Cannonballs, with no pirate in sight

Do a google search for ‘cake’ and ‘cannonballs’, and you’ll turn up quite a few results for pirate themed cakes decorated like cannonballs.

This is not one of those cakes.

I often serve improvised dishes for dinner, and tell Mr Gander we are having ‘[insert mystery ingredient] surprise’. When I served these balls at a Gander clan gathering, and said there’s mystery stuff inside, Mr Gander asked ‘cannonball surprise?’. And the name stuck.

The first brave taster made ‘mmmm’ noises and nodded sagely, while his mother insisted that we tell her what was inside (we didn’t, she had to eat one to find out). Ahh, families at Christmas.

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In short, each cannonball has cake-pop mixture wrapped around a candied clementine, and then wrapped in marzipan. A few of them had dark chocolate drizzled over the top. The clementine keeps the mixture very moist, while the marzipan and chocolate more or less helps the ball to keep its shape.

The idea came from rave reviews of Heston Blumenthal’s Christmas puddings, which had a candied orange in the middle. I wasn’t making puddings this year, but thought the dense, sugary, buttery cake pop mixtures would provide a similar foil for the candied fruit. And, since I was making these before Christmas, somehow marzipan found its way into the product.

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The balls were not the most photogenic things I’ve ever made, though the clementines were very pretty, but the surprised look on people’s faces as they bit through cake and into clementine syrup was priceless. They tasted good too – which was a bonus for food-as-joke. (Incidentally, the taster’s mother came back for seconds)

This time, I used a mixture of traditional fruit cake and gluten-free Christmas cake, both left over from my holiday baking extravaganzas. The cake mixture was adapted from various recipes for cake truffles and cake pops. The clementines came from David Jones food hall (there are instructions for whole candied fruit on the internet. I’m not ready to candy whole fruits yet, but it’s in my cooking bucket list).

Cannonball notes: the mixture was very moist, and didn’t really hold its shape when out of the fridge for any length of time. I kept them in the fridge until serving, which was fine. I have reduced the amount of butter in the recipe below which should produce balls with more structural integrity.

Also, given the intense richness of the whole shebang, I think chocolate cake would work just as well if not better.

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(overexposed photo! I should read the camera manual)

Cannonball surprises

(makes 10 cannonballs, the amounts are approximate..)

Ingredients

400g dark fruit cake or chocolate cake
50g butter, at room temperature and cut into small cubes
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2-3 tbsp brandy
10 candied clementines or another small candied whole fruit
300g marzipan
200-300g dark chocolate, optional

Method

Crumble the cake, either by hand or in a food processor.

Mix together the cake, butter and cocoa powder in a medium sized bowl until combined. Add the brandy, half a tablespoon at a time, until you get the mixture to the right consistency so it can be wrapped around candied fruit and is not too gloopy.

Divide the mixture into 10 equal sized lumps.

Using your hands (this bit is a bit messy), take each lump of cake mixture and wrap it around a candied clementine. Try to make sure the cake mixture is evenly distributed around the clementine. One way is to flatten the cake mixture between your hands so it looks a bit like a wonton wrapper, place the clementine in the middle, and wrap the cake around the clementine. Smooth the surface a little by rolling the ball between your hands.

Place the cake balls in the fridge to harden.

Now, wrap the marzipan around the cake ball. I did this by dividing the marzipan into 20 equal sized lumps. Flatten each lump into a wonton wrapper-like shape. Take one piece of marzipan, wrap it around half of the cake ball. Now wrap a second piece of marzipan around the other half of a cake ball. Do the same for the other cake balls. I also found resting the marzipan covered balls in silicon cupcake pans ensured a generally round shape.

Optional: melt dark chocolate over very low heat or over a double broiler. Place marzipan covered balls on a piece of baking paper or foil, and drizzle over the chocolate.

Serve: without telling your guests what’s inside.

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