Easy Peasy Decoration for a Christmas Cake

Easy Peasy Decoration for a Christmas Cake

So easy it’s unbelievable. All you need are a couple of different sizes of star cutter and a bit of glitter. Cut out stars, let them dry out, stack, holding them together using a little egg white. Sprinkle glitter over the top and finish off the cake either with ribbon or thinly rolled out sugarpaste stars.

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Mini Mincemeat Tarts

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Just before we get into mincemeat tarts, here is the result of the Decorate your own Christmas cake Workshop held last Friday. I had an intermediate group, so that’s students with some prior modelling/decorating experience. A Christmas wreath with sparkle -y roses and a festive robin.

Here are some of the gorgeous cakes produced by the students and the demonstration in progress…. As you can see there is always a unique element to each cake even if we are essentially producing the same thing.

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This design is fairly easy to achieve, sugarpaste can be bought from specialist cake shops in a variety of colours or purchased online and with the addition of a little Tylo powder, a food thickener, modelling paste can be produced. This is much easier to use when cutting out foliage such as holly and ivy as the paste is stiffer. Foliage plunge cutters are widely available.

Robins are very easy to produce: again using modelling paste form an egg shape and fashion a head and a tail. Add a red breast from a disc of red paste, eyes and  a beak and wings. Claws from black or brown complete the design. A robin would also look very good on a chocolate log.

IMG_0518So on with the mincemeat tarts. I am including a recipe for this as they are a Christmas staple, unfortunately widely overlooked as a culinary delight and easily relegated to shop bought status. However with a little bit of forethought, care and attention can provide a delicious dessert all on their own with a little cream or ice-cream and easy peasy to produce at a stressful time.

Firstly acquire some really good mincemeat (making your own is a bridge too far). Farm shops are very good for this or the best quality you can afford in the supermarket. The second trick is to have a go at making your own pastry. I know I know, the perceived wisdom is that making your own pastry is a waste of time but trust me, if you have food processor it takes seconds, and you get a MUCH better result. It also behaves itself a lot better too (much less shrinkage).

So the sweet shortcrust recipe: the one I use is Rachel Allen’s, but as these things are really a bit of a standard thing I’ll include the details here.

You will need for 6 tartlets: 110g cold butter, diced, 200g plain flour, 1 tbsp icing sugar, 1 egg yolk plus 1 egg beaten for glazing.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C. Grease your mini tart tins (loose bottomed for preference) with butter, pop the diced butter, sugar and flour in the food processor and whizz until you have coarse bread crumbs, add at least half the egg yolk and whizz again until it has more or less come together, then remove from the bowl to your work top and add a little more yolk if necessary and with a light touch bring together to form a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and fridge for 30 minutes. Once chilled, roll the pastry between two pieces of cling film to a thickness of 3mm or so and using a large pastry cutter (size will depend on tart tin size) cut out at least 4 discs and press into the tart tins. Repeat the rolling out process with the remainder of the pastry to produce the last two discs giving you six in total. Freeze the pastry lined tins for 15 minutes. Then bake blind for 10-15 minutes, remove from the oven, brush with a little left over beaten egg yolk or beaten egg if necessary and return to the oven for 2 minutes max. From any remaining pastry cut out stars, brush with beaten egg and bake, on a greased baking sheet, for 5-10 minutes with the pastry cases until lightly browned.

These can then be held in this state for as long as you like, or frozen…..

When you are more or less ready to eat them, dollop 4 or 5 heaped tsps of mincemeat in each tart tin, top with a star and bake at the same temperature as before for 10 minutes or so. We are trying to get the suet in the mincemeat melted but not overcook the mincemeat so that it becomes browned and chewy. If they are frozen defrost them before you start.

Once out of the oven remove from the tins and sprinkle copious amounts of icing sugar over. Delicious.

I’m going to give my favourite Christmas dessert recipe in a few days, a warm fruit salad, perfect after a rich meal….see you then

Perfectly Iced Christmas Cakes

It’s getting busy here at Cutest Cakes HQ, funnily enough, not with Christmas Cakes primarily. However today has been individual iced Christmas cakes all the way.

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Some of these are my own designs, well most of them are, actually, but the sleeping polar bear is adapted from a Mich Turner design. Mich runs The Little Venice Cake Company and is a food hero of mine. It was watching her on some TV programme that got me into icing individual cakes in the first place.

Now icing cakes is one of those secrets, a bit like what it’s really like to give birth, that is rarely revealed. The question I am asked the most in this business is how I get the icing on the cake so smooth in the first place. I even run annual courses in this as it seems friends and clients will pay good money to be taught this technique.

As far as royally iced cakes go, find a recipe, Delia or Mary are good here, but add about 1 teaspoon of glycerine (sold by Silverspoon, amongst others, in supermarkets). The glycerine softens the dried royal icing, so that when it is cut into, it doesn’t shatter everywhere. One can achieve a smooth finish with royal icing but unless your name is Eddie Spence (royally iced wedding cakes for Royalty are his speciality) or you were taught this skill in domestic science about 50 years ago, I wouldn’t design a cake with this in mind.

Sugarpaste on the other hand is a total delight to work with and achieving a smooth finish requires 2 or 3 simple steps and some practice. Sugarpaste was in fact developed in Australia as royal icing doesn’t always set in potentially such a hot climate. It wasn’t introduced into the UK until the 1970’s in the modern era although a quick search about would suggest that making sugarpaste was something that might have been going on as far back as the Eighteenth Century.

So the rules:-

1) Always level the top of the cake (i.e. cut off the dome-y top) and then invert the cake so that the bottom becomes the top. Professional cake makers will get out spirit levels and the like to ensure the new top is flat, but this is probably unnecessary unless you are planning to charge for the cake or stack more that one layer.

2) Use plenty of sugarpaste and do not roll out too thinly. The rolled out icing should be 5-6 mm minimum thickness and you will need to allow 1 kg for a 6 ” cake and 1.5 kg for an 8″ cake. Knead the sugar paste so that it is warm and pliable before attempting to roll it out. Left overs will keep for months if not years.

3) Keep the paste moving. As you roll out use plenty of icing sugar, turn the paste very regularly and ensure that the paste does not become stuck to the work surface at any stage. Before attempting to cover the cake check the icing is still loose.

4) To help achieve a professional finish, coat with an undercoat of marzipan, a thinner undercoat layer of sugarpaste or a smooth coating of buttercream. Cakes should be brushed with cooled, boiled sieved apricot jam before under coating with marzipan or sugarpaste.

5) Brush the undercoat with brandy or cooled boiled water before applying the top coat. (For buttercream and sugarpaste coatings you won’t need apricot jam or the brandy, just ensure the buttercream is smoothly applied just before you roll out the sugarpaste. Work fairly quickly or the buttercream dries out and the sugarpaste will not stick)

6) Apply the top coat to the cake by picking it up with hands and forearms to make the transfer NOT draping it over a rolling-pin. Carefully smooth the paste starting with the top of the cake and working down the sides, if folds and pleat start to form, pull the paste out and smooth flat against the cake, if it is thick enough the paste will literally mould to the cake with a little coaxing and pressing. Then:

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These are the secret to success, they cost less than a fiver and just allow you to smooth out any finger marks and other dings and divets, once you have the paste hugging the cake, to achieve that perfect finish.

Angled pallet knives also help with moving the cake about without leaving marks in the icing.

If you can, leave the cake for 24 hours before you decorate it.

Simple huh, it does take a bit of practice, but once you have got the hang of it, you’ll find yourself in a relatively exclusive club.

The Cutest Cakes: Classic Cakes

Lilies and Pearls

The Cutest Cakes: Cupcakes

Rosebud Vanilla Cupcake

The Cutest Cakes: Individual Iced Cakes

Miniature Fruit Cake

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