Making your own Christmas cake this year? Read up on Christmas cake icing and decorating techniques to make it an enjoyable annual tradition!
Set the scene
When icing a cake with ganache, poured fondant or royal icing, it is likely you'll find that the icing drips down the edges of the cake. You don't want all this excess on your pretty cake plate, so never start icing with the cake set directly on the serving platter!
Instead, place the cake on a cooling rack set over a swiss roll tin, or other rimmed baking tray. The wire rack will allow the excess icing to fall through onto the tin, making for easy clean up.
Also note that for best results, the cake should be resting on a cardboard circle for easy manoeuvring. Cake circles are available at specialty baking and craft shops, or you can simply make your own: out of cardboard, cut a circle slightly smaller than the diameter of your cake tin.
You can also elevate the cake by resting it on an inverted dish or other makeshift stand; the idea is to make it easy to cover the cake with glaze without making a big mess. The swiss roll tin catches the excess and allows you to pour it back into a bowl for reuse.
Prepare the cake
Brush on the jam
Roll out the marzipan
Alternatively, roll out one large sheet of marzipan that is larger than the top and sides of your cake; using your hands, smooth out the marzipan, starting in the centre and gently smoothing it down the sides, pushing out any air bubbles. Cut away any excess at the base with a small knife.
Can I skip the marzipan?
We wouldn't recommend it! Any poured glaze, ganache or icing does best with a smooth starting surface, otherwise you'll end up with crumbs in the icing or a lumpy looking cake. Also, the marzipan serves as a sort of 'seal', helping to preserve the cake and keeping it moist.
Ice the cake
Follow your favourite recipe for royal icing or fondant icing to give your cake a professional finish. Royal icing is actually dead easy and doesn't require any obscure ingredients, such as glycerine or glucose.
Try our Christmas cake icing recipe, which requires just three simple ingredients: egg whites, lemon juice and icing sugar.
When your icing is ready, uncover your Christmas cake, and spoon a generous amount of icing over the top. With a palette knife, clean ruler or spatula, start smoothing out the icing over the top of the cake, then around the edges. Work in gentle, swift movements; don't spread too vigourously - you will lose the smooth surface and might gouge into the walls of the cake. You can also create a 'snow' effect by forming soft peaks with the icing, which will set when the icing hardens.
Once you're happy with how the icing looks, you're ready to decorate.
Raising the cake on an inverted plate makes icing the edges much easier!
The sky's the limit when it comes to decorating your Christmas cake. You can get creative with found items like Christmas ornaments, or you can seek out special decorations from a specialty cake shop. Here are just a few ideas:
The home stretch
Now that your cake is iced and decorated, simply set it aside for at least a day (up to three days) until the icing is thoroughly dried. Once dry, carefully transfer the cake to a pretty platter. Ideally, by this time it's Christmas, and your cake is ready to serve. If you're not serving within a day or two, transfer the cake to an air-tight tin.
Prefer rolled icing?
There are pros and cons to both methods - poured icing versus ready-made rolled fondant icing (also called ready-to-roll icing or sugarpaste). Note that with rolled icing, you are limited to a flat cake surface; so if you're hoping to decorate with soft peaks - stick with royal icing.
To ice your cake with rolled fondant:
• After the marzipan has dried, brush it with rum, brandy or cold water. This helps to affix the icing to the marzipan, and alcohol also acts as a preservative.
• Measure the top and sides of the cake. Roll out the fondant to a diameter slightly larger than the cake. If your cake tin is 23cm, for example, and your cake is 5cm high, you'll want to roll the icing out to larger than 33cm in diameter. You can dust the rolling pin and work surface with icing sugar to prevent sticking.
• Once the icing is rolled to approximately 5mm thick, carefully and loosely roll it round the rolling pin, then roll out over the top of the cake.
• Dust your hands with icing sugar if necessary, and smooth out the icing evenly over the cake. Starting in the centre, gently smooth the icing towards the sides, pushing out any air bubbles, and smooth the fondant down the sides of the cake.
• Use a sharp paring knife to trim the excess. If the bottom edge is ragged, you can decorate the bottom of the cake with a rope of fondant or piped icing.
You can use the excess fondant to cut out decorative shapes - holly leaves, Christmas trees, etc. Simply use your favourite Christmas-themed cutter, cut out the shapes, and then brush the underside with a bit of beaten egg white. You can then stick the shapes on your cake in any pattern you choose!
Fondant icing tips
Homemade rolled fondant
If you're not keen on shop-bought, you can make your own rolled fondant icing with this recipe.
Article provided by: