Darlings, dearest darlings, I hope that you have been tenderly nursing your home-baked Christmas cakes by night with regular feedings… of brandy of course! What else? Well the time has just about come to crown your cinnamon-scented bakes with their regal icing or frosting (depending upon your preference).
And you do have several options when it comes to crowning your glorious Christmas cakes:
The purist approach would favour a jewel-encrusted coronet of glace fruits and mixed nuts, glazed with apricot jam and a splosh of brandy. Whilst this is certainly delightful, those with a sweeter tooth may prefer a thick, snowy layer of soft, white fondant icing or sugar paste, which you can either buy ready to roll or make yourself.
I personally tend to opt for a layer of softly whipped royal icing because when it solidifies it is deliciously sweet and looks perfect dotted with kitsch mini reindeer and Christmas trees. Royal icing differs from fondant icing in that it is made with egg whites.
If you choose either type of icing you will need to top the cake with a layer of almond icing or marzipan before you finally ice the cake. You will also need to allow several days for the marzipan to dry before you ice the cake. I find that pre-made marzipan is easier to use and gives a smoother finish. Follow my simple instructions below…
Marzipan or Almond Icing
(Enough for a 22cm or 9 inch round loose-bottom cake tin)
600g shop bought marzipan or almond paste
3 tbsp apricot preserve, rindless marmalade or ginger preserve
1 tbsp brandy
Turn the cake upside down so the flat edge becomes the top of the cake. Whisk together the apricot preserve and the brandy. Lightly brush the top and sides of the cake with the sticky brandy preserve.
Dust a non-stick work surface lightly with icing sugar and roll out the almond paste into a circular shape to fit the cake, with an extra 6cm allowance around the edge (for the sides of the cake). The marzipan should be around 3mm thick or thick enough to hold its shape but thin enough to cover the whole cake.
Using a palette knife, carefully ease the marzipan off the work surface and gently lower onto the cake so the allowance covers the sides of the cake. If you have any un-iced areas, simply press smaller pieces onto the cake and smooth the layers of the marzipan icing together with a small knife.
Place in the cake in a Tupperware cake storage box and place in a cool, dry place for two or three days to dry thoroughly before icing.
To ice the cake with sugar paste…
Once the almond marzipan icing has dried for several days, you may ice the cake. For a smooth, simple finish opt for fondant icing or sugar paste, which you can buy easily from supermarkets or cook shops.
1kg sugar paste
Simply dust a work surface with icing sugar and set a 1kg piece of sugar paste icing down on the surface. Dust the top with icing sugar and roll out the sugar paste until it is around 3mm in thickness. Be sure to allow an extra 6cm of icing around the edge of the shape of the cake so that you are able to drape the icing over the cake in one go.
If you do need to patch up any areas, simply use a dab of water to smooth the pieces of icing together.
Cut out Christmassy shapes from the remains of the icing to decorate the cake, or sprinkle with edible silver baubles or glitter.
To frost the cake with Royal Icing…
Alternatively, you can opt to ice your marzipan-topped cake with a glorious layer of frosting or Royal Icing. Royal Icing is made with icing sugar, egg whites and glycerine; the combination of which creates a soft meringue-like icing which will spread easily with natural peaks and troughs to resemble the landscape of a snow-topped country hillside.
This fluffy white frosting will set into a solid icing; therefore the use of glycerine is advisable as this helps to ensure that the icing doesn’t break off in huge pieces when you slice the cake.
However, due to the raw egg whites I would certainly advocate that you don’t ice the cake with this if you are planning to serve the cake to any pregnant women or young children.
650g icing sugar
4 large egg whites
1 ½ tsp glycerine
Separate the eggs carefully and place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl. Pop the yolks into a freezer bag to re-use at a later date.
Sift the icing sugar and stir into the egg whites one spoonful at a time. Combine until the icing is smooth and flops from the spoon. Whisk the egg whites for five to ten minutes, until the icing forms stiff peaks. Gently fold in the glycerine.
Dollop spoonfuls of the thick icing over the top of the cake and smooth out evenly with a palette knife. Smooth more icing down the sides of the cake and add another thick layer across the whole cake, spreading with flicks and swirls to create a frosty, snowy appearance. Leave the cake in a clean, dry place for four or five hours, where it can dry out and set out of harms reach.
Once set, decorate with kitsch Christmas reindeer and a mini alpine forest. Or… mould sugar paste into small polar bears or penguins and decorate with edible inks. Go on… let your creative side go!
Finally, serve on Christmas day to a round of applause and enjoy!
Happy Christmas to all and to all a goodnight!