countertop appliances for baking tiny, spherical cakes. Angie Dudley, the food blogger also known as Bakerella, who is widely acknowledged with popularizing the bite-sized treats, has a bestselling cookbook ("Cake Pops: Tips, Tricks, and Recipes for More Than 40 Irresistible Mini Treats") devoted to teaching home bakers how to make cake pops resembling pumpkins, sheep, and Kermit the Frog.
They're a fad, yes, but also the most recent iteration of a snack category popular since prehistoric times: Food on a stick. Realizing that cake pops, like shish kebab and corn dogs, are here to stay, I decided to give them a try.
Cake pops without the cake
Most cake pop recipes call for baking a cake from a mix, crushing it into crumbs, and mixing it with a can of frosting before rolling the mixture into balls and impaling the balls on sticks. I instantly rebelled against this method because baking a cake, even one from a box, only to have to pulverize it, seemed like a waste of time. Also, canned frosting? Really? There had to be a better-tasting, more wholesome way to get the crumbs to stick together.
I considered several filling options, before settling on a mixture of Oreo cookies and cream cheese developed by Kraft Foods to make Oreo "truffles" and recommended by many lazy cake-pop chefs, including Bakerella. It gave me a filling with the same consistency as the cake crumbs-and-frosting combination, without any baking. And the cream cheese balanced the sweetness of the crumbs (a common complaint about cake pops made with canned frosting is that they're too sweet).
I placed my filling in the refrigerator and headed to Michael's Crafts in Riverhead for the supplies required to complete the project. I marched directly to the baking and candymaking section of the store, where I picked up lollipop sticks and a circle of Styrofoam, which I'd need to stand the pops upright after decorating them. It was my lucky day, because Wilton candy melts -- the easy-to-use candy coating that gives cake pops their smooth and pretty surface -- were on sale for $1.99 for a 12-ounce bag. I walked out the door with bags of chocolate, mint chocolate, peanut butter and vanilla-flavored wafers in white, yellow, lavender and pink.
Putting it all together
Finally, it was time for the fun part. I used a small cookie scoop to make uniform balls of filling, rolling the balls briefly between my palms to round them completely. Freezing them for half an hour helped them keep their shape. The candy melts became smooth and creamy in the microwave and coated the chocolate filling without streaking or bubbling. I had to work quickly to apply my decorations -- cookie crumbs, Reese's Pieces candies and sprinkles -- because the coating set up quickly on the frozen balls.
I debuted my cake pops at a recent party. People raved about them -- how cute they were, how fun to eat, how delicious. One svelte partygoer said she appreciated the petite portion size of her pop. A burly guest enjoyed trying pops in every flavor.
OREO CHEESECAKE POPS
1 (15.5-ounce) package Oreo Cookies
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cut into pieces
Vanilla-, peanut butter- or mint chocolate-flavored wafers, such as Wilton Candy Melts (a 12-ounce package will coat 24 pops)
Additional crushed Oreos, Reese's Pieces Candies, and green sprinkles, for decorating
2 dozen lollipop sticks
1. Combine the cookies and cream cheese in the work bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl several times, as necessary. Scrape mixture into a bowl, cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a small ice cream scoop to form cookie mixture into balls, rolling them between your palms to make them perfectly round. Place on baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.
3. Place candy melts in microwave-safe bowl and heat on medium, stirring every 30 seconds, until just melted. Dip end of lollipop stick into candy coating, then insert into a cookie-cream cheese ball. Place on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining sticks and balls. Place baking sheet in freezer for at least 10 minutes to secure sticks to balls.
4. Carefully dip balls into chocolate to cover completely. Rotate stick, tapping it gently on edge of bowl, allowing excess coating to drip off. Apply Oreo crumbs, Reese's Pieces, or sprinkles, as desired. Insert ends of lollipop sticks into a piece of Styrofoam.
5. Refrigerate pops until ready to serve, up to 1 day. Makes about 24.