Happy new year and good morning to all. By now you’ve had your coffee and a bunch of good reads, starting with Stephanie Witt Sedgwick’s piece on easy ways to eat healthfully this year. Also today in Food: a pioneering food co-op in Ohio benefits both farmers and consumers; Jane Black has the story. And a propos of today’s frigid Washington weather, Lisa Yockelson presents a bowlful of ideas for making and jazzing up hot cereal.

After those are digested, your next menu item is today’s Free Range chat, beginning at our usual time of noon and lasting just one brief and shining hour. Submit your questions early, and maybe they won’t get left behind, like this leftover from last week's chat:

My mom bought me a cake pop maker (seriously!) for Christmas. Any good suggestions for recipes?


Seems like every year we see more one-trick baking gadgets that no cook really needs. You can actually buy in stores: s’mores makers, whoopie pie makers and pre-cut-brownie makers. Yet if one must have cake pops — but really, must one? — I have nothing against those cake pop makers.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention for the past few years, cake pops are small balls of cake and frosting on a stick that can be cutesified up to have holiday themes or sport your school colors or look just like your Aunt Miranda. They at first were touted as the next big sweets trend, to replace cupcakes, but as we all know, cupcakes simply will not be replaced.

The original cake pops were made by baking a cake, breaking it up into crumbs and mixing the crumbs with frosting to a claylike consistency, then rolling hunks of the resulting glop into round balls, which were then impaled on lollipop sticks and decorated with frosting or candy coatings. The observant among you will have noticed that the amount of cake in these concoctions was sort of minimal, but there was a LOT of frosting.

Which is why I see the cake pops makers as an improvement, really. You pour spoonfuls of cake batter into a mold, and voila! They bake into perfect little globes, which can then be frosted and decorated. No glut of frosting, just a couple bites of cake when all you need is a little hit of sugar. That’s more appealing to me, though I can see how mega-frosting fans might differ.

I guess I should get around to answering the chatter’s question, right? That’s easy: Just dial up our Recipe Finder, search for cake recipes and pick one that looks good. (I have to say they are ALL good, of course, but see a few suggestions below.) Ditto for a frosting recipe. You’ll be fine, as long as your cake batter isn’t runny. (So hold back a little of the milk, buttermilk, etc., at first, to make sure.)

Whatever you do, don’t use the “candy coating” that might have come with your cake pop maker. It’s going to be nasty, sweet, artificial and waxy. Make your own royal icing for dipping, or a nice chocolate ganache, or a thinned-down version of your favorite cake frosting, or something else — if you know how to temper chocolate, a chocolate shell would be great — but don’t go melting down those fake flavored disks. And do me a favor? I’d like to hear how well that cake pop maker works.

Here are a few recipes that should do fine in your cake pop maker. If the maker comes with special instructions (some of them advise adding an extra egg to your cake batter, some say to cut back on the liquid to give the batter more body) then you should follow those. Until you get the hang of the thing, there might be some trial and error. But even the mistakes will be delicious.

Best Buns Vanilla Cupcakes: As made by the Best Buns bakery in Arlington.

Chocolate Cake: A standard recipe, adapted from the recipe on a Hershey’s Cocoa can.

Georgetown Cupcake’s Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes: A perennial favorite. You can use the accompanying ganache, too.

Orange Layer Cake: For a citrus tang.