Make the boxed cake mix, but using the substitutions recommended in “Make Boxed Cake Mix Taste Like It Was Made From Scratch”. (Substitute melted butter for oil, milk for water, and add an extra egg.) Bake according to package directions in 9″ x 13″ pan.
While cake is cooling, make frosting. Verify cream cheese and butter are at room temperature. Allow to warm naturally (do not try to microwave). Beat together in stand mixer at medium speed until well-mixed; no lumps. Melt chocolate in microwave at 50% power for 30 sec. at a time until melted, stirring each time. Add melted chocolate and vanilla to cream cheese/butter mixture. Mix well. Add sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy after each addition. Might use slightly more or less sugar based on sweetness preference.
-If need be, you can use store-bought, but whip in a teaspoon or so of vanilla extract to improve flavor.-
After the cake has cooled, scrape the “top” off. Then cut off the edges.
Crumble the cake up completely.
Mix in between 3/4 cup to 1 cup frosting, until you reach the proper texture for rolling into balls.
Roll into approximately 1″ balls. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before decorating.
While cake balls are chilling, prepare pretzel antlers. Use a sharp serrated edge to saw the unwanted bits off, leaving antlers.
After cake balls have chilled and decorating ingredients are in place: Melt chocolate and shortening for 30 seconds at 50% power. Stir very well. Continue to heat at 30 second increments, stirring each time, until chocolate has melted. Do NOT overheat.
Remove cake pops from refrigerator approximately 10 at a time. As long as it takes to dip and decorate, you don’t want the cake pops to become too warm.
Dip end of lollipop stick in chocolate so that the last 1/8″ or so is coated. (This helps the cake pop “stick” to the lollipop stick and also provides coating around the base). Stick cake pop on lollipop stick. Dip in chocolate. (What worked best for me was kind of a scooping motion. Dunk, push it through the chocolate, and lift out. I used a small fork to dab and cover the base if it was needed.)
While the chocolate is still hot, stick the nose in (horizontal looks better). Dab on the eyes. Insert the antlers by pressing down and out a little.
Allow to dry well before delivering into eager little hands.