December has been a busy one for me. Along with my classes I’ve also been the guest speaker at various WIs. Unsurprisingly WI ladies love their food demonstrations especially festive food demos. The first one I did in November was savoury Christmas canapes (think mini beef & yorkshire puds, turkey curry bites, bruchetta), and the last two ones have been about decorating a Christmas cake. When I do these WI talks I always like to demo something that the ladies will be able to make at home without fancy equipment and specialist ingredients. I prove that you don’t have to be Michelin trained chef to make tasty and attractive food.
Now this is when I make my confession. All the three cakes I used in these demonstrations were either from a certain supermarket’s Finest range or made using a cake kit. Waitrose sent me one of their Christmas cake kits to try and I was pleasantly surprised, so much so that I recommended the kit to the WI ladies.
The ladies appreciated my cake-cheating honesty and many said they had been put off making their own Christmas cake due to the number of ingredients that could potentially go to waste. Now I know people balk at the idea of Christmas cake kits but if you’re not a regular baker or have an addiction to dried fruit like me it can be a good way of making your Christmas cake. Even if you don’t want to go the whole hog and buy one of these kits many supermarkets now sell fruit that has been pre-steeped in alcohol. This saves having to buy that lonely bottle of brandy that only get used once a year for the cake. I wish it was easier to buy miniatures of alcohol for cooking.
This cake was baked, covered in marzipan, iced and eaten over a 4 day period. The recipients of my cake devoured it (this is what happens when you put a tray of tempting baked goods in a school staffroom) and many said the cake tasted like it’d been matured and fed for months. I had to confess to them the cake was a mere 4 days old.
Once you’ve made the cake you need to marzipan and decorate it. Given you won’t see my face explaining how to marzipan and ice a cake watch this great video from Waitrose as they use the same method as me.
When it comes to decorating cakes I’m from the less is more camp. Stick to 2 or 3 colours with one of these being white. You could try using some of the designs I used for my baked bean tin cakes. as they could easily be scaled up for bigger cakes.
I’ve recently discovered a great sugarpaste called Satin Ice through my local cake decorating shop. It’s an American product that is new to the U.K. It is more expensive than the mainstream sugarpaste brands but it gives a wonderful finish and is less likely to produce stretch marks when transferring the sugarpaste to the cake.
Now I don’t like the look of foil cake boards so always cover them with icing, but this is personal preference. You can see on the photos for this cake I was running low on the Satin Ice for covering the board so had to do a small patch up job, but as you’ll see those noticeable seams will disappear with a craftily placed bow.
- So once you have iced the cake and board start on the holly leaves and berries. This may sound odd but in many cases of food presentation items look best in odd numbers. This was an 8 inch cake and with my 1 inch holly cutter I went for 7 pairs of holly.
- Once you have cut the leaves out place them on the cake, check everything is evenly spaced then stick the leaves down with gin or vodka. I use clear spirits to stick sugarpaste together. It is sticky, dries quicker, less likely to leave water mark and if the cake decoration goes wrong you have gin to drown your sorrows in.
- Now roll your red berries and place in a small bowl or cup. Sprinkle with a small amount of edible lustre dust and swirl the bowl or cup to help the berries get an even coating. Attach them to the cake with a small amount of gin then impale the middle of them with a cocktail stick to give more of a berry appearance. At this point wash your hands or you could end up with red fingerprints all over the white icing.
- To make the bow you’ll need two identical lengths of red sugarpaste and a slightly smaller piece. to get a harder texture of sugarpaste I mix 2/3 red sugar paste with 1/3 sugar flower paste. To cut the strip I use the strip cutter from my FMM Tappit cutters but you could just use a ruler.
- First fold one of the strips. This will be the tail end of the bow. Place on the cake then stick in place with gin.
- For the loops take the remaining long strip of icing and bring the ends to the centre, secure with gin then pinch the centre to give it shape. Stick this on top of the bow tails with gin and place a cotton wool pad or ball in each loop to support it as it dries.
- Finish the cake off with some ribbon around the base of the cake to tidy up the seam.