This week end I finally decorated our Christmas cake, I made it a couple of months ago and I’ve been occasionally feeding it with sherry ever since. My sister feeds hers a lot, to the extent that one year she asked me to decorate a cake, I iced it and the whole thing slumped to one side, ‘Ruth,’ I said, ‘this cake is drunk!!’ One slice of Ruth’s cake is enough to send you over the limit!! Mine’s not that bad!
Here in the UK, Christmas cakes are traditionally a rich, dark fruit cake, covered with marzipan and icing sugar. I have a book by Joanna Farrow on decorating Christmas cakes so when the children were little they would spend ages choosing a cake, then I had to try and make it! I think I’ve made most of the cakes in the book now! My favourite was a cake made in a pudding basin to make a rounded cake, the top was covered in midnight blue icing, an uneven strip of white around the bottom made hills, simple little buildings made a village, then a Father Christmas in his sleigh with all the reindeer was iced so it would stand on the top as if he was flying through the sky. It did look pretty good…although it did turn everyone’s tongue blue!! This year I’ve gone for a slightly simpler design!
I made a hexagonal cake, it’s a shape I like working with, many years ago I hired the tin a couple of times and I decided I may as well buy one, it’s been well used! The original design used a double height cake, which I think would be a bit impractical, so I made just one cake, but I did make it a good three inches tall. I usually flatten the top, but I decided to leave the dome so it would look like a hill. I marzipanned it and then covered it with fondant icing, I had just enough to cover the base as well.
The cake I chose has Christmas trees all round it and one on the top. My plan was to have one tree on each corner. They are made using the runnout technique, I always use egg white to make my royal icing, apart from the fact that I keep chickens, I think only egg white gives icing the strength for this type of design. I add a bit of lemon juice too. The outlines of the trees were piped on a non-stick sheet and allowed to dry. A runnier icing is then made and using an icing bag with just the corner snipped off, piped into the shapes, ensuring the icing fills the space. It then needs a good few hours to dry. The book used about 5 half trees per tree. I decided to make some whole trees too as with my cake being hexagonal, they wouldn’t lie flat on the corners, I also felt it would make my top tree a bit more stable.
At the last minute I decided to use some mini marshmallow (that had come with a gingerbread house kit) as tree trunks and pipe a tree outline on the cake at each corner, I then stuck a whole tree over the top. I loved the effect of the iced tree behind and felt that was sufficient on the corners, which left me with lots of half trees! I decided to add a tree in the middle of each side. I didn’t use the marshmallow this time, which makes them appear slightly smaller, I used three halves for each tree, the tiny silver stars were cake decorations, I sprinkled a few round the cake too.
On the top I made a star of silver draghees, I use a cutter to gently make an indent, then the silver balls lie long the outline before being pressed in. The central tree was pretty fiddly. I was glad I made one tree whole as it did give me one bit I could hold on to without it all collapsing. I added a couple of sides at a time then let it dry a bit before adding more, a generous dollop of icing holds it in place! Large silver draghees completed the tree and a dusting with cake sparkles finished the cake off.
Gingerbread houses have become a bit of a tradition in our house, I started when the children were toddlers and I’ve made them every year since. I used to make them to order too, I think 15 was my busiest year, it used to help pay for Christmas! I always used to get the houses flat-packed from IKEA (isn’t everything flat-packed from there?) but last year I tried the Morrisons Supermarket one and although the design isn’t quite as fancy, the gingerbread tastes so much nicer, so Morrisons it is! Now the children are older I don’t decorate with sweets and cake decorations, just white icing, I think it’s much prettier.
I learnt along time ago to decorate the pieces before assembling, it’s so much easier. I don’t think the icing has to be particularly perfect, it’s the overall effect that is seen luckily (as mine is no where near perfect!!) I assemble it with royal icing too. This year I got a gingerbread tree too (from IKEA) so I put them both on the same board. I love the smell of gingerbread, it says Christmas to me, one house will scent a room. I tried to get gingerbread hearts again to ice and hang on the tree, but IKEA had sold out, I need to be more organised next year!
Just a few mince pies to bake and a ham to roast and I’m ready for Christmas, how about you?