How to Marzipan & Ice your Christmas Cake

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

500g marzipan

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.

Place the circle on the top of the cake, gently sealing together the edges where it meets the marzipan collar.

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.

Use the rolling pin to lift into position on the cake.

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

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50 Responses to How to Marzipan & Ice your Christmas Cake

  1. Pingback: Santa, Rudolph and Cheeky Elf Cake | Baking, Recipes and Tutorials - The Pink Whisk

  2. Bethan says:

    Hi there- is it time to marzipan and ice our boozy fruit cake now? Thanks, Bethan

  3. Sue says:

    If only my cake looked like your photos. I’ll keep persevering. Practice makes perfect, or in my case O.K.

  4. Judy says:

    I am looking forward to persevering with the icing as I always seem to have difficulty with creased and folds on the sides, the instructions look good.

  5. Glynis Rowntree says:

    This is oh so helpful, especially the step by step pictures. I am now going to have a go! My previous attempts have when pretty terrible. Fingers crossed!

  6. Liz Warner says:

    Just mazipaned my 1st ever Christmas today followed these instructions – so far so good! Thx Ruth!

  7. Mary says:

    Looks so easy when someone else does it. My kitchen looks like an icing sugar bomb went off!

  8. Copied your Xmas tree last year althogh did it in white & added white glitter. Would love to win the hamper so that I could have my own treats for a change.

  9. Lucinda Henry says:

    fabulous ideas thanks needed some inspiration

  10. Fiona Dobson says:

    Will have to get mine iced soon too x

  11. Fiona Dobson says:

    Will have to get mine done too x

  12. Lisa says:

    Ruth, you make everything look so simple; It will be a great help to me when icing my Christmas cake!!

  13. Patsi says:

    The glazed fruit looks fabulous so exotic

  14. Linda Daubney says:

    Thanks for this! I needed this after last years nasty sticky mess!

  15. Janet Powell says:

    love the instructions – so clear & you make it look SO easy.

  16. Jules H says:

    Cracking ideas! Loved the Baubles cake!

  17. Kathleen McKeown says:

    hope mine look as good as yours.x

  18. Alison McGowan says:

    My Granddaughter is going to love the Santa, Rudolph and Elf cake 🙂

  19. Becky Lewis says:

    I’ve just found my inspiration for this years Christmas cake, thank you.
    I’m just waiting now for you to bring out a Christmas Book??? I love your first book and use it all the time ! x

  20. Julie says:

    I’m running late this year…. my cake has only just come out of the oven!!!

  21. Elaine Croft says:

    This has been unbelievably useful – thanks Ruth!

  22. Sez says:

    Very useful information- thx

  23. Aly Makin says:

    I think I need some extra help with this lesson, I always fluff it at the last minute!

  24. Emma says:

    Hi Ruth. I’m icing my cake at the weekend and have just one question, when you leave the marzipan to dry out and then the icing, how do you store it? Do you just leave it out on the kitchen counter or in a cake tin or would you cover it with something? Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Emma – I sit it onto a cake board and then place an upturned cake tin over the top of it, just to stop anything getting to it. Anything will do to cover it but not anything airtight x

  25. Bethan says:

    I have just done my marzipan layer and it looks like your pictures !!! The instructions were so clear thank you.

  26. Amanda Whitmarsh says:

    LOVE the star and sparkle design, just wouldn’t want to eat it; far too gorgeous to cut into! x

  27. Rachel F says:

    I am just about to begin the sugarpaste layer. I have never made a Christmas cake before, such a lovely thing to do, made so easy by you Ruth. Another tradition that I can look forward to next year too. Thank you.xx

  28. sue p says:

    Brilliantly clear instructions x

  29. Elspeth Woods says:

    I always make a mess of my marzipanning!

  30. Emma says:

    Hi Ruth, I’ve just put marzipan on my cake and waiting for it to dry out. The problem I have is when it is iced it won’t fit in any of my storage tins! How can I store it when it’s iced but before I cut it? Will it be ok wrapped in grease proof paper and foil as before? I’m hoping once I’ve served a few slices it will then fit!

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  33. Toy de Jager says:

    Hi how long does this cake already covered last?

  34. Sharon Chapman says:

    Hi, Cake looks lovely, can you tell me if you buy/make your own marzipan and icing. If you buy it which one is the best to use as last year I bought fondant icing which tasted disgusting and ruined the cake!!

    • I don’t make my own marzipan and icing due to the volumes of cakes that I do – they all go to my children’s Christmas school fair to raise funds for the PTA. I generally don’t notice the different between marzipans in taste but for the icing I can thoroughly recommend Karen Davies Marshmallow Fondant or Satin Ice as the best tasting in my opinion x

  35. Rebecca Drake says:

    Ruth! I can’t believe you don’t make your own marzipan!!! It’s so much nicer than shop bought and not so florescent!

  36. Jakia Hussain says:

    Fab tips Ruth!! Sharp edges and lack of patiencd vain of my life when working full time too. Xxx

  37. Pingback: Day 1 – Christmas Cakes! | Baking, Recipes and Tutorials - The Pink Whisk

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  40. Caroline Steggles says:

    I have been covering cakes with sugar icing for years but I can never get smooth seams. Ruth (or anyone), help me!! Square cakes are the worst. Any tips?

    • Hi Caroline, with square cakes you need to start with the corners first – smoothing the icing into place before turning your attention to the sides. Do you have an icing smoother? They are very good for polishing the icing and you can work out the majority of seams and splits in a gently circle rubbing motion – hope that helps! xx

  41. Lesley says:

    Hi, I followed your instructions last year and the marzipan and icing went on beautifully but because the weather is very hot and humid (I live in Australia) I don’t want my icing to stay wet like it did last year. I don’t think fridge is the answer – any ideas?

    • Hi Lesley, no you’re right the fridge isnt the best place for it as the icing and marzipan absorb the moisture from there. I would try putting it in a larger box alongside one of the mini water absorbers (the type you can get for bathrooms and caravans etc) that will help keep the moisture be absorbed by the unit rather than the icing x

  42. Lesley says:

    Thanks for that. Fortunately at the moment the weather is not as hot as usual for December – fingers crossed.

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