I am gradually catching up with my Christmas preparations, cards are written and posted, parcels posted, presents are all bought or made (I think!!) tree is up and I have just got round to decorating the Christmas cakes…
Ideally Christmas cakes are made about 6-8 weeks before Christmas, to allow them to mature and give you time to feed them with alcohol! I don’t tend to feed mine, whereas my sister feeds hers so much you can’t eat it and drive! One year she asked me to decorate a cake for a special occasion, she’d been feeding it brandy for weeks, when I put it on a cake board it seemed to slump to one side, ‘Ruth’ I said, ‘this cake is drunk!’
I made my cake a couple of weeks ago, I always follow Delia Smith’s recipe from my 30 year old cookbook, but I’ve just found the recipe on line so I can share a link with you. For those of you not familiar with a rich fruit cake it’s basically a sponge cake made with soft brown sugar and a bit of treacle so it’s a nice dark colour, then it is just full of dried fruit, like an 8″ cake has about 2lb of fruit, currents (50%) sultanas, raisins, cut peel etc. It takes several hours to cook on a vary low heat, double wrapped with baking parchment so it doesn’t burn round the edge.
I made two cakes, an 8″ hexagonal one for us and a little one for a Christmas present. I rather like the hexagonal tin, I hired one for my children’s Christening cakes and decided after hiring it twice I may as well buy one! It’s probable my most used special occasion cake tin. A couple of nights ago I covered them in marzipan, I prefer the white to the bright yellow marzipan. I melt some apricot jam to stick it on with, it’s meant to be an apricot glaze but jam is much cheaper and I can use what’s left on my toast! I learnt the hard way with marzipan that a coating of icing is only as good as the marzipan underneath, so it’s worth taking time to smooth it and polish it. I usually turn my cakes upside down so I have a perfectly flat top, some people are very against it but I prefer it to trimming the top with a knife as the crumbs stick to everything. I also fill in any little holes or gaps with little blobs of marzipan first.
Once the marzipan was on it was a simple task to cover the cake with sugarpaste, I’ve always used water to stick it on without any problems. Books usually call for clear alcohal, I never used to like clear spirits and I wasn’t going to buy a bottle just for cakes!
I wanted a fairly simple and quick decoration this year. I remembered some sugarpaste white roses I found a few weeks ago in a box in the kitchen, they were left from a wedding cake I did last year! There were just enough to make a simple arrangement in the middle, not quite Christmas roses, but close enough! I used some silver gypsophillia to fill in the gaps. A pretty ribbon round the bottom and six silver draghees finished it off.
The second cake needed to be flat iced as I know the recipient doesn’t like sugarpaste. I’m getting better at flat icing, it’s not perfect as I didn’t have time to do the sides one night and the top the next night, but it’s good enough for Christmas! My original plan was to do a spiky sort of top but I couldn’t get the icing to peak nicely, so I flat iced it in a circle. Today I tied a tartan ribbon round it, I then picked some osmanthus from the garden, wired a couple of red bells and tied a red ribbon round it. The bottom edge needed neatening up[ a bit so I piped a little shell border right on the edge.
My final cake is a bit of a family tradition. I started making gingerbread houses about 20 years ago, I used to get them flat-packed from IKEA. I used to make about 20 and sell them at work, it helped pay for Christmas! Nowadays I use a gingerbread house from Morrisons, I don’t think the design is as pretty, but the gingerbread tastes a lot nicer and it’s a lot more convenient to buy.
Now the kids have grown up I just decorate them with white icing, rather than lots of sweets. I decorate them flat and then put the house together with a line of icing. I cover the board with a rough layer of icing too which looks like snow and helps to keep the house solid. It looks a bit rough and ready this year but it all goes down the same way !