Important steps before you decorate your Christmas Cake! There’s lots of different ways to do it, but here’s how I do….
For an 8″ cake you will need:
1 x 10″ cake board
1kg ready to roll icing
2 tbsp apricot jam or marmalade
Unwrap your cake from the paper and foil you’ve been storing it in and set it on your worksurface.
See whether it is level, mine isn’t so it needs to be levelled with a knife – any excuse, it means I get to eat the trimmings!
Using a large serrated knife cut the dome of the top of the cake if necessary.
Prepare your cake board and position your cake on it so that the cut side is downwards and the base is now the top.
Check that you’re happy with your levelling and adjust if necessary. A small sausage of marzipan just under the cake can help to level if you don’t want to attack it with a knife.
Take your jam or marmalade and zap it in the microwave for 30 seconds to soften.
Using a pastry brush paint the outside of the cake with a thin layer of jam (avoiding any bits!). So now the cake is nice and sticky and will be ready to glue on the marzipan layer.
500g is enough marzipan to coat an 8″ cake. If you love the taste of marzipan you can make this layer thicker but you will need more to do so. Knead gently on your worksurface to ‘warm’ the marzipan which will make it easier to work with.
Take half of the marzipan and shape into a rough sausage shape.
Dust your worksurface with icing sugar and roll out the sausage into a long strip to reach around the outside of the cake. Measure with string to help you know how long it needs to be. It’s always longer than you think!
Again, with the string, measure how tall your collar of marzipan needs to be and cut to the right height. It should be 5mm above the top of the cake.
Easiest for cutting marzipan and sugarpaste is a pizza cutter, the type that rolls.
Position around the outside of the cake and trim neatly where the two edges meet.
Gather together the trimmings and the remaining half of marzipan and roll out to about 5mm thick on your worksurface.
Using the tin you baked the cake in as a template cut out a circle for the top of the cake.
Use your hands to smooth the seams of the marzipan. Smooth the top and the sides working out any major lumps and bumps.
Now you need to leave it to one side to dry a little – 24 to 48 hours. Now I know you Pink Whiskers don’t like waiting and like to get things done here and now (far too impatient like me!) but it is important in getting a really good finish on the sugarpaste layer. The marzipan needs to be slightly firmer to give you a fighting chance. So put it to one side and come back to it tomorrow.
For the sugarpaste layer….
Work with 1kg of sugarpaste for an 8″ cake. The thicker the sugarpaste the easier it is to work with and the less it will crack and split on you. My preference is for Dr Oetker, ready to roll icing as others tend to be too sticky and you’ll end up frustrated working with it!
Dust the worksurface with icing sugar. It looks like I’ve been a bit too liberal with it here so please hold back, do as I say not as I do! As soon as it’s out of the packet sugarpaste will begin to dry out which is the cause of cracks when it’s applied to the cake, too much icing sugar on the surface speeds up the drying out process so you do need to be careful.
Knead the sugarpaste to warm it up making it much more pliable or give it a quick zap in the microwave for 10 seconds – just be careful you don’t melt it!
Measure across the cake with a piece of string from the board, over the top and back onto the board again and cut the string to the right size. Dampen the marzipan with a pastry brush dipped in a little bit of water or a clear alcohol such as vodka or gin.
Begin to roll out the sugarpaste making sure it’s not sticking, once it sticks it’s gameover and you have to start again.
You can turn the sugarpaste when rolling but don’t flip it over.
Measuring with your piece of string keep rolling out, into a rough circle until the sugarpaste is just over the right size.
Polish the top of the sugarpaste with the flat of your hand to smooth it out. Take any rings or watches off first as they always catch and rip up your hard work. You will feel what I mean as you polish – the sugarpaste takes on a shine and will be super smooth.
Place the rolling pin in the middle of the rolled out icing and flip it over.
Flip over the sugar paste and remove the rolling pin.
Starting on the top, ignore the sides for now, polish the top of the cake with the flat of your hand again. When you are happy with the top start working the way down the cake with your hands, smoothing the sugarpaste into position. Go slowly and work from the top of the cake down towards the board. If the sugarpaste starts to crease lift it away from the cake and smooth from the top down again. If the sugarpaste begins to crack you can ‘polish’ out the start of any cracks with the palm of your hand or your fingertips, working over the cracks in a circular massaging motion.
Eventually you will have worked all the way down to the board. With a sharp knife trim off the excess sugarpaste at the base of the cake. Wrap up the excess in clingfilm and save it for now.
Set your cake to one side and leave overnight to firm up. Again this is important before we start adding the decoration as the sugarpaste is soft it is really easy to nick and mark it with your hands and we don’t want that do we?
Ruth Clemens, Baker Extraordinaire