Every year, starting around the end of October, my kitchen smells of Christmas cake. I bake 4 big ones, cut them up into different sized cakes, ice and decorate them, let them dry out, then send them off to brave the Royal Mail to reach relatives. So at any one time in November and early December you’ll find a glass dish full of dried fruit steeping in brandy, foiled-wrapped cakes occasionally being ‘fed’ with more brandy, and chopping boards laden with little cakes in various stages of sugar-covering, all hiding underneath a protective ceiling of foil. Oooooo, the smell is delicious!
Every year I do it and every year I mutter darkly that this’ll be the last year. But truth be told, I really enjoy making Christmas presents that I know will be eaten and not add to a mountain of plastic or clutter; I love thinking about the recipient as I finish off each cake. I know I’m not that great a cake-maker, but I think my relatives know that I make each cake with a lot of love. The trouble with me, though, is that I always leave the decorating to the last minute, so inevitably start applying royal icing before I’ve any clear idea of what I’m going to do. Trust me, inspiration rarely strikes at the right time…
This year, though, I had the foresight to look through Pinterest for ideas before I got out the marzipan. I thought I’d share my take on the ideas with you and tips on how I did them in case you’re tearing your hair out icing 9 cakes, too.
1. Tutorial to Ice a Knitted Hat Cake
I thought these little mittens on a cake looked sweet, but I’d no time to make intricate little decorations: a big hat would fit my timescale better. Here’s how I did it:
Start with your fruit cake iced already. I put a layer of marzipan and a layer of ready-to-roll icing on top of mine because I wanted to be able to smooth out the edges. If I had time (and the skills!) I’d have applied a layer of royal icing and left it to dry.
The knitted hat decoration is just coloured fondant icing. You can make your own or buy it ready-coloured and ready to roll.
Knead the coloured icing really well until it’s soft and pliable.
Take 2 golf-ball sized chunks of it and roll them into long sausages.
Twist them together into a long twirl.
Take another 2 chunks of icing and repeat, except this time twist the sausages in the other direction.
Lay the 2 twirls side by side, on a piece of baking parchment or a silicone mat. Pat them up close together until the twists match up.
Take some white fondant icing and form it into a fat sausage, which will become the brim, and a round ball, which will become the pompom. Cut the ball in half so that you have a nice flat surface to stick to the cake.
Brush the top of your cake lightly with some cooled, boiled water. Then carefully, using a fish slice or spatula, slide the hat onto your cake. Gently pat it to shape. Put the brim at the base, covering the ends of the hat, and place the pompom half at the top. Make sure the flat side was well-moistened with water to help it stick. Either leave the white icing as it is, or mark it in some kind of texture – I pricked mine all over with a toothpick to make a vaguely furry texture because I’d no other bright ideas. (Please add a comment with your ideas so I can do a better job next year!)
Finally, I added a little fondant icing snowflake I’d stamped out. Do this at the last minute so that it’s pliable – if you leave the snowflakes to dry out, they’ll crumble when you press them into the hat.
Leave the icing to harden for a few days before you try to post the cake.
2. Tutorial to Make a Christmas Tree Cake
I was inspired by this beautifully-decorated cake from The Pink Whisk. I’ve linked to their very comprehensive instructions on how to ice and decorate a cake. If you’ve got the time, please go there – if not, then here’s how I did a much-less perfect variation:
Again, start with a fruit cake that’s already iced. I used a layer of marzipan and a layer of white ready-to-roll icing, the same as the knitted hat cake above.
Take a good chunk of coloured fondant icing and knead it until it’s very pliable and soft. Roll it out till it’s around 5mm thick. Cut it to size and shape. Lightly moisten the white icing with some cooled, boiled water, then place the coloured icing on top (My blue icing was originally a beautiful square, but I have to tell you that I was a bit slapdash about taking it off the rolling mat and putting it on the cake – it stretched. I’d no more blue icing and it stuck a bit too well to the white icing, so I just left it and covered up the wonky edges with snowflakes).
Now gently scatter whatever decorations you want on top. Get them into the places you like, using cold clean fingers (!) or the end of a paintbrush or even tweezers, then gently press them into the coloured icing. When they’re pretty well secured, use a rolling pin to gently roll over the top into a more level layer and press the decorations in even more. I used tiny white chocolate stars and some sugar stars in my Christmas tree.
Cover the edges of the coloured icing with whatever you have to hand – I stamped out some snowflakes from more of the white fondant icing. If I’d had more time, some silver balls would have looked great, or best of all, some piped swirls. Aye, maybe next year!
3. Tutorial to Ice a Present Cake
I think the present cake is easiest of all. There are so many beautiful pictures all over Pinterest, and this one inspired me.
I covered a fruit cake with a layer of marzipan and let it dry. Then I rolled out some white fondant ready to roll icing, brushed the marzipan with cooled, boiled water and placed the icing on top. I smoothed the top and bottom edges in tightly to the cake. Then I folded the side edges in like I would with wrapping paper. What an easy way to finish off the icing – no smoothing or cutting!
I took a big chunk of pink fondant icing and kneaded it till it was soft and pliable. I rolled it out, then used a pastry cutter to cut it into strips. I brushed each strip with water, then stuck them to the top of the cake in a cross shape. I made a bow out of some strips and stuck that to the top.
I’ve yet to ice our own family Christmas cake. I think I’ll leave that one for the minxes to do!