Last week, in the run up to Christmas, I wrote a post on one of my favourite festive activities – icing the Christmas cake. As a baking addict I also love baking it, but that happens way back at the end of October, so after a couple of months of ‘feeding’ (i.e. topping the cake up with a little bit more brandy) it is the decorating that is the real Christmas treat.
From circular parcels to baubles and candy canes, the decoration on the cake has to be good. There are no half measures when it comes to any Christmas food in our family, and so the pressure is always on to get something that will look amazing. Not that anyone would really mind if it all went horribly wrong – let’s face it, it’s going to look a lot worse when we eat it – but I can tell you here and now that I would be disappointed. Me? A perfectionist? No idea what you’re talking about…
Roughly the beginning of October is when my mum and I start seriously thinking about the cake. The date is set for making it, and we keep a constant, watchful eye out for any recipes, pictures or ideas that might work. Almost inevitably though, there will be one thing that sticks out as ‘the one’. This year it came courtesy of the Good Food magazine; the pair of us were sitting flicking through it one weekend after it had just come out and the second the page turned it was decided: this year it would be a Gingerbread Men and Candy Cane Christmas Cake.
Gingerbread Men and Candy Cane Christmas Cake Decoration
This idea came from the 2012 Christmas edition of the BBC’s Good Food magazine. The steps below will decorate a 20cm cake, the number of gingerbread men on the top will depend on the size of your cutter. Now is probably the time to confess that I cheated, I used ready rolled marzipan and icing because I knew I was going to be pressed for time. I also got pre-coloured red and brown icing, for similar reasons.
1 pack of ready rolled marzipan
1 pack of ready rolled icing
100g white royal icing
100g red royal icing
50g brown royal icing
4 tbsp apricot jam
3 tbsp water icing (to glue bits down)
edible silver balls to decorate
Melt the apricot jam and spread it all over the cake to form a sticky layer. On to this put the marzipan, smoothing down the edges. Try to ensure that it reaches all the way down to the cakeboard so that the cake can’t dry out. Leave for the marzipan to set for at least 12 hours.
Use the main part of the icing to cover the cake in one solid covering. Don’t stretch it down to the cakeboard if it doesn’t go, as you don’t want the icing to crack (which if you’re lazy like me and using pre-rolled stuff, it is liable to). If it doesn’t reach the cake board, don’t worry; the icing rope will cover any rough edges.
Take a lump of white and red icing and roll them into long sausages which will go all the way around the cake and a little bit further. The best way to work out the length is to use a piece of string. Slowly roll the two sausages of icing together together to make a twisting rope with equal amounts of red and white. Wrap this round the base of the cake and cut out the two ends off to join up the rope.
Roll out the brown icing until it is about the thickness of a pound coin (2-3mm). Using this cut out 5 or 6 gingerbread men, depending on the size of your cutter, then arranges them on the cake so the feet are almost touching. Using the water icing, stick the brown icing down. and then use a few more drops (using a cocktails stick, or something similar) to make eyes and a mouth. A couple of drops will also be useful for sticking the silver balls down as buttons.
Using the remaining red and white icing roll them into much slimmer sausage shapes. Twist these into coiled ropes again and cut a length (4-5cm) for a cane. using a little water icing stick this to the top of the cake and curl the top round. Put a candy cane in between each pair of gingerbread men until you get right around the cake.
Leave for a few hours to dry. Once cut, keep in an airtight container.