Making the family Christmas cake is a bit of a tradition – or it used to be!
Maybe you have a treasured recipe handed down through the generations of your family – mother to daughter, mother to daughter. Or maybe, like me – you have a favourite recipe handed down from the great Mary Berry. I’m sure we do have a family recipe so I really must have a word with my Mum!
Baking the cake usually happens months before Christmas, and then it gets soaked in your flavour of choice until it’s ready to be decorated and join the Christmas table already heaving with rich indulgences that we all know we shouldn’t really be eating – but it’s Christmas!
I prefer my Christmas cake to taste of rich fruit and warm spices so I bake mine later in the year and soak it a few times in cold tea. Sounds a bit strange, but the tea really brings out the flavour of the fruit and makes it delicious.
Once you have your cake, there comes the time when you have face up to decorating it or at least making it look vaguely cheerful to impress the family. So I thought I would share a few tips with you on how to decorate your cake in a simple easy way that will make it quite the centrepiece for your Christmas table.
My cake is a small 6″ round but these tips will work for any size. Square cakes are a little harder to cover so if you’re new to this decorating lark, you should stick with a good old round one! You’ll need a few things before you start so here’s a little list:
Just a couple of tablespoons of apricot jam warmed in a pan should be painted all over your cake. Make sure you brush around the sides too and be generous with your coverage.
This will seal your cake and give a nice sweet layer of flavour before you cover with marzipan.
Nobody ever makes marzipan, unless they’re very keen! We made it in College but it was tricky and time consuming and most cake decorators don’t bother. Just buy yourself a packet of ready-to-roll marzipan from the supermarket. You can even get brandy flavoured marzipan now to add to the flavour of your cake.
Roll it out evenly with your rolling pin into a circle until it looks big enough to cover the top and sides of your cake. You’ll need to sprinkle some icing sugar around to stop it sticking to your work surface. Put your rolling pin the middle of the circle, lift half the circle over your pin and gently lower it onto the cake.
Gently smooth the top and then work the outside edge of your hands around the edge tucking in all the drapes. Be gentle and it should be fine. Smooth around the edge to avoid folds or creases in the marzipan – but don’t worry if it’s not perfect because it won’t show once the sugar paste in layered on top.
With a small sharp knife cut around the base of the cake as close as you dare go without cutting into the sides. I used a 250g pack for my 6″ cake and there was a little left over.
Once you’ve cut your edge, go round the sides again with your smoother and make sure the sides are nice and neat. Now you can give yourself a pat on the back, a whoop whoop, because you’re half way there already.
There’s a bit of a debate about whether we ought to call it Sugarpaste or Fondant. I was taught in College that it is without doubt Sugarpaste and must never under any circumstances be called anything else, especially not “fondant”. Fondant is the US word and if you consume a TV diet of Cake Boss, Amazing Wedding Cakes, Cupcake Wars, or Ace of Cakes you will be well used to this familiar term.
Today, in homage to the esteemed Sally Owens, Cake Queen of Coleg Llandrillo, I will refer to it as Sugarpaste. But that leaves us with another question: Is is one word or two? Let’s leave that for another day!
I used about 750g of sugarpaste to cover this cake as I like a generous layer but you could get away with less. Roll it out the same way as the marzipan until you have a circle just a little larger that the cake board and make sure the thickness is nice and even, or you’ll have an undulating cake which is not attractive.
If you find any little blemishes in your sugarpaste – which is quite common, even when you’ve been doing it a while, just make a little piece of sugarpaste into a ball and gently roll it over the area you want to correct and it works like magic – but you have to be gentle and patient.
Again cut around your cake but this time we want to cover the board so lift up your cake board and cut around it like Grandmother used to cut an apple pie with the knife right up against the board. This should give you a nice clean edge which you can smooth and tidy up with your smoother. Your excess sugarpaste can be rolled up, stored in an airtight bag and kept for another cake.
So that really is the difficult part done – and it wasn’t that bad was it?
It’s Christmas so it really has to be red ribbon. You’ll need 15mm ribbon which you can get from cake decorating shops or craft and fabric shops. If you’re local to Llandudno try ‘Let them Eat Cake’ on Madoc Street, or ‘The Little Fabric Bazaar’ in Conwy.
Make sure you have the best side of your cake at the front. Measure your ribbon and fix with glue around the board overlapping at the back.
Then measure another length to go around the base of the cake and fix with edible glue.
There’s all sorts of ribbon available in pretty festive designs so choose something different if you fancy just make sure it’s 15mm wide.
As soon as the ribbon is on – you’ll be impressed with yourself. It lifts the whole cake to a new level and I promise you’ll be chuffed.
Let’s be honest, cutting out shapes is not difficult, but trust me – people will be impressed. If you take your time, cut carefully and do it well, your cake will look quite professional.
You’ll need to get yourself a set of cutters. These can all be bought from local cake shops, or online.
My cake is quite small so I chose my smallest Christmas cutters – just a reindeer and a tree. When it comes to decorating my style tends to be ‘less is more’. I always think a cake looks more striking with a simple design done well, rather than throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it.
You can buy sugarpaste in lots of nice colours in ready-to-roll packs which makes life a lot easier. Press your cutter down and give it a good wiggle – that way you’ll get nice sharp edges round your shape and it should lift off your board more easily.
Leave your shapes for a little while to dry out and you’ll find them easier to work with.
Now it’s time for the final decoration.
I decided on alternate trees and reindeers in a circle around the top of the cake. A simple but effective design.
You could use snowflakes, robins, holly leaves – anything you like.
Attach your shapes to the cake with a dab of edible glue and position them carefully.
Make sure all your edges are flattened down and then you can sit back and admire your handiwork.
I’ve chosen traditional Christmas colours but you could do blues, or even white on white.
I’ve tried to keep this cake really simple and show you step by step that you can do this at home. It might take a bit of time but you can shoo everyone out of the kitchen, make yourself a cup of tea, turn on the Christmas carols and enjoy the therapy that is cake decorating.
In case you’re wondering this particular cake will be making it’s way to the Ty Gobaith Christmas Charity Ball – to be part of a luxury festive hamper that will be raffled to raise money for this amazing children’s charity. I was thrilled to be asked to contribute to the Hamper and wish the organisers and guests a very enjoyable evening this Friday at the Deganwy Quay Hotel.
All that remains is for me to put my cake safely in it’s travel box, label it up and send it on it’s way.
I hope you’ve found my thoughts and tips helpful. More than that, I really hope you have a go and I’d love to see your cakes so please show me.
And don’t worry, if you’re really not keen and you give me plenty of notice, I’ll make one of my cakes for you.
The final decision, of course, is how to eat it. I have a little Yorkshire blood so I quite like it with a little slice of cheese, something crumbly like “A bit of Wensleydale, Gromit”
That’s all for now, folks.
Love, Judith x
I’m Judith. I’ve been caking since 2012. I also love to write, photograph, travel, drink coffee and read books. This is my cake blog where you’ll find recipes, and baking tips and all my latest cake projects.
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