So, the cake is made and has been getting progressively more tiddly with weekly applications of brandy. Now it’s time to get it decorated.
I don’t have a very steady hand when it comes to icing (must be all that cognac) but having lavished so much love and so many costly ingredients on the cake, I decided to go to town with its coverings.
You can buy very good ready-made marzipan and ready-rolled icing these days but I wanted to make my own. The marzipan was a doddle and really does taste better, I think.
My novice attempt at fondant icing led to a lot of cussing. If you have your own favourite recipe, do please use it. Otherwise, read on for how-not-to-do-it.
Christmas Cake Part 2
These quantities should give you ample marzipan and icing (hah) to cover the cake and make additional decorations.
Ingredients for the marzipan:
1 medium egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tbsp brandy
200g caster sugar
200g icing sugar, sifted
400g ground almonds
Food colouring for the decorations – I think gels give a better colour than liquids but, as ever, the choice is yours
Put the egg and additional yolk in a large bowl, add the brandy and whisk well.
Add the remaining ingredients, sifting in the icing sugar, and mix to a stiff paste.
Sprinkle your work surface with a bit of icing sugar, then put the almond paste on it and knead until it’s soft and smooth. This recipe contains a lot of ground almonds, so is a little more crumbly than some versions, but it will come together. Store in the fridge in a plastic bag if you’re not using it straight away.
To cover the cake, take half the marzipan and put it on a sheet of greaseproof paper lightly dusted with icing sugar.
Roll it out to 1 cm thick and a bit bigger than the diameter of the cake (use the cake tin base as a guide).
Lightly brush the top of the cake with warmed, sieved apricot jam or some beaten egg white and invert the cake onto the marzipan, pressing it down. Trim away any excess round the edges and place it right-side-up on a cake board.
The easiest way to measure the marzipan for the sides is to cut a couple of bits of string to match the circumference and height.
Roll out the remaining marzipan, easiest done in two sections (or even three) and cut to fit, using the string as a guide.
Brush the sides of the cake with egg white or jam and press the marzipan strips into place. Smooth the joins, sides and edges and leave to dry in a cool place for two or three days before icing, otherwise the icing won’t stick.
Use any leftover marzipan to make decorations: I added green food-safe colouring gel to make Christmas trees to put around the sides of the cake, but you can also make holly leaves and berries or whatever takes your fancy. Any decorations also need time to dry out.
The fondant icing:
I doubled up the quantities in a Mary Berry recipe and I couldn’t get it to come together, probably because my egg whites were so small. So I added another egg white and another slug of glucose – still crumbly. In desperation I chucked it in the food processor and added yet another egg white – too gloopy. So more icing sugar went in and finally I got something that looked and felt about right.
1 kg icing sugar
2 tbsp liquid glucose (or 3)
2 egg whites, lightly whisked (or 3 if they’re small. Four was too many)
Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl, make a well in the middle and add the liquid glucose and egg whites.
Knead until it forms a soft ball. Dust your work surface lightly with icing sugar and knead for around 10 minutes until it’s smooth and bright white, adding more icing sugar if it’s a bit sticky.
Wrap in cling film and store in the fridge if not using straight away.
If you want a smooth wedding cake finish, check out this video: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/technique/how-ice-cake
To cover the cake, take another piece of string and lay it across the centre of the marzipanned cake, across the top and down the sides, cutting the string to use as a measure when you’re rolling out the icing.
Brush the cake with a little booze to help the icing stick. Brandy or sherry is good. I used Grand Marnier because I had it handy. It’s a good job the brandy wasn’t in the kitchen because I’d have been hitting the bottle at this point.
Dust your work surface and rolling pin with icing sugar, lay the icing on top and roll it out to about 1/2 cm thick, trying to keep it circular.
Drape it over the cake, either lifting it with both hands or draping it over your rolling pin, and lay it on the cake, allowing some to overhang.
It’ll look a bit Caspar The Friendly Ghost at this point.
Smooth the top down: cake smoothers come in handy here. Then smooth the edges, getting rid of any wrinkles and air bubbles.
Trim off the excess and add it to the rest of the icing to make decorations. It will keep, well wrapped, in the fridge. On the advice of pastry chef Anmar Odendal (Twitter: @CRUMB_Suffolk) I left it to dry for 24 hours before adding my fondant decorations. Mary Berry suggests leaving it for a week. Anmar, by the way, is in no way responsible for my lumpy-looking fondant: I consulted her after the event.
My icing wasn’t as smooth and shiny as I would have liked but I comforted myself with the knowledge that it would soon be hidden by the decorations.
Many families have much-loved bits and bobs they bring out year after year. When I was a kid we had a very battered Santa on a sleigh who made annual appearances. My mum, who wasn’t daft, didn’t bother with fondant. She forked up royal icing to make a snow scene and plonked the Santa on top.
He’s long gone so this year I used my embossed snowflake cutters to cut shapes to cover the top.
These were a bit of a nightmare, probably because my fondant was too soft, but after endless re-rolling and re-cutting I got there in the end. Then I brushed them with edible glitter.
I arranged my marzipan Christmas trees around the sides. The best way I found to get them to stick was to add a tiny amount of water to a lump of the fondant until I had a thick paste, dabbing it on the back of the decorations before applying them to the cake.
A Christmas candle and a festive ribbon finished the whole thing off. Now all I need is the assembled family to polish off the cake. Let’s hope that icing is edible.