Forget cupcakes-this neighbor has the market cornered on the latest baked goods trend.
It’s a southeast Texas thing, says Robin Ankeny. She grew up eating her mother’s cake balls-a doughy blend of cake and icing rolled into ball and dipped into a coating. Once Ankeny’s friends in Dallas tried them, they began asking her to make cake balls for get-togethers, and her husband’s colleagues would fight over them at Christmas parties. Ankeny tried to appease everyone by giving out the recipe, but even that didn’t work. “It’s not that it’s really hard to do; it’s just time consuming, and there is an art to dipping and decorating adn rolling them to get a consistent size,” she says. Ankeny searched online and found only one other company in Pennsylvania selling something called a cake ball, but they tasted nothing like hers. “I think it’s a known thing, but no one has really taken it to the market,” she says. So the Lochwood resident decided she would introduce cake balls to the world. She had recently quit her full-time job and started a cooking school for children called Culinary Kids, partly to spend more time with her two young sons, but the demands of The Cake Ball Company soon took over. It started in her kitchen with Ankeny flying solo, except for occasional help when her mother came into town. But when Neiman Marcus came calling. Ankeny knew she couldn’t continue to operate out of her home. She looked for a place to “piggy-back on the permit,” she says, like a church kitchen, but ran into dead ends until a friend told her that Lake Highlands Baptist Church rented out its space. The church gave her a rate, but when Ankeny walked into the front office that first day, she overheard the women there talking about Wednesday nigh dinners. She immediately offered to be their weekly cook, and has been trading meals for rent ever since. (No cake balls for dessert, but Ankeny does top off dinner with treats like Mississippi mud pie and homemade brownies dribbled in icing.) In the church’s industrial kitchen, Ankeny and her employees roll out roughly 500 cake balls a day, but with 1.2 million Nieman Marcus catalogs recently mailed out for the holidays, “we’ve got to get faster,” she says. Her basic flavors are brownie nut, chocolate, toffee, red velvet, German chocolate, birthday cake (French vanilla) and wedding cake (Italian cream), but in February she will offer seasonal chocolate covered strawberry cake balls, and in March, carrot cake. She also plans to launch a new regular flavor in February: chocolate sake, made with sake, espresso and cinnamon. Both Ankeny and her husband, Jeff, have a background in the beverage industry; he works in wholesale at Centennial Fine Wines and Spirits, and she worked in the wine industry. “So it’s just natural that we’re going to sneak some liquors in. There will probably be more of those to come,” she says. “I can even see there being a single malt scotch bal.”
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