The moment you unwrap the Christmas cake from its foil layers, ready to anoint with icing, is when you truly feel that Christmas is almost here. A rich fruit cake deserves a traditional coat, even if you don’t like marzipan or icing. Homemade marzipan is far more palatable than the shop bought stuff, and icing must be of the royal variety. Soft sickly fondant will just not do here. Neither are difficult, or even time consuming, but you must leave at least 24hrs for the marzipan to dry, and a good few hours for 2 coats of icing to dry.
You need not be a world class sugar craft champion for your Christmas cake to look good, but you can go a little further than a frilly border and a plastic Santa. Even though if that does hold a certain retro cool. I have gone for a simple green theme of trees and holly, backed up by a fairly traditional ribbon. Coloured fondant, found in any supermarket, and a set of cutters make for light work. 2 cake boards stacked instead of one add a little extra something. A couple of ribbons, a smattering of pins, and some white sprinkles or shimmery pearls. Edible glitter will add a lovely glint. A silicone mat is useful for rolling out and cutting fondant, that way it doesn’t stick or become discoloured with icing sugar.
- Prepare the cake for marzipan
Lay the cake on a cake board. You can stick it on with icing that you haven’t made yet, but this is a heavy fruitcake; it’s going nowhere unless you tip it upside down. Make a glaze by boiling together 2 tbsp. of apricot jam with 1 tbsp. water. Brush the top and the sides of the cake with the glaze.
- Make the marzipan
100g caster sugar
100g icing sugar
200g ground almonds
1 egg plus 1 yolk
Juice of half a lemon
Mix the dry ingredients together and stir in the egg. Beat to a stiff paste, adding the lemon juice if it seems a bit dry. Roll into a ball and place on a surface dusted with icing sugar. Cut the ball in half and set one piece aside. Roll out 2 narrow strips to the height of the cake sides, and press into place on the glazed cake. Roll the other piece out for the top of the cake and repeat. Press any seams together and smooth out the surface. Leave to dry for 48 hrs (you can get away with 24hrs).
- Make the icing
450g royal icing sugar
1 tbsp. glycerine
Juice of half a lemon
- Mix the icing sugar with roughly 3 tbsp. warm water, add the glycerine, and mix. If it is too wet add more sugar, if too dry, add the lemon juice. Once you have a smooth icing, beat with an electric mixer to get rid of any lumps and give texture to the icing. It should form firm peaks. Dollop some of the icing on to the top of the cake and spread outwards in a circle towards the edges. Repeat for the sides. Put the remaining icing in a polythene bag to stop it from setting and leave the icing on the cake to set. Once dry, repeat.
- Prepare the board
Stick the board with cake on top of a second board, using a drop of icing to make it stick. Thin down a few tbsp. of icing with a little water and spread over the board to create a neat finish.
- Decorate the cake
Roll the green fondant, and cut out 5 large trees, 2 small trees, and 10 small holly leaves. With red icing, roll out 10 tiny balls for holly berries. Lay the fondant shapes onto the cake as pictured. Scatter with the sprinkles or pearls, and a touch of edible glitter if you have it. Fasten the large ribbon around the cake, securing with pins. The thinner ribbon goes around the boards and is secured in the same way.
All that is left to do is cut the first slice and enjoy. Cooks prerogative I think.
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