When I picked my Sister up from her flight to Aberdeen from Luton she seemed to be struggling with some particularly heavy hand luggage but was loathe to hand over custody of it. Its secret was soon to be revealed when she produced and amazing Christmas Cake which she had baked, marzipaned, iced, decorated and transported hundreds of miles in almost one piece (a few tiny breakages enroute) The decoration contained two of my most favourite things. Russian Dolls and Gingerbread Men. Candy Canes made a pretty good seasonal third. I knew that she had been going to cake decorating classes but was unaware that she was working towards an amazing Christmas Cake as her end of term project. Whilst I could easily bake a cake I wouldn't have a clue where to begin with icing and decorating so I'll hand over to her to explain how she did it.
Over the last few months I've been attending a royal icing cake decorating course at my local adult education centre in Milton Keynes. One of the main goals of the class was to build up our skills in order to ice/bake/decorate our own cake for Christmas. I couldn't resist designing a cake which I hoped would be enjoyed by all the Foodie Quine family members when I headed up North for Christmas.
So Royal Icing - that's the stuff you make up in to a paste with icing sugar and egg whites and it can be used to smooth over a cake, piped in all sorts of intricate designs and coloured to rich bright colours for decoration. First of course I had to make the cake - armed with my mother's cake recipe I spent one long afternoon lovingly preparing the Christmas cake (4 hours in the oven is a long time) I fed it over the next couple of weeks with some Amaretto, then marzipanned the top and sides to a give a smooth finish. Next I built up layers of royal icing over the sides and top of the cake (I think at least five thin layers) letting them dry overnight in between coats. I'd decided to try using a technique called 'runouts' to add some decoration to the cake - perhaps I wasn't quite brave enough to pipe so much detail on to the cake itself - but runouts offer a great way of prepping royal icing motifs which you can then attach with icing to any sort of cake. They are formed by outlining your motif with some piped quite stiff royal icing in an appropriate colour and then flooding in other sections in a slightly thinned down icing.
A bit of planning is required to ensure one section is dry before starting an adjoining section... and also you work from the furthest back section and work to the top to get some kinda depth to your pattern. I decided I wanted to do some candy canes and gingerbread men to go round the side of the cake with some Christmassy looking Russian doll's on the top. The gingerbread men were particularly easy - print out a sheet of gingerbread men shapes, tape to a board, cover with some greaseproof paper then mix up some brown coloured icing, ice the outlines and leave to dry for a short while, flood the inside with some thinned down icing (still through a piping nozzle which helps to prevent bubbles forming - and working in smallish sections at a time to try and prevent your icing from crusting over) eh voila - one ginger bread body is made. Just need to leave them to dry for around 24hours minimum then pipe on some more decorations (eyes, buttons etc) and the runouts can be gently eased off the greaseproof paper and placed around the cake. The candy canes and russian dolls were done the same way - and the whole thing was assembled along with a bit of piping round the edges of the cake, a little snowflake design in the centre. I was pretty happy with the finished design - I've got a long way to go in my decorating skills but it's lovely to just be able to do something different at Christmas and I rather like the home made look.
A Gingerbread House has become a bit of a tradition over the last few years with the building taking place on Christmas Eve and demolition as Boxing Day desert. The house itself comes flatpacked from Ikea and last year we also had a giant Gingerbread man which husband procured on a business trip to Milan. This year I was pleased to find a pack of four in Costco. Boy and Girl each invited a friend round to assist and the decorating got underway.
The house has got more extravagant and detailed each year but always with a tradition sprout on the top of the chimney. This year there was the addition of a chocolate finger fence, sherbet ribbon fringing and chocolate button path. Next year they are apparently also doing the interior.
Following on from my 40th Birthday Cake of Cheese my sister was determined that we should do one on a smaller scale for Christmas. Its the perfect time of year to do it as there is a much bigger range of cheeses than normal available at the supermarket. We managed to create an eight tier cake from Asda for around £20 topped off with a Santa Baby Bell. Playmobile Advent Calendar woodland creatures, cranberries, holly and sprouts completed the festive look.
To accompany the Cheese we had some of my Spiced Apple Jelly and some Red Onion Marmalade. Really easy to make and very tasty. Will definitely become a regular addition for Christmas. In addition to with Cheese I also served it as an accompaniment with my Christmas Day starter of Game Terrine.
Three cakes of Christmas which could probably not be more different or less traditional. Would love to hear about your Christmas Cake(s) this year especially if they were a wee bit out of the ordinary. Whatever you baked, bought or ate I hope you had a great Christmas.