Grad School Eating in Style: Cake Balls!

First off, Sci would like to extend a pleased and blushing THANK YOU!! to all the people who voted for her in the Three Quarks Daily Contest.

We're in the top 20!!! I'm so thrilled by all the love. And by the fact that hyena mating is CLEARLY some sweet stuff. Well, of course it is. Sci would also like to give shout-outs to the other well-deserved semi-finalists, including Ed of Not Exactly Rocket Science (Ed always dominates, and I LOVE that gut bacteria post), Eric of Primate Diaries, Jason of The Thoughtful Animal, and Christie of Observations of a Nerd! We all rock so hard.. Fistbump!

(The proper way to express scientific awesome)
And now, on to today's post, which involves cake and chocolate and therefore can challenge 3 Quarks Daily anyday.
Sci may no longer be a grad student (at least, they tell her she's making post-doc stipend), but living in Huge New City isn't exactly cheap. So while technically Sci's a PhD, her standard of living has remained roughly the same.
And so, Sci brings you another in her (so far) two part series on eating like a grad student. She may have another one on the bean hodge podge her friend made up, which is nutritious, filling, and makes enough to last you a week (lunch AND dinner) for around $7.
But for now, let's talk about pot lucks.
You know pot lucks, those things where people ask you to bring your own results of culinary genius to share with others. They are supposed to save money (you only have to make one dish), and supposed to make everyone happy, but for people like Sci...they are tough. Sci often ends up being the one who brings the soda or chips. This is because, unlike all the hardcore foodies sitting around on ScienceBlogs...Sci can't cook. Well, ok. She's up to a grilled chicken breast, steamed veggies, or an omelet, does a lot of rice and pasta, and she makes a mean curry. But other than that...well.

(No matter how many years of PhD or tenure or emer-itis, nothing will diminish my love of PhD comics. I LOVE YOU, JORGE! OVER HERE!!!! WRITE ABOUT SCI!!!!)
And so potlucks were embarrassing. No matter what I tried to make, it always came out looking icky and not well done, and though people ate it, I'm not sure they enjoyed themselves. This was made even harder by the fact that all of Sci's friends and co-workers LOVE to be gourmands and make seriously crazy, seriously expensive food which involves things like star anise and polenta, and who loved to cater to the vegetarian, organic, and health conscious. I felt like I could never measure up and was the one continuously bringing crappy food.
And then I discovered CAKE BALLS.

The recipe is simple, it's also pretty cheap. Here's what you need:
Cake mix (1)
Veggie oil (the amount required by the cake mix)
Eggs (number required by cake mix, usually three)
Baker's chocolate (the original recipe says you need 4 oz, but Sci prefers 8)
powdered sugar
fruit of choice (small)
Ok, bake the cake. Take it out of the oven and let it cool (while it's cooling, start melting the chocolate on the stove, it'll take a while, you want to do it on low heat. Sci also found out recently that if you heat it up, and then let it cool, and try to reheat it, you WILL burn it, and it will be useless. Don't be like Sci. It was a tragic waste of chocolate).
Then when the cake is cool, crumble it into a mixing bowl. Scoop in all the icing in the can (ok, not ALL of it, you'll need to test several spoonfuls of it first to make sure it's RIGHT). Mix. You can do this with a spoon or with your hands. The hands is more fun.
Then take the resulting thick goop and make little balls. Sci uses balls that are about and inch across.
Take your balls, and dip them in the melted chocolate. Sci personally has not had ANY luck with the dipping, the balls fall apart. She had to drizzle her chocolate on, and kind of make sure the thing is covered with a spatula. Word says that this is improved dramatically by letting your cake cool all the way and then letter the cake and icing mixture sit in the fridge for a few hours. But what grad student has that kind of time?
You are then going to make a white glaze. Take a couple of pats of butter, and soften them in the microwave (like 30 seconds). Add in some powdered sugar. Mix. You want the result to be light and drizzly and to taste like awesome. Add a little water if you need it. Drizzle carefully over the now chocolate-covered balls.
Add a berry on top. Store in the fridge. Best eaten chilled.
cake balls1.jpg
Above you can see Sci's cake balls. The one on the left is topped with a cherry, the one on the right with a raspberry.
cake balls2.jpg
Here you can see Sci's cake balls in mid-sagittal section. The one topped with the cherry was a funfetti flavored cake (some people stick up their noses at funfetti. Don't. It's made of awesome and win), with basic white icing, dipped in chocolate and topped with a cherry. The specimen on the right is chocolate cake with strawberry icing, and topped with a raspberry. Mr. SiT prefers the raspberry topped, but Sci prefers the cherry.
And it's not too bad price-wise.
Cake mix: $0.99 (Sci isn't proud and the cheapest is what she goes for. The cake is secondary here anyway)
Eggs: $0.99 for a pack of 6
Vegetable oil: $3.99 but a lot of people have this around and it lasts a long time.
Frosting: $2.00
Bakers chocolate: $6.00 (The most pricey item. You could probably, if you wanted, make your own or sub caramel)
Powdered sugar: $1.50
Butter: $1.50
Fruit: Whatever's on sale, Sci generally won't pay more than $3, you can also buy frozen which is cheap and thaw it in the microwave.
Total: $20, which isn't the cheapest, but they look great (ok, Sci's don't look nearly as good as professional, but they TASTE fantastic) and it's about what you'd spend buying salad and dressing and stuff anyway.
Yield: around 40 little balls, which is great if you need to feed a party of 20 dessert.
Healthy? HECK NO. These things are maybe 160 calories EACH. But it's DESSERT, and therefore they remain AWESOME.
Also, they're awesome. Did I mention awesome? So keep that in mind. Sci still may not feel like a gourmand, but her cake balls get endless compliments!

6 responses so far

  • Dr Becca says:

    Whoever thought to mix the cake and frosting together is a genius. Icing a whole cake is a giant pain that usually ends up in a crumbly mess anyway. And re: "Take your balls, and dip them in the melted chocolate," how could you not link to The State?

  • becca says:

    Don't the raspberry ones need salt?

  • kristin says:

    baker's chocolate? meaning without any sugar at all?
    or do you mean dark (semi-sweet) chocolate?

  • Julie says:

    If you want more cake ball ideas, definitely check out Bakerella ( Maybe we could convince her to deviate from the usual cute animals and do some science related desserts??

  • brook says:

    ick. But that's because I don't like confectioner sugar based icings. I bet that if you made them in a fit of organization and stuck them in the freezer they'd be easy to glaze just before a potluck. And wouldn't you look like the queen of the lab?
    I too am not sure what you mean by baker's chocolate? You can use chocolate chips as long as you melt them very slowly: use a double boiler and don't let the water get above 54 degrees C.
    Or you can make this.
    6 minute chocolate cake
    3c flour
    2/3 c cocoa
    1 1/2t bs
    1/2 t salt
    2c sugar
    1c oil
    2 c cold water or cold coffee
    2t vanilla
    1/4c vinegar
    Heat oven to 375
    Mix all dry ingredients in an ungreased 9X13 baking pan. Stir them together really well.
    Add oil and water (or coffee) and vanilla to dry ingredients. Stir until smooth.
    Add the vinegar and stir in as quickly as possible. A few pale streaks in the batter are ok.
    Bake for 25 to 30 minutes
    You could frost the cake (we usually don't bother) with
    1lb bittersweet chocolate (chips are fine)
    1 1/2c hot water milk or half and half or coffee
    1t vanilla.
    Melt chocolate, stir in liquid and vanilla and spread over cake.
    One of my kiddos who likes to eat varies the flavor of this by adding cinnamon. Or sometimes chili powder. Or sometimes both. He'll cut the vanilla back to 1/2 t.
    This has the added advantage of keeping vegans happy though that's never a priority for me.

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