Sunday, January 20, 2013

How NOT To Make a Polka Dot Cake (and How-To)

Oh, Pinterest... you evil, evil website, you.

I saw a cake like this polka dot one on Pinterest from a blog called Once Upon a Pedestal. It's beautiful, and an awesome idea.

However, she uses a cake pop pan to make the polka dots. I don't have one of those, and the last thing in the world that I need is another cake pan! So, I decided to try some other options.

It took me four cakes, and five days, but I finally got it! (Well, mostly.)

Cake Trial #1
The mini-cupcake pan

I thought, oh, sure, I will just pop some multi-colored mini-cupcakes into the batter... they're round, it will be perfect.
Not. So. Much.

(Sorry I didn't take many pictures of this trial, I was sure it would work, so I was going to take the pictures "next time.")

As you can see, they're not really round. They're more like round-ish. And I literally just sprinkled them in the pan all willy-nilly, so they don't even resemble round dots in many places.

Another problem was that the mini cupcakes didn't stay put when they cake started to bake and rise. I share a solution for that below in Cake #4.

Cake Trial #2
Traditional Cake Balls (Cake Pops) Baked Inside

Okay, so I don't want to buy a pop pan. Well, I know how to make cake pops, why not just put those inside the cake?
Initially I resisted this idea because of texture differences. I know that cake and cake pops have entirely different textures, and I worried it would be weird.

While the texture itself was, indeed, a problem, the bigger problem was that the cake balls were like rocks after they baked inside of the cake... you can kind of see in the photo how the center one was falling out of the cake. Not successful. (Although, it did taste good.)

Cake Trial #3
Cake cylinders cut from baked cake (combined with a quasi-cake ball center)

This is much closer!

I used the middle-sized round cutter (1 1/2" diameter) from my set of Wilton Round Fondant Cutters. (You can buy these for less than $5 at JoAnn, Michaels, Hobby Lobby... and of course, online. And they're a lot easier to store than the cake pop pans!) My smallest biscuit cutter was 2" in diameter, so that was too big.

I baked an 8" round white cake, using just 2 cups of batter, so that it wouldn't be too tall. I wrapped it in plastic wrap and froze it for an hour, so that it would be easier to cut.

I cut the "dots" out using the round cutter. The challenges here are that the cutter isn't very tall, so you have to be kind of creative with getting it out. AND it's so crumbly. (I'm wondering if a pound cake might not be a good idea in the future??)

I placed the dots in the pan (lined with parchment paper). Here's what you need to pay attention to... you need to be sure you lay the cylinders so that they will be round when you cut them.

You don't want to put them in so that they look like circle to you from the top. If they do, then they will look like rectangles when you cut the cake.

And if you put them in willy-nilly, you will have a cake that looks like Cake #1, with funny-shaped spots instead of nice, round dots.

I thought that perhaps cutting the cylinders smaller would help make the dots better (like in the cake at the top of the photo above), but I found that it didn't. For one, it made them fall over easier. It also made them rise more with the cake batter while baking, and it made them absorb more of the chocolate batter, making the dots appear weird-shaped when baked.

What you want to do, is leave the cylinders bigger, and pour the batter around and on top of them. Pouring the batter on top helps the dots not rise as much when the cake bakes around them. (Go slowly and be gentle, though, while pouring, they are round, so they can roll all over.)

My mistake with this cake was placing the "cake ball" in the center. I wanted the center spot to be round from all sides. But I knew from Cake #2 that actual cake balls would not work. So, I rolled just baked cake - no icing combined in it - into a ball. But as you can see, it turned into a different color, and the texture difference bothered me again.

In the end, this cake was almost a success. The white cake absorbed too much of the chocolate batter. (I let them sit too long before putting them in the oven.) And that cake ball in the middle makes me crazy.

Cake #4
Mini-Cupcakes cut-out with round cutter

Okay, for this fourth, and final (for now) cake, I combined a few of my previous attempts to find success.

I used the mini-cupcakes that I'd made for the ill-fated Cake #1, but I used my round cutter to make them actually round. (Again, I froze these to make cutting easier.)

*Note: To make the colored mini-cupcakes, I used the McCormick Neon Food Coloring set that you find at the grocery store, and added it to the batter. Then, I baked them in a mini-cupcake pan that had been sprayed with baking spray (not lined with papers.)

When I arranged the cut-outs this time, I was very deliberate in how they were laid and spaced, as you can see above.

I then used 2 1/4 cups of batter in each 8" cake pan, poured over and around the dots. (Carefully, so as not to knock them over.)

When the cakes came out of the oven, they were rather lumpy, so I had to level them, before stacking, filling and icing them.

I only made two layers on this one. I think three should be the minimum. I plan to make yet another of these cakes very soon for a special project, so when I get that one finished-- it will be three layers-- I will add some photos of that.

*Note: I think that you cut the dots out of either a regular cake or out of the mini cupcakes, and achieve about the same results. I used the mini-cupcakes here because I had them leftover from attempt #1. I intend to use a baked cake next time, just because a cake pan is easier to clean than a mini-cupcake pan. However, cutting out the mini cupcakes is easier than cutting out the cake, so it's really a toss-up!

**Note also: I will be creating some simpler how-to posts on how to make the chocolate cake and how to make this final, successful cake. I know this post got long and a little information-heavy, but I wanted to show all of the mistakes I made to help keep you from making them yourself. Because, as a friend said to me when I said I was on attempt #4, "I would have given up after a second try." And I don't want you to give up!!

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  1. Thank you for sharing! I have this on my list to try and also don't need another gadget so don't have a cake ball maker. I'm glad you went through the trial and error so I don't have to! :-)

  2. Thanks a lot! People always fall on small points and your post make it clear to me that where not to go wrong. Thanks once again.

  3. I just found this gadget called a "cupcake plunger" it's the exact diameter needed to punch out the rounds to make the polka dots, and it's about 3" tall so no crazy manipulating of the fondant circle cutter that is 1/2" tall. :) Oh, and it's only $3.99 at bed, bath and Beyond. I'm trying this for a friends circus themed baby shower cake, thanks for the advice!

  4. Thank you for sharing! My daughter's 6th birthday is coming up and I adore the look of this cake but I also don't need to buy another pan that will normally just sit around. This one is perfect!!

  5. Wow! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. I am planning to do this for my Pampered Chef Help Whip Cancer Party in May. I'm going to use strawberry cake mix for the pink balls and white cake mix for the cake. I'm hoping it turns out as beautifully as yours!

  6. I think your wonderful for showing your flop's and all the experience good and bad! Coddles to you and thank you so much. I'll let everyone know about you. Your absolutely the best!

  7. can you use egg shells instead of a cake pop pan to make the balls?:)
    thanks for all the advice!

  8. I love how you did the how not to's. I would have done the same things in trying to achieve this cake. Makes good séance and helps a lot. Thank you for all your attempts. Thank so much!! Fran

  9. You just save me sooo much time and frustration! I'm doing a polka dot party for my daughter and this cake will be the center! Thanks for your post!

  10. i really need a good white cake recipe..could you kindly share the one you used for this like to make the polca dot cake for my husband...

    Thanks a lot for ur blog

    1. I used a boxed cake mix for this cake.
      The one vanilla cake recipe I use from scratch is:
      But that will be more yellow than white.
      - Beki

  11. Thanks heaps for this. I really wanted to do this cake but like you didn't want to buy a popcake maker and thought mini muffins instead. You save me from a hug flop. So instead I used on apple corer on the mini muffins I had made already to make the cylinders. It worked wonderfully, was so happy.

  12. Nice one.... I want try this technique almost year, maybe i do it right now... Thanks for this article.

  13. Do you put batter in bottom of pan, and then the balls, or just put batter on top and sides of balls?

    1. I found that placing the cake cut-outs directly on the pan and just covering with batter was best. Putting batter underneath meant that the circles would rise more in the batter, and it would be uneven inside.
      Hope this helps.
      - Beki

  14. Thanks so much for this, I really wanted to find an easy way to make this and your tips (and flops) are fabulous. Thanks so much for taking the time to post

  15. I use cupcake pan to make the spots. After baking them. I set them aside for a hour let them cool down. Pop them out the cupcake pan. Any that didn't come out to a ball. I shape them with a knife. Just the edges of the cupcake to form a ball. Just an easier way to do the spots. Than proceed with the recipe above.

  16. wow, i'm so impressed you stuck with it, looks amazing, i plan to try this at the boys next birthday.

  17. how about using a jelly roll pan for the cake batter that way it won't be as tall too cut & put the pan in frig before cutting. you can do this this the night before you decorate your cake to avoid the crumble factor!! Beautiful.. thanks for sharing!!!

  18. This was perfect

  19. Ohhh, to have a modicum of your patience, Beki!

  20. Very cool! You saved me a ton of money and a trip to find a cake ball pan, thank you. :-)

  21. Thank you so much! I'm wanting to make a galaxy cake with planets inside, but like you I do NOT need another cake pan!! I'm going to try this method ☺️

  22. Did u have any problems with the "circles" floating to the topof the cake?

    1. I think that as long as you've gotten the circles cut into actual circles, and you don't put batter below the dots, you should be fine. Good luck! - Beki


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