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How to make a Christmas Cake

A showstopping Christmas cake is fun to make, brilliant for impressive entertaining, and so much better than the shop-bought alternative.

 

Christmas cook’s guide: how to make a Christmas cake

 

The cake

Line the tin well with baking paper by cutting a circle or square to fit the tin base, then a long strip to fit the inside, about 4cm taller than the tin. Make cuts along the strip, about 4cm into the paper. Grease the tin with some butter, then lay the strip around the inside with the cut sections overlapping at the base. Place the circle or square on the base, then tie a thick collar of brown paper around the outside of the tin to stop the cake browning too much on the outside.

If the top of the cooked cake is uneven, use a bread knife to cut off and level the top, then upturn so you have the flattest surface to work on.

Marzipan

A 500g pack of ready-made marzipan will easily cover a 20cm round or 18cm square cake.

Brush the cake with 3 tablespoons warmed, sieved apricot jam, so the marzipan will stick.

Knead the marzipan on an icing-sugar-dusted surface to soften, then roll out to at least 5cm larger than the cake and 3mm thick. Lift onto the cake and press onto the jam to stick. Trim at the base to neaten.

Let the marzipan dry in a cool place, covered with a tea towel, for at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours before icing.

Now choose the icing for your cake – smooth-as-glass fondant or classic snowy royal.

Rolled fondant icing

600g royal fondant icing will cover a 20cm round or 18cm square cake.

Roll out on an icing-sugar-dusted work surface to 3mm thick and at least 5cm larger than the cake. Brush the marzipan with a little cold water, then lift the icing onto the cake. Smooth and trim the icing at the base of the cake to neaten.

Royal icing

To cover the master recipe cake, whisk 3 egg whites until frothy, then gradually whisk in 600g sifted icing sugar and 1 tbsp lemon juice, to cut through the sweetness.

Spoon onto the marzipan, peak or smooth flat with a ruler. Leave to set.

1. Line the tin with baking paper.

how to make a christmas cake

 

2. Tie a brown paper collar around the lined cake tin.

how to make a christmas cake


3. Make a dip in the centre of the cake before baking.

how to make a christmas cake


4. Glaze the cake with apricot jam, then cover with marzipan.

how to make a christmas cake

 

5. Once covered with fondant icing, smooth out and trim. Use a clean ruler to smooth the royal icing flat.

how to ice a christmas cake

Try these great variations  

With the master recipe and a few decorative touches, your Christmas cake will stand out from the crowd.

Snowflake cake

Make the complete master recipe, decorating with marzipan and royal icing (see top). 

Buy snowflake decorations (we like glitter snowflakes from Wyevale, available in packs of 2 or 3 for 99p-£1.49, tel: 0844 800 8082 or click here for stockists) and twist onto lengths of strong floristry wire (from florists or cake decoration shops). Cut the wire to different lengths and push into the top of the cake. Sprinkle with silver balls and tie a thick silver ribbon around the sides of the cake.

Italian Certosino Christmas cake

Make the master recipe, omitting the cranberries, replacing the brandy with Marsala and the nutmeg with 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon and 1/2 tsp finely ground fennel seeds. Replace the almonds with pine nuts, the treacle with runny honey, and the orange with lemon zest. Fold in 50g chopped dark chocolate and bake as per the master recipe. To decorate, brush the cake with honey, then top with marzipan and fondant icing. Tie a ribbon around the cake, tuck fresh bay leaves into it, and top with frosted rosemary and redcurrants.

Frosting herbs and fruit

Rosemary, bay, thyme, grapes, kumquats, cranberries and redcurrants are all good for frosting. Beat a little egg white until frothy, dip all or part of the herbs or fruit into the egg and shake off the excess. Dust with caster sugar, if you like, then shake again. Set aside to dry and set on baking paper for 45 minutes.

English elegance Christmas cake

Begin step 1 of the master recipe, replacing the cranberries with 50g coarsely grated gala apple. Soak the dried fruit, apple and a large pinch of saffron strands in 6 tbsp Somerset Pomona cider brandy (from Waitrose or click here. Continue from step 2, using plain wholemeal flour and replacing the almonds with chopped roasted hazelnuts. Bake in an 18cm square tin as per the master recipe. To decorate, cover the cake with marzipan but don’t ice. Tie some raffia loosely around the outside edge of the cake and tuck 24 cinnamon sticks, broken in half, vertically inside the raffia, side by side. Arrange slices of dried orange and gala apples on top with a couple more cinnamon sticks and some star anise.

Drying fruit

Lay thin slices of gala apple and orange on baking sheets in a single layer and dust with a little icing sugar. Bake at 160°C/fan140°C/gas 3 for 45 minutes or until dry but not too browned. Put on a wire rack to cool completely. Try using lemons, limes and pears, too.

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