I think that the last thing anybody needs to be doing just before Christmas is designing and executing an elaborate Christmas Cake. If, like me, you find yourself spending lots of time with all other manner of christmas preparations, including exquisitely fiddly home made treats for the kids’ school Christmas Fayre or as gifts for their teachers, then run out of quality time to enjoy making a beautiful centre piece cake for your own family, you need to have an easy and quick design up your sleeve.
I am a firm believer of less is often more, especially when it comes to cake design. Simple and elegant is often the way to go and, although that doesn’t always mean quick, in this case it does. I have come up with a cool coloured and pale silhouette cake design that really is very simple to carry out. If you have a warmer or bolder colour scheme, this design could easily be adapted to blend in.
I coloured the icing a pale blue/grey using a combination of the food colourings below…
…and covered the cake with marzipan (leaving it overnight to firm up) and the coloured fondant icing. I use a clear alcohol (in this case Vanilla Vodka) to help the fondant stick because there is less chance of bacteria growing between the marzipan and fondant, which is especially important if the cake is going to be sitting for a few weeks. You may also notice that my fruit cake is sloped on the sides and kinda bumpy on the top. If this had been a wedding cake I’d have inverted the cake for a smoother top and trimmed the sides to ensure a true and straight line. But, it’s nearly Christmas and my family don’t mind a jot if their cake is slightly domed. Give yourself a break!
In order to create a silhouette effect you either need cutters exactly the shape and size of your design, or, to make a template in paper and cut out with a very sharp craft knife (that you keep for icing work). I had planned to make a template for the birds on the cake but chanced upon these cutters and snapped them up.
I did, however, make a quick template for the branches and cut them out from rolled out Flower Paste. For cutting out, you need the strength of Flower Paste, but don’t roll it as thin as you would for sugar flowers. Also, it can help to leave it for 5 minutes to firm and dry a little before taking the craft knife to it. And that knife must be very sharp so as not to drag the icing.
I also cut myself some slack by using these holly and berry sprinkles. I used edible glue to stick them to the cake (as I did with the silhouette branches and birds).
When putting small, fiddly items on to a cake, use the brush with the edible glue on it help position the item like I did below.
I had originally thought about using small white pearl sprinkles for the snow on the sides of the cake, but found them too creamy coloured in comparison to the white Flower Paste, so opted to pipe them on. It really didn’t take as long as you might think, especially as you are piping fairly randomly so you don’t need to worry about a pattern of spacing. If, like me, you don’t have quite the perfect consistency of Royal Icing and your piped dots have peaks, then just take a paintbrush, dipped in cooled boiled water or a clear spirit (I used the vodka again) and gently flatten them, as I did below.
Decorating this cake took a couple of hours. You could speed up the process by using already coloured icing; cutters for your silhouettes; and small sugar pearls for the snow. The birds don’t need to be holding holly leaves, but I like the solitary splash of colour on an otherwise pale cake. A small red heart in each of their beaks would be pretty too. You could give the cake a totally different feel by making the base colour a pale, dusky pink and add silver details. Or, as I said earlier, go for a dark and bold Christmas colour, even painting the silhouettes with a silver or gold edible lustre.
Really, it’s entirely up to you, but I wanted to share what came into my head for our family cake and to hopefully inspire some people who are stuck regarding a design, especially if they are short on time. Remember, the festive season is to be enjoyed, so don’t lose two days in the kitchen sweating over an overly complex design. Keep it simple and have fun.