Crème Brûlée Cake Balls

These are utterly exquisite, if I do say so myself. First you prepare a rich custard, as though you were making a crème brûlée. Once chilled, it is combined with white cake and rolled into balls. After chilling, the balls are dipped in a deeply golden caramelized sugar mixture. Stunning. This is what my pastry chef daughter calls “advanced balling”; there are a few unusual techniques employed, but the results are show-stopping. Please read the recipe through before starting in order to acquaint yourself with the entire process. For this recipe, the fluted paper cups are a must, and it is best to dip the balls in the caramelized sugar as close to serving time as possible.

Makes about 45 golf ball–size balls

Crème Brûlée:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 moist, flexible vanilla bean
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons sugar


  • 1 batch White Cake baked, cooled, and crumbled
  • 2 (12 x 3-inch) Styrofoam cake dummies (round or square)
  • 45 (6-inch) lollipop sticks
  • 3 cups sugar (see the Note) 2/3 cup light corn syrup (see the Note)
  • 2/3 cup water (see the Note)
  • 45 miniature fluted paper cups

1. To make the crème brûlée: Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Place a 9 1/2-inch tempered glass, deep-dish pie plate inside a large roasting pan; set aside.

2. Pour the cream into a small saucepan. Slit the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape the seeds into the cream and add the bean pieces to the pot as well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, taking care not to let it overflow, then turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl until thick and creamy.

3. Rewarm the cream over medium heat; it should feel very warm to the touch. Slowly pour the warm cream into the egg mixture to temper the eggs, whisking constantly. Scrape any vanilla seeds into the egg mixture, as they might stick to the pan. Strain into the pie plate, discarding the bean halves. Fill the roasting pan with hot tap water to reach halfway up the sides of the pie plate.

4. Bake of r 45 minutes, or juts until the edges of the custard are set but the center still quivers if shaken gently. It will firm up upon cooling. Remove the pie plate from the roasting pan and let cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or for up to 1 day covered with plastic wrap.

5. Combine the cake and about three-quarters of the chilled custard. Test by compressing and tasting, and add more custard only if needed for flavor and moisture. Roll into golf ball–size cake balls. Refrigerate until firm. This can be done 1 day ahead; store in an airtight container once they are firm. About 3 hours before proceeding, place the balls in the freezer.

6. Wrap the Styrofoam dummies with aluminum foil (to keep them clean for reuse). Remove the balls from the freezer. The balls will have a slightly flattened area from being stored, which is where you will insert a lollipop stick into each ball. Insert the sticks about halfway into the balls. Have a bowl filled with ice water next to the stove—the bowl must be large enough for you to plunge the bottom of a saucepan into it. Place the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a narrow, deep saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, swirling the pan once or twice, but do not stir. Continue to boil until it reaches a deep golden color. Immediately plunge the bottom of the pot into the ice water and hold it in the water until any sputtering and/or boiling ceases. 

7. Immediately place the saucepan on the work surface next to the Styrofoam dummies. Holding the end of a stick, insert a cake ball into the melted sugar, submerging the cake ball until the caramelized sugar touches the lollipop stick. Twirl the cake ball so that the cake is completely covered with caramel. (Do not drag it around the bowl, as the pull of the melted sugar might dislodge the stick.) Remove the cake ball from the caramelized sugar and let any excess drip off. This might take a few moments, so do not rush this step. Having finished cake balls that look neat and perfectly round largely depends on this step. Try holding the cake ball straight down and quickly rotating your hand in a circular motion to encourage centrifugal force to help excess sugar drip away. Once there is no extra caramelized sugar on the cake ball, insert the free end of the lollipop stick into the Styrofoam. (If you try to press it in slowly, it might not go through the foil easily; you need to use a quick stabbing motion to get the job done. Alternatively, you can make holes with a sharp metal skewer first, then insert the lollipop sticks). Repeat until all the cake balls are coated. Allow the sugar to harden completely. This might take about 15 minutes at cool room temperature.

8. Arrange fluted paper cusp side by side in a large, flat airtight container. Pick up a cake ball by the lollipop stick in one hand and with the other hand, place your index finger and thumb right at the juncture of the cake ball and the stick. Twist the stick very slowly and gently, or give it a wiggle side to side, and it should dislodge without cracking the sugar coating. Remove and discard the stick, and place the cake ball in a paper cup with the tiny hole left by the stick on the underside. Repeat with the remaining balls. Cover the container and serve within 2 hours.


Note: Caramelizing sugar can be tricky if you are not familiar with the process. If you cook the sugar mixture for too short a period of time, the color and flavor will be too light and weak. If you cook it for too long, it will be too dark and bitter. But do not fret, because there truly is a range of color and flavor that is not only appropriate but also delicious. If you do not have a lot of experience working with cooked sugar, I suggest making the caramelized sugar twice in succession, as it is easier to control smaller batches. Simply divide the sugar, corn syrup, and water amounts in half and use a clean pot for each batch.