Friday, December 25, 2009

This takes the cake

To a Brit, having Christmas cake is an important part of the holiday season. It is a fruit cake - but doesn't (at least in my house) have any of the neon candied chemistry set that we sometimes see. This year my mum made us one and we brought it home to Dallas at the end of November. The poor thing was naked - it hadn't been iced yet when we brought it home, so it needed icing - but only after its twice weekly baths in brandy - to preserve it of course.

Earlier in the week I bought some marzipan and some apricot jam. All ready to roll out the marzipan and top the cake with it. Another somewhat strange tradition is that we put marzipan on the cake first, let that set up a bit (ideally a week, but in my case a couple of days), and then top with frosting of some kind. Sometimes it's royal icing, sometimes Italian meringue. This year it was Italian meringue.

It is further traditional to eat said cake with tea on Christmas Eve. After which we just scarf it down! So this post is about the fine art of icing a Christmas cake.

Ingredients - marzipan layer
3T Apricot jam
12 oz marzipan - especially made for toppings like this. We bought ours at Whole Foods.
1 Christmas cake. Ours was about 7" in diameter

Put the apricot jam in a small pan - to soften enough to make it spreadable. While the jam is melting, take 1/2 of the marzipan and roll it out to about 1/8" thickness. Maybe a little thicker if you like. The important thing is to get it into a circle about the same diameter as the cake.

Place the cake flatter side up on a paper plate. Poke some holes into it and give it its last brandy spa treatment.

Spread melted apricot jam on the top and sides.

Put the rounded rolled section of marzipan on the top. The jam will hold it in place and stop it from sliding

Now roll strips out  to lay around the cake. It is easier to do this in several pieces than trying to get a single strip to work. Remember this will be covered with white icing, so it doesn't have to be perfect.

Leave to set for at least 24 hours.
Ingredients - Italian meringue
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1" piece of vanilla pod
2 egg whites

Heat the sugar, water and vanilla bean gently in a heavy saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. You should stir fairly often at this stage to make sure the sugar does not catch and burn. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat slightly and boil until the syrup reaches 240 C.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks stage. Once the sugar syrup has come to temperature, pour it in a this stream over the egg whites while whisking at high speed. Continue to whisk at high speed until the mixture has cooled to room temp - about 7-10 minutes.

Ice the cake the usual way - spreading the icing in a circular pattern on top of the cake with an offset spatula.

When the cake is iced, let stand 24 or so hours for the icing to set up.

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