We've been cake pop central around here!

It started with the arrival of the new Nordic Ware Cake Pops pan sample. We have been wondering how it would compare to the traditional method, and were pleasantly surprised- especially by the color!

There are the obvious differences between the traditional and pan formed balls. The density and texture of the cake center is significantly different since there is no need to mix the cake with any binding frosting or cream cheese, it simply cooks the cake in single serve ball shaped portions- you just stick and dip. It does make just 12 at a time, however, so some of the time saved shaping the balls goes in to waiting for the next batch.

There is a delicate balance between just enough batter, and too much: overfilling leaves you with a Saturn looking ball and causes a lava flow out the top vent hole while underfilling leaves a flat side where the batter doesn't fill the sphere. A small portion scoop helps regulate the batter distribution.

Another tip is to use plenty of cooking spray. Don't forget to spray the top pan too! We used a brownie mix to make our pops, so they were nice and dense and had a good crust to grab on to the pop stick, but make sure to let them cool thoroughly before trying to dip. It is also helpful to dip the stick in some chocolate first, then press it into the ball and allow that to set before doing the full dunk. This makes the connecting point stronger. If the pop is loose you'll lose it in the chocolate, and if it's not cooled or under cooked the stick may poke through the top if you are drying them upright. Setting the pops on their head to dry works well to support a dense or large ball, but means you have to serve them stick side up because it creates a flat spot on the ball. One work around is to serve with no stick in a pretty candy or cupcake paper.

Styrofoam pieces work well to support pops while they dry- or if you happen to have a pan of rice crispy treats around- they work great as well! It's helpful to freeze hand rolled balls before dipping, but you have to work fast if you're adding decorations- like sprinkles, coconut, mini chips, etc.

For me, the decorating is the best part because it allows so many combos, like white chocolate with chocolate cake, milk chocolate with funfetti and sprinkles, white chocolate with dark drizzles, even a few with sugar and salt crystal sprinkles. Near the end when the stick to ball ratio was skewed we combined several balls into large discs and filled them with Nutella, pinched them back into a ball and dipped them in white chocolate and coconut! My favorite was chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, dark chocolate coating with a finishing salt sprinkle.

Less hand mess, fewer steps, universal size. Did have to wipe out pan after each batch, may have been brownie mix. Higher yeild, more flexibility in flavor, size and shape varies, texture more like a chocolate bon bon than cake.

Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Pan Pops:

+ Pan results in less hand mess, has fewer steps per batch and produces uniform size.

- Pan needs to be wiped after each batch (atleast with brownie batter), multiple batch waiting time, less dense ball may cause stick to poke through.

+ Traditional method has a higher yield, allows more flexibility in flavor, size, and shape varieties. The texture is more like a Bon Bon filling.

- Multiple steps (bake, mix, roll, freeze, dip, decorate), mess! lots of hands on, size and shape change a lot from pop to pop, density can create a problem with the ball staying on a stick- if you have lots of 'drop offs'- try a smaller sphere.

Anyone can can. In fact, our very own Kyle D. has been boasting about his homemade marinara sauce that he is now making in large batches and jarring up. He not only has a delicious, home made sauce ready to go in the pantry, he also saves money on his grocery bill and cuts cooking time by using his pressure cooker to infuse the flavors. We convinced him to share his recipe with you - just be advised that Kyle likes it hot - but says you can scale back the crushed red pepper flakes to your taste. He even brought in a few jars for us to taste.

It's a special flavor, not diluted by pasta - which the majority of partakers rated as 'just right' on heat, with only one 'too spicy'- but for the most part the thing that sets it apart is the pepperiness that lingers with each bite.

Thanks, Kyle!

Kyle D’s Hotcha Marinara Sauce

Scaled For #10 Cans

#10 can diced tomatoes, drained

1 ½ cups chopped onions

¾ cup fresh chopped parsley

3 tbsp chopped garlic (9 medium sized cloves)

4 tbsp olive oil

1 ½ tsp oregano

1 ½ tsp crushed red pepper

¼ cup fresh chopped basil

1 ½ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp black pepper

pinch of thyme

pinch of rosemary

Lightly sauté the onions in olive oil in large pot for a few minutes. Add garlic and sauté another minute.  Add tomatoes and bring sauce to boil, then turn heat to low.  Add remaining ingredients, stir, cover and let simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally, or cook on low pressure in pressure cooker for 15 minutes.  Emulsify to desired consistency.

Yields approximately 3 quarts

1 quart = 32 ounces

#10 can = 102 ounces or 12.75 cups

And at the store we just received loads of jars from Bormioli in all shapes, sizes and volumes

as well as funnels, lid lifters, labels, recipe books and just about everything you need to bottle up your big batch recipes.

Our demo guru has been showing off her skill with bread dough. Over the course of several weeks we've seen her make:

An Artisan Loaf (on an Emile Henry Pizza Stone),

Dinner Hot Rolls (on a Chicago Metallic sheet pan, with a Silpat mat),

Pull-Apart Monkey Bread (in an Emile Henry loaf pan)

Brioche Fruit Cups with Almond Creme (in a Chicago Metallic mini muffin pan)

Braided Spinach & Cheese Bake (also on the pizza stone)

Brioche Loaf with Almond Paste Swirl (loaf pan),

Cinnamon Rolls (in a non-stick Chicago Metallic baking pan),

and- of course- PIZZA (on the pizza stone)!

And she did it all with the same basic recipe. All this is possible thanks to the folks of 'Bread in Five'. In there three books, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (2007), Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day (2009), and Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day (2011), Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe François  share recipes that allow you to use 'homemade stored dough, mixed and refrigerated for up to two weeks.'

We got particularly excited when we saw this video they produced- which features not only their bread, but watch for that very versatile pizza stone by Emile Henry!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYHQ4g9dBLU?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

Don't they all look like they are having the best time making that pizza?! And we can all vouch for the taste and texture- no matter how you shape, flavor, or bake it!

So it's chocolate week at Allen & Petersen, and in honor of the occasion and Mother's Day coming up, I thought it would be 'fun' to make my own Passion Fruit Bon Bons! We just got all the needed supplies into the kitchen store- Belgian chocolate callets, chocolate molds, luster dust, etc. So I geared up and dove in. Please note, I am a novice. I have no experience, no training, and truthfully, no skills. In fact, I am more qualified to be a Mouseketeer than a chocolatier- and I had no idea what an adventure it was about to be! It began with the chocolate melting.

Callebaut Dark Semi Sweet Chocolate

I used a double boiler method with a glass bowl over hot water and followed the steps to temper the chocolate. In retrospect, I would have been more aware of the process because my one pound of melted chocolate suddenly became two as I tried to lower the temperature of the chocolate in the bowl by adding unmelted callets. With all that chocolate ready to go, I suddenly realized that it would have been a good idea to purchase more than one mold- it turns out it's not like making cookies where once one batch is out of the oven another can go in, etc. There's more time involved in each 'batch' as the chocolate cools.

I had prepared THE mold by washing it and allowing it to thoroughly dry, then brushing each cavity with a lovely pink luster dust.  Next I filled each with a healthy scoop of chocolate- again, a little too much chocolate.

Next time I would start with less, maybe even use a drizzle spoon, because the next step is to turn the mold over and shake the excess chocolate on to a sheet of wax paper or silicone mat, leaving a nice fill-able shell.

However, with too much excess my edges became a little messy, which affected the finished product and made my Bon Bons a little wobbly on their bottoms. Next came the filling. I had made a lovely Passion Fruit Ganache with fresh pulp I brought back from my Aunt's garden in Hawaii- yummy!

I thought it would be a good idea to pipe it into the cooled shells, but once again, I over filled and so some of my Bon Bons were more like Bon Balls once I added a 'cap' of chocolate to seal in the filling. Here again, the edges were overflowing, so once the chocolate cooled and the Bon Bons popped out, their edges needed quite a bit of trimming. So really, temperance is just as important as the tempering!

I just used a super sharp knife blade to trim them up, and nestled each one into a pretty cupcake liner that I had turned inside out. I love how the luster dust shines on the top, in fact that would be the one thing I would use more of next time.

Into the boxes they go! Just right for gifting. Now the only question is what to do with the rest of that chocolate?....

Want to learn more about chocolate? Keep an eye on our Cooking School Schedule for the Chocolate Workshop, Fondue Family Fun and other delicious opportunities for your own adventures in and with CHOCOLATE!