Whether you’ve been feeding your Christmas cake for several months or you baked it just a few days ago, you’ve probably got an idea in mind of what the finished cake will look like. Most celebration cakes have a base which begins like this, and from here you can go wherever your imagination will take you! I know many people are adverse to marzipan (for reasons completely unfathomable to me!), but fruit cakes should always have a layer of marzipan between the cake and the icing. This is for two reasons. Firstly, a marzipan layer, allowed to dry for a couple of days, will seal the cake properly before applying the roll out icing (sugarpaste). Fruit cakes are often stored for long periods of time (not to mention displayed throughout Christmas) and moisture from the cake would otherwise eventually seep through the icing and discolour it. (If you’re icing the cake and serving it within a couple of days, you could probably get away without the marzipan). Secondly, a marzipan layer helps to provide a smooth base before the icing goes on and helps to give a professional finish. You don’t want bumpy icing now, do you? Incidentally, for the ‘smoothness’ aspect alone, I would always use marzipan beneath sugarpaste when making a non-fruit celebration cake, too – unless otherwise instructed.
If you’ve found this guide useful, please do let me know in the comments below!
The instructions below are for an 8″ round cake. The cake in the pictures is my Cherry Brandy Christmas Cake.
What you’ll need:
A thick cake board. I always use a 10″ diameter for an 8″ cake, as it makes carrying the cake a bit easier!
A rolling pin
100g smooth marmalade or apricot jam
900g sugarpaste (roll-out or fondant icing) in your choice of colour. This amount will cover the cake and the surrounding cake board for a professional finish.
Double sided sticky tape and ribbon (1.5cm width) to cover the edge of the board (optional)
*Not essential, but inexpensive and very helpful to have.
If the original ‘top’ surface of your cake is quite bumpy, carefully turn it over it over so that the bottom is facing upwards. You now have a smooth surface to work on! Warm the jam for a few seconds in the microwave until it is runny enough to spread evenly, but not too thickly, over the top and sides of the cake.
Lightly knead the marzipan and place on a surface dusted with plenty icing sugar. (Do not use flour or cornflour). Roll out something resembling circle, with a thickness of about 0.5cm. Marzipan spacers are fantastic for rolling a totally even thickness. Rotate the marzipan after every few rolls – this will prevent it from sticking to the surface.
I find it helpful to place the cake on its board at this point. Gently slide your hands under the marzipan and lift it on the the cake. Use the palms of your hands to smooth the top of the cake first, then mould the marzipan to the upper edges, working your way down the sides very slowly. Marzipan is quite malleable, so just keep going until the cake is covered. Aim for smoothness, but it doesn’t have to be perfect – remember the icing will cover any small imperfections.
Trim off the excess marzipan and give it a final polish with an icing smoother, if you have one. It is now best to leave the marzipan to ‘dry out’ for a couple of days. I place mine in a cardboard box so that the air can circulate, but the cake is still protected from dust etc. Do not put it in an airtight container. You will know when the marzipan has dried out – it will actually feel drier to the touch, almost as though the lightest crust has formed. Around 48hrs should do it. If you are eating the cake within a week or so, you can skip the drying out part if you need to.
When the marzipan has dried out, lightly knead the sugarpaste and roll out (to a 0.5cm thickness) on a surface dusted with icing sugar. Once you’ve finished rolling, it is helpful to give it a quick polish with the icing smoother.
Brush a little (cooled) boiled water over the marzipan and also the exposed board. (If you don’t want to ice the board, then obviously don’t wet it!) This is to make the sugarpaste stick. Lift and drape the sugarpaste over the cake, following the same process as the marzipan. It is helpful to remove any rings etc that might catch on the icing.
Use the palms of your hands again to mould the sugarpaste to the cake and board (if desired). Small, quick movements is best for gently easing the paste into place. Be extra careful to avoid catching your fingernails on the icing! When the cake is evenly covered, very gently press a finger along the bottom edge of the cake, to get a clean definition between the cake and the board. Don’t forget to lightly press the icing to the board, too. If you’re not icing the board, just use a knife to carefully remove the excess paste.
When you are happy with the icing, use a polisher (or the palms of your hands) to bring out a natural sheen on the icing. Use a light, swift touch! Now, if you are icing the board, you will need to remove the excess paste. Angle a polisher as shown, gently but firmly pressing downwards several times on the overlapping icing at the edge of the board, until it starts to come away. As it comes away, run the angled polisher along the edge to continue the process until all the excess paste is removed. You can run the polisher around the edges to smooth any rough looking bits until you are happy with it. Use a dampened piece of kitchen towel to tidy up and remove any remaining bits of sugarpaste from the edge of the board. This is particularly essential if you’re planning to wrap a ribbon around it.
Applying ribbon: Stick double sided tape all around the edge of the board. Remove the backing tape. Then, starting at the back of the cake, firmly press the ribbon to the sticky tape. The ‘join’ should be at the back of the cake, and you can cut another little strip of tape to stick down the overlapping ribbon. In addition, you can also wrap ribbon around the bottom of the cake if you like – obviously do not actually stick it to the cake! Wrap the ribbon neatly to the cake and just use a little piece of tape on the join instead to hold it in place.