Welcome back to the second part of our Christmas cake series. Last time, chef had shared his traditional Christmas cake recipe and if you baked your cake in October or early November and have been feeding it every week or so with whisky, brandy or rum, your cake should now be beautifully moist and ready to cover in its traditional marzipan layer.
There are many ready-made marzipan products available at this time of year but we always prefer to make our own using the simple recipe below.
Ingredients for marzipan
- 175g golden caster sugar
- 300g icing sugar, sifted (includes extra for rolling)
- 450g ground almonds
- seeds scraped from 1 vanilla pod
- 2 eggs (beaten)
- ½ tsp orange or lemon juice
- Apricot jam (heated with a little water and strained to remove any lumps)
Begin by mixing the sugars and ground almonds in a large bowl. Rub in the vanilla seeds and then make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Tip in the eggs and fruit juice and use a knife to mix the ingredients together a little like a short-crust pastry. Once the ingredients have come together use your hands to knead the marzipan briefly and create a smooth dough.
Lift the cake onto a cake board or plate and use a pastry brush to cover it evenly with a thin layer of melted jam.
Dust your work surface with some icing sugar and roll the marzipan to the shape and size of your cake. You should be able to cover the sides and top easily with a little spare to trim neatly once it is on top of the cake.
Use the rolling pin to help you lift the marzipan onto your cake and smooth over, using the palms of your hands. Trim with a sharp knife to make sure you have a smooth edge around the bottom of the cake.
If any cracks appear, the marzipan paste is quite malleable, making it easy to pinch back together and smooth.
Once you have covered your cake in marzipan, allow time for it to dry. At least 12 hours is recommended but up to 2 days should ensure the marzipan has dried out before covering with icing.
Icing your cake
As soon as your marzipan layer has dried out, you can begin work on icing your cake. As with the marzipan, many supermarkets stock ready to roll fondant icing which means you don’t need to make your own, but we have an easy recipe for royal icing which we are using for our cake.
Ingredients for royal icing
- 3 egg whites
- 600g icing sugar (sieved), plus extra for dusting
- 1½ tsp liquid glycerine – optional
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
Lightly whisk the egg whites until they can stand in soft peaks and slowly begin adding the icing sugar a little at a time until the egg white mixture has incorporated all of the sugar. Add the lemon juice and whisk again and at this stage you can add the glycerine if you would like a softer finish to your icing once dry. A harder finish without the glycerine is recommended if you plan on piping decorative finishes over the cake.
Using a spatula or a cake knife apply the royal icing evenly over the cake and depending on the finish that you would like for your own cake you can either smooth out the icing or use or use a fork to create the appearance of snowy peaks.
Decorate with your own design and be as creative as you like. There are many specialist baking shops that stock a wide variety of edible and non-edible cake decorations. If not serving immediately, store in an airtight container and your cake will stay fresh for several weeks.