A Christmas cake makes a lovely centre-piece for the tea-table on Christmas Day – even if everyone is so full they can’t move as far as the table!
So you’ve baked the cake (as in How to Make the Perfect Fruit Cake) allowed it to mature, and now you’re ready to decorate it. But how?
If it’s Christmas Eve and you’re asking this question, or if no-one in your family likes marzipan and icing, then covering the cake with nuts and cherries is a good option.
First brush the cake with sieved warmed apricot jam. Then arrange halved walnuts, blanched almonds and glacé cherries over it, before coating again with the jam for a glossy sheen. Tie a green or red and gold ribbon around and you’ve a very attractive cake to offer your guests.
The first thing to do if you intend to ice the cake is to cover it with marzipan. You will need to do this a few days before icing to allow the marzipan to dry out properly. If you try and ice it straightaway, the oils from the marzipan may seep into the icing discolouring it.
You can buy good quality marzipan and Fondant Icing in cook-shops and some bakeries, as well as in supermarkets, but in case you prefer to make it yourself, we’re providing some simple recipes.
Marzipan (Almond Paste)
- 450g (1lb) ground almonds
- 225g (8oz) caster sugar
- 225g (8oz) icing sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon almond essence
- Sieve together the sugars.
- Whisk the eggs, essence and lemon juice together before stirring in the sugar and ground almonds. Knead until you have a soft, pliable mixture. Wrap in clingfilm until required.
- When you’re ready to cover the cake with marzipan, place the cake on a cake board. Gently warm some apricot jam (to make it runny and easy to spread) and brush it over the surface and sides of the cakes.
- Dust your working surface with sifted icing sugar and roll out the marzipan until it’s large enough to completely cover the cake.
- Lift it on your rolling pin and allow it to slip off gently on to the cake, patting it down and smoothing it with your sugar-dusted hands.
- Set the cake aside for a week before icing it.
Royal icing is the traditional covering for Christmas Cakes but unless you’re a skilled artist able to use an icing bag well, you’ll probably end up with the ubiquitous snow scene. And there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s quick and simple, and for many people is a happy reminder of their own childhood, often involving ornaments handed down from parents or grandparents.
- 500g (1lb 2oz) icing sugar
- 3 large egg whites
- 1 teaspoon glycerine
- Sieve the icing sugar.
- Place the egg whites in a bowl and add the icing sugar bit by bit until you have a dropping consistency.
- Whisk the icing until it stands up in peaks. (Even with an electric whisk, this will take at least 10 minutes.)
- Stir in the glycerine.
- The icing is now ready to use.
- For a snow scene, spread it all over the cake then, using a broad knife blade, lift it up into little peaks, making a rough surface.
- Decorate it with ornaments of your choice – or your children’s!
- Tie a brightly coloured ribbon around it for the finishing touch.
If you’d like something a bit different, fondant icing or sugarpaste is a good option. It’s simple to use and your creation can be as plain or as fancy as your imagination and skill allows.
- 560g (1¼ lb) icing sugar
- 2 large egg whites
- 3 tablespoon liquid glucose
- Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.
- Add the glucose and ¾ of the egg white and mix well. Knead it, on a sifted-sugar-dusted surface, until smooth and pliable – this will take about 10 minutes.
- Put it in a bowl covered with a t-towel and allow it to rest for 30 minutes or so.
- You now have enough icing to cover an 8” round cake, and to provide some decoration.
To Ice The Cake
- Brush the marzipan with the remaining egg white.
- If you want to ice a sponge cake, you don’t need to use marzipan but brush the cake with egg white to help the fondant icing to stick.
- Put aside 175g (6oz) of icing and roll out the rest to cover the cake.
- Lift it on your rolling pin and slide it off gently onto the cake. Pat it firmly and smooth it out with your hands.
- You can buy cutters in all sorts of shapes. Try holly leaves or stars, Santa’s or snowmen. Paint them, or add fine detail with food colouring. To make sure they stay in place, brush the iced cake with egg white first.
- If you want to colour your fondant it’s best to use a paste colouring rather than liquid, which changes the consistency. You’ll need to knead it a lot to achieve an even colour. And only add a little at a time!
- To make model Santa’s or angels that will stand up on a cake, you need special modelling sugarpaste that will retain its shape. It’s just like modelling with clay – or playdough!
- Turn your cake into a Christmas present: paint the ‘wrapping paper’ decoratively, then add a ribbon and a label – made from modelling paste.
All the cake icing accessories or ingredients mentioned here can be obtained from cook-shops, good supermarkets or the internet.