I realize that there are people for whom spending time in the kitchen is not a joy. But for me, being in the kitchen has, in many ways, become the story of my life. So much of what I do with mixing bowls, utensils, recipes, and ingredients is intimately connected to friends and family and events with them. I use the term “events” loosely, because even a Tuesday night dinner can be an occasion. Every day is an event in its own way. Recipes become my living memories of those events and the people that go with them.
For example, when I make butterhorns, I think of my mom & grandma. When I make pumpkin pie, I think of Paul & Barb. When I make a skillet pasta or a birthday cake of any flavor, I think of Becki (because she’s usually been here to eat it). When I make molasses cookies, I think of Marge & my dad. When I make spinach & artichoke dip, chocolate chip cookies, or anything mint chocolate, I think of Tim. When I make cinnamon raisin bread, I think of Gwynn. When I make blueberry scones, I think of Gloria & Brenda. The list goes on.
So, you wonder, who gets the honor of these cake balls? An army of friends, really. Heather & Jennifer for asking me to make cake balls (though they have yet to try this flavor). Wendy. A group of women with whom I share a common vocation in life — some whom I have known for a while, and some who in the course of a day-and-a-half in early August became dear to my heart and an inspiration to me — too many to name but all with whom I would love to share these treats over coffee or tea. Jamie, because she gave me the unexpected surprise of the vanilla beans.
Yes, I find enjoyment in the tasks of cooking. I enjoy finding new recipes and trying something a bit new. But pulling familiar cookbooks off my shelf, finding those recipes on pages that bear the marks of use, and making food with thoughts of friends & family for friends & family: this is my joy in the kitchen.
Vanilla Bean Cake Balls
adapted from Betty Crocker
- 2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine or 2/3 cup vegetable shortening
- 1-1/4 cups milk
- 3-1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 3 large eggs
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour bottom and sides of 13×9″ rectangular baking pan.
- Beat all ingredients in large bowl on low for 30 seconds (using hand mixer or stand mixer), scraping bowl constantly. Beat on high for 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into prepared pan.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened or shortening
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 4-6 Tbsp. milk
- 2 vanilla beans
- 2 (10 – 12 oz. each) bags vanilla baking chips
- Sprinkles, as desired
- In large bowl, combine butter, sugar, vanilla, and 2 Tbsp. milk using a hand mixer or stand mixer on low. Increase speed to medium, and beat until smooth, spreadable consistency, adding milk, 1 tablespoon at at time.
- Carefully slice vanilla beans down the length from 1/2″ from top to the bottom. Gently unroll the bean and scrape the seeds out using knife or spoon. Add to the frosting in the bowl and beat until mixed into frosting.
- Using your hands, crumble the cake into the large bowl of frosting. (It’s easiest if you slice the cake first and crumble a piece at a time — this also gives you a great chance to taste-test the cake. 🙂 ) Mix together until well combined.
- Working with about 2 tablespoons of “batter”, roll into balls between the palms of your hands. Set on parchment- or foil-lined rimmed sheet that fits in the freezer. Once all balls are formed, freeze for 30-60 minutes or so (you can skip this part, but they coat a little bit better if they’ve been chilled).
- Using microwave-safe bowl, melt one bag of vanilla baking chips in microwave for 1 minute on full power. Stir. Heat for additional 15-second increments until smooth.
- Remove balls from freezer. Using spoon or fork, dip balls into vanilla coating and place on parchment or foil. Top immediate with sprinkles, if using. Let coating harden completely (you may need to refrigerate to get this to happen completely).
Feel free to experiment with different flavors. That’s part of the fun! And, for the record, you can make cake balls using a prepared cake mix and a can of frosting. It may not be quite as tasty, but it is convenient.