Decorating the Christmas Cake

After a couple of months slowly soaking up brandy I decided it was about time to get the cake iced, decorated and ready to serve. Here in the US even this part is surprisingly difficult because it’s difficult to find marzipan in large enough packets and fondant icing ready to roll. This year I was lucky to find marzipan so that saved me some time, but in the past I’ve made my own and it is pretty simple. I found a recipe which involved 2 parts ground almonds to 1 part water, boiled in water for about an hour until the water boiled off. This cooking of the almonds left it with a nice toasty flavor which definitely added to the cake. However there are plenty of simpler recipes which just involve mixing with corn syrup.

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Next problem: the fondant icing. This I have never managed to find for purchase and it is rather crucial. I can’t imagine buttercream or glace icing would have the right flavor or texture for this kind of cake. Luckily this is also surprisingly simple to make and I like this recipe which just uses marshmallows and sugar so there’s no need for me to buy gelatin.

  • 8 oz mini marshmallows
  • 1 lb powdered sugar (icing sugar)
  • 1 tbsp water

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This recipe makes a decent quantity of icing, easily enough for a single cake (twice as much as I needed for my tiny cake) but probably not enough if you want to ice a 3 tier wedding cake. Start by melting the marshmallows with the water. Just like melting chocolate you’ll need to make sure they don’t burn so melt over boiling water or very gently in the microwave. Once completely smooth you just have to mix in the sugar and this can be a bit time consuming, the capacity of melted marshmallows to absorb sugar is pretty impressive!

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Start by just dumping about 3/4 of the sugar into the mix and stirring it up. Then keep adding more until it starts to get stiff and form into a sticky lump. At this point you’ll find it easier to tip the sugar onto your work surface and knead the icing into the sugar. For a long time the icing will be quite stretchy, if you pick it up by the edge you’ll notice it slowly stretch down. You need to put so much sugar into it that it becomes stiff enough to stop doing this, but stop short of the point where it starts to tear instead. If you do go too far you can just add a sprinkle of water to bring it back.

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Once you have your marzipan and your icing ready to go you just need your cake and some apricot jam. If your jam is thick, add a little water to it to help it spread and start by spreading it liberally onto the cake. Roll out your marzipan to about 1/4 cm or 1/8 inch until you have a piece that’s easily big enough to cover your cake, top and sides. Pick it up on your rolling in and drape it over the cake, gently push the sides in around the cake and then cut away the excess.

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Repeat the process, spreading a layer of jam over the marzipan. This layer can be thinner than the first, just enough to moisten the whole surface. Roll out your icing to the same thickness and drape over the cake and cut to size as before.

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Finally it’s time to add some decoration and this is really up to you. A couple of years ago I cut a snowflake stencil from baking paper, moistened the cake and sprinkled colored sugar over the stencil. The result was super simple and I loved it but this year I decided to go with something a little bolder. In the end I made a mini gingerbread house and a marzipan tree and sprinkled some powdered sugar over like snow. I liked the idea but I think the house was too big for my tiny cake. For those of you who read my original post on making the cake and are wondering how it tasted in the end – it was quite crumbly but definitely not dry and quite delicious! Next year I’ll have to try to make it less crumbly, maybe a bit more egg or butter?

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