You’ve baked and marzipanned… Now it’s time for Christmas Cake Decorating. Here’s a few tips and 25 cake ideas to get you started…
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Christmas Cake Decorating – an annual tradition
There is something about Christmas Cake decorating which signals Christmas has begun. It’s the last piece of the Christmas cake jigsaw. But it’s also the bit that is probably the most exciting… The base Christmas Cake is usually made well in advance, with plenty of time allowed for ‘feeding’ with booze… It’s also been covered in Marzipan (check out my easy Marzipan Recipe)… So, now you can make the whole thing look creatively pretty…
Some families keep to very specific (and often quite superstitious) rituals to decorate their cake. For them, Christmas Cake decorating often includes time-worn cake decorations that come out every year. Others modernise or adorn with extra biscuits, sweets, colours and patterns, changing from one cake to the next…
There are families that involve, or leave the decorating entirely to the kids… And those for whom the task routinely falls to a specific member of the family.
But whatever the tradition for you, Christmas Cake decorating is special. This will be the pièce de résistance that takes pride of place on the Christmas table.
Christmas Cake decorating… To ice or not to ice?
The traditionally ‘white’-iced Christmas Cake is actually a very English thing. It seems the Welsh and Irish may also sometimes ice their fruit cakes… But in Scotland, it is less common. The Scottish tend to bake a similar, but lighter fruit cake (the Dundee Cake), that is stored and served ‘naked’, often adorned with a simple decoration of fruit and nuts. Dundee Cakes also tend to be enjoyed at other times of the year as well.
I have already written about the History of the traditional fruit Christmas Cake in another post. So, I won’t repeat myself here… Other than to remind us that Christmas Cake decorating only really began in the early 19th Century. These days, whether to use icing and/or marzipan seems to be a largely personal choice.
Un-iced, the very rich and seriously fruit-packed English-style cakes appear to last a little longer than the Scottish Dundee Cake. I guess this is because of the higher fruit content… But both traditionally add booze which will act as a natural preservative.
But adding a layer of marzipan and icing will additionally help to preserve the cake for longer. For best shelf-life, the coverings need to create and airtight seal at the base of the cake (where it meets the board).
Royal Icing or Fondant Icing?
The choice of icing used when Christmas Cake decorating also comes down to personal choice.
Traditionally, the harder-setting, glossy Royal Icing has been used to encase the cake. For me however, Royal Icing is way too sweet and too hard. Although fabulous for cake preservation, it is usually slathered on thick. And eating it can quickly detract from the natural flavours and textures of the fruit cake it surrounds.
Having said that, it does look mighty pretty when used well. It can be spread and ruffled into wintery spikes and swirls, and is also wonderful for piping decorations to perfection. And… It is also really easy to make. I have a simple recipe from a very old cook book that I have used for sticking and decorating my Gingerbread Houses in the past. (You will need to triple the ingredients to cover a whole cake). Or you could use an alternative like the BBC Good Food recipe which also adds a little lemon juice and liquid glucose.
The alternative icing for Christmas Cake decorating is softer, mouldable Fondant Icing. It can be made quite easily at home. However, it is so freely available in blocks of various colours in supermarkets (and at Christmas as a large piece that is ready-rolled), that most people take the convenience route. If you are not sure how much fondant you need, Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen has a handy sizing guide that may help. For a deep 8 inch fruit cake, I used one pack of ready-rolled fondant.
Fondant icing is perfect for giving a quick and easy smooth and simple covering to both Christmas and other cakes. Although it can be used without an under-layer of marzipan, it does seem to have a smoother finish for fruit cakes in particular, when not applied directly to the cake surface.
One of the best things about fondant icing is that colours can be combined and contrasted together for eye-catching detail. But it can also be used as an edible modelling material to create unique decorations too.
Sticking fondant Icing to the marzipan
Fondant icing has quite a dry surface and consequently needs a little help to stick it to the marzipan cake-covering. When ready to drape the icing over, lightly brush the cake all over with clear-coloured alcohol (such as vodka or plain gin… But water should do fine too). This will ensure the icing melds well to the surface, allowing you to shape it close and smooth.
Inspiration for Christmas Cake Decorating
I don’t count myself as very creative when it comes to decorating. Sure, I can bake a mean cake… but give me a piping bag or a palette knife and I struggle.
So, when it comes to cake decorating (Christmas or otherwise) I generally keep things relatively simple. And for inspiration, I often turn to fellow bloggers and the internet. Type ‘Christmas cake ideas’ into the search bar of Pinterest and an amazing collection of beautiful creations will appear. There’s cake decorated with everything from gingerbread figures and houses… to piped holly-wreaths, candy canes, fondant snowmen and snowflakes… There’s even elaborately constructed sleigh runs and forests constructed of real foliage and pine cones.
How you choose to decorate the Christmas cake will likely depend on everything from style and skill to the time available…
A simple Star Cake
My 2020 Christmas Cake was decorated very, very modestly. To be honest, anything more felt like too much effort… But actually, I quite like the simplicity and symbolism of the glittery stars.
Made with re-rolled leftover icing after the cake had been covered, food glitter was lightly pressed into the rolled surface… The stars were then cut with a small star cutter, before dampening the back of each with a little vodka and sticking to the cake. A large red ribbon was used to give the cake a little seasonal colour and style…. And finally, a few gluten-safe shiny pearls were pressed into the surface, before a last sprinkling of edible glitter.
Blue star and spots theme
2021… and the Gluten Free Alchemist Gluten Free Christmas Cake came with a super-easy Blue star and spots theme. It uses a standard base of homemade marzipan topped with ready-rolled fondant icing. This is then topped with three cut out fondant icing stars (with a smaller star cut from the middle), which have been dampened underneath and stuck to the base icing.
Sprinkles were blue and silver/metallic grey and were used to fill the stars, as well as to edge and ‘dot’ the rest of the cake. Sprinkles were stuck on with a very tiny amount of edible glue (brushed on to the cake with a small-tipped kitchen-use paint brush).
If looking for a wonderful supplier of gluten free (and also vegan) sprinkles, I recommend Baking Time Club (which came up trumps in my search).
Modern red and green Present cakes
Just as the cake doesn’t have to be round… neither does the icing have to be white! A few years back, I went all out modern with the Christmas Cake decorating and created 4 small red and green ‘present’ cakes. The cake was actually a pimped packet fruit cake mix… But I made it in a square tin and cut into quarters before individual decoration was added. It was perfect for sharing with our older parents as part of a Christmas food hamper… and in perfect portions too.
More inspiration for Christmas Cake decorating…
Ultimately, the Christmas fruit cake is a blank canvas however… and Christmas Cake decorating is whatever you want it to be… So here’s a few more ideas from my blogging friends and from across the web to inspire.
Done your Christmas Cake Decorating?
I’d love to see your Christmas Cake decorating designs too… So if you have a beautiful creation to share, remember to tag me on Social Media (links at the top of the page).
And if you have found this post interesting or helpful, don’t forget to leave a comment below.
For lots of other gluten free eating inspiration, we also have a wonderful Gluten Free Recipe Book Index… So, why not head over and have a browse?
Simple Star Cake – Icing Instructions
- 450 g white fondant icing ready rolled as preferred
- 1 tbsp clear alcohol (vodka/gin) or water approx
- edible glitter
- cake decorating pearls gluten free
- wide red ribbon to fit the circumference of the cake with a little to cross over
- Either unroll the pack of ready-rolled icing or roll the fondant icing to a size large enough to cover the whole cake, with a little to spare. It is easiest to roll using a sprinkle of icing sugar to prevent sticking.
- Using a pastry brush, give the whole surface of the cake a light covering of (preferably) alcohol or water. The cake is likely to have been covered in marzipan, so brush the liquid onto the marzipan surface.
- Using the rolling pin for support, carefully lift the rolled fondant icing centrally over the cake.
- Carefully smooth JUST the top flat surface using your hand, before carefully smoothing the sides, working round.
- Use a cake scraper to smooth any wrinkles and kinks.
- Carefully cut round the base of the cake, flush with the cake board to tidy.
- Knead the icing cut-offs into a block and then split into two.
- Re-roll each piece of icing separately to about 2mm thick.
- Sprinkle glitter (different colours for each piece) over the rolled icing.
- Lightly roll the glitter in… trying not to press too hard (and wiping the glitter from the rolling pin between each colour).
- Use a star cutter to cut icing stars
- Decide where to place the stars on the cake (lay out as helpful).
- Gently dampen each star on the back, one by one with a little alcohol/water and stick to the fondant surface.
- Add a few decoration pearls as you wish.
- Take the ribbon and carefully wrap round the base of the cake (it may help to dampen either the ribbon or the base of the cake surface where the ribbon will sit, to help it stay smoothly in place).
- Use a couple of dress-maker pins (make sure they are washed and dried) to pin the ribbon in place (remembering to remove before cutting and eating).
© 2019-2022 Kate Dowse All Rights Reserved – Do not copy or re-publish this recipe or any part of this recipe on any other blog, on social media or in a publication without the express permission of Gluten Free Alchemist