How to make a spiced snowflake Christmas cake
Juliet Sear explains how to create this head-turning yet relatively straightforward Christmas cake, covered in iced gingerbread snowflakes.
Juliet is a baking expert, cook and food stylist.
You will need
- Apricot jam for glazing
- 2 x 454g blocks ready-made marzipan
- 23cm fruit cake
- Icing sugar for dusting
- 1kg white sugar paste, also known as fondant icing (from larger supermarkets or cakedecoratingstore.co.uk)
- Brandy or vodka for brushing
For the snow flake biscuits
- 200g unsalted butter, softened
- 200g golden caster sugar
- 1 medium free-range egg
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or seeds from 1 vanilla pod
- 400g plain flour
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- Large pinch mixed spice
- 100g royal icing, mixed to soft peaks according to pack instructions (Juliet recommends Silver Spoon)
- Cake board the same size as your cake
- Variety of snowflake cutters
- Round number 2 size piping nozzle
- Disposable piping bags
- Pastry brush
- Large rolling pin, at least 50cm long
- Pin to burst air bubbles
- Decorative ribbon to tie around the cake
The professional kit (from cakedecoratingstore.co.uk)
- Marzipan spacers (also known as guide sticks)
- 2 x side smoothers
- Top smoother
- Turntable (or lazy susan) – but you can use a large upturned bowl instead
Covering the marzipan
- Heat the apricot jam gently in a pan until soft, runny and brushable.
- Press a few pieces of marzipan onto the cake board so the cake won’t slide around, then brush the marzipan and board with jam.
- Put the cake upside-down on the board so you have a flat, sharp-edged surface to ice, then brush all over with jam. If the cake is uneven or pitted, use marzipan pieces to plug the gaps, then smooth with your finger so you won’t get any bumps when you cover the cake. Roll out thin sausages of marzipan and use to fill any gaps between the bottom of the cake and the board. Smooth them over with your finger.
- Dust the work surface with a little icing sugar and knead the marzipan blocks together until pliable. Roll out until 0.5cm thick and about 45cm in diameter. Keep it roughly circular by rolling from the centre outwards and giving it a quarter-turn as you go. You can use marzipan spacers to help you roll to an even thickness. Here’s how: position the spacers either side of the marzipan and roll it out. When the rolling pin is running up and down the spacers and not pressing on the marzipan it’s the correct thickness. You may need to widen the sticks as the marzipan gets larger. Sweep a little icing sugar under the marzipan as you work so it doesn’t stick to the work surface and dust the top as well – but not too much or the marzipan might become dry and brittle.
- For the ultimate finish, once the marzipan is rolled, use a smoother to polish the surface.
- Wrap the marzipan loosely around the rolling pin to lift it, then unroll it over the cake so it’s evenly covered, with the excess draping around the sides. Working as quickly as you can, use your hands to smooth the top of the marzipan from the centre out towards the edges, pushing out any trapped air. If using smoothers, polish the top of the cake to make a perfect flat top.
- Gently press around the top edge to fold the marzipan down over the sides and over the cake board, being careful not to pull down or it may rip. If the marzipan starts to crease, gently lift it up at the creasing point, smooth it out, then continue. Use a sharp knife to trim off most of the excess marzipan, leaving a 2cm border around the cake board. Lift the cake, on its board, on to a large upturned bowl with a large flat base or on to a turntable (if you have one).
- Make sure the marzipan fits neatly around the sides and at the base (use side smoothers if you have them), then run a knife along the underside of the board to cut off excess marzipan. Save the trimmings in a plastic food bag to use again (or eat).
- Examine the cake for any air bubbles under the marzipan. If you find one, insert a pin into it, then expel the air by gently pressing around the hole. Finally, smooth again over the top, sides and edges using the flat of your hand or smoothers. Leave the marzipan to dry overnight so it can harden.
Covering in sugar paste
- Apply the sugar paste to your cake the same way as the marzipan, following steps 4 to 9. Roll the sugar paste out until it’s 0.5cm thick and 50cm in diameter. The only difference is that you brush the marzipan with brandy or vodka – NOT apricot jam – to stick the icing on. Smooth and trim the layer of sugar paste just as with the marzipan. Once the cake is iced, leave it to set for a day before fixing on the iced biscuits.
The snowflake biscuits
- Heat the oven to 200°C/fan180°C/gas 6. In a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar briefly until combined. Beat in the egg and vanilla paste or seeds, then sift in the flour and spices. Mix to form a dough.
- Roll out the dough to the thickness of a £1 coin and use cutters to stamp out small and large snowflakes. Put the biscuits on a baking tray and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden and springy to touch (smaller ones will cook more quickly). Leave to cool and firm up on a rack.
- Fit a number 2 size nozzle into a disposable piping bag (or cut a tiny hole at the tip) and fill with two thirds of the royal icing (reserve the rest). Pipe fine lines over the biscuits in a snowflake design, working from the outside to the centre. Leave the biscuits, uncovered, somewhere cool for a few hours to give the icing time to set.
The final decorations
- When the icing on the biscuits has set, put the leftover royal icing into a disposable piping bag and snip a small hole at the tip. Measure out a ribbon and cut it so it’s long enough to go around the cake’s base with a short overlap. Pipe small blobs of icing to stick the ribbon in place. Pipe a blob of icing onto the back of the biscuits as you stick them in an attractive design on your cake. Leave to set for an hour or so, then present on a serving plate or cake stand.
Feeling inspired? Find your perfect Christmas cake recipe.