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Cake Pops with Kathy Cano-Murillo

Chow Bella's launching a new feature this week -- peeking behind the scenes and getting our hands dirty in the kitchens of some of our favorite chefs, foodies and Phoenix tastemakers. 

In the kitchen with: Kathy Cano-Murillo, aka The Crafty Chica
Making: cake pops

Today our visit takes us to the west side of town and the quirky, colorful home kitchen of Kathy Cano-Murillo. The self-styled Crafty Chica can more often be found in her art studio than her kitchen, but this spring she caught the cake pop bug and when we saw Facebook photos of the cute little confections she fashioned for her daughter Maya's birthday, we had to talk Kathy back into the kitchen with us to make a batch. 

Turns out, cake pops are more craft than culinary endeavor, so the Crafty Chica was the perfect instructor. 

Find out what we learned about cake pops -- and how to make them yourself -- after the jump. 


Kathy Cano-Murillo's modest west Phoenix neighborhood is quiet on a Monday evening in late spring. Birds tweet and from the smell of it, someone nearby has just fired up the grill. Approach the Murillo family's front door, and the peace is broken by the insistent barking of a very small (but very loud) chihuahua. 

Soft spoken and giggly, Cano-Murillo is pretty in hot pink and red stripes, matching the bright pink and yellow walls and flowered curtains of her small kitchen, which is littered with chihuahua tchotchkes (of course). She's crazy-busy -- as usual -- preparing to leave on a cruise where she and her husband, painter Patrick Murillo, will lead craft workshops amidst the buffets and shopping tours. 

As instructed, I've baked a Betty Crocker chocolate mix cake (Cano-Murillo recommends over-baking it a bit to make it extra-dry) and stocked up on a can of chocolate frosting (just make sure the flavors match well, my instructor cautions -- she recommends cream cheese frosting and strawberry cake), as well as a big bag of those waxy meltable candy discs made by Wilton, found at Michael's. Sprinkles, lollipop sticks, small plastic bags and twist-ties round out the materials list. 
Cano-Murillo clears a space on the counter, pushes up her sleeves and dons a pair of plastic gloves. Then she proceeds to completely destroy my cake. 

I figured the process would be more delicate, maybe involving a ice cream scoop or some other professional kitchen tool. Turns out, all you do is mush up the cake with your hands (til the pan's full of crumbs) then dump in the entire container of frosting -- and keep mixing. With your hands.
As she mixes, Cano-Murillo (who has written several books, mainly non-fiction crafting titles but most recently, two novels set in the crafting world) describes her idea for a recipe book she'll call "Chubby Girl's Delight." It'll feature over-the-top recipes for desserts that do unheard of things to Oreos and maybe the tamarind/caramel apples she tried recently in California. Tamarind's the new thing; Cano-Murillo is positive. 
Done mixing, she begins shaping balls of cake/frosting and placing them on a dinner plate. "You can use a teaspoon, but you can use your hand," she says -- opting for the minimalist approach. 

Stick the balls in the freezer for at least half an hour. If you're Cano-Murillo, you'll make a craft during your waiting time. We wash our hands and get busy with some tissue paper and glue, and Cano-Murillo shares stories of what it's like on the professional crafting circuit. (Pretty freaking cutthroat, believe it or not.) 
Back in the kitchen, she gets a hunk of styrofoam ready for propping up the completed cake pops. The Wilton candy discs are microwaved at short (15 or 30 seconds, depending on how many you're using) intervals and when they are completely melted, we're ready for the moment of truth. 
Stab a cake ball with a lollipop stick (it helps if you dip the stick in a bit of melted candy first), then swirl it ball-end (of course) in the melted candy. That is more difficult than it looks -- for some of us. My balls fall off or fall apart or get way too gooey. All of Cano-Murillo's turn out perfect. 
We add sprinkles (I like the look when the balls are totally covered, but my teacher warns that they're hard on the teeth, reminding me some people actually eat these) and stick it in the styrofoam to harden. 
Repeat. Many, many times. So many times that if you are me, your bowl of melted candy gets filled with crumbs, then hardens and you have to toss the whole thing and start again. 

I can't fathom making the super-fancy cake pops you see on those crazy cake sites. Getting the ball to stay on the stick is enough of a challenge for me. Maybe you'll have more luck. My advice: Bake a second cake. You're going to be hungry when you're done making cake pops, but you might not want to actually eat them after you've seen what it takes to make them. 
Miss something? Check out Cano-Murillo's cake pop tutorial on her blog. And here are some super-fancy cake pops. I just bet whoever makes these does not have as much fun as Cano-Murillo does!

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