Saturday, 20 December 2014

How to marzipan and ice your Christmas cake

This morning's advent calendar chocolate helpfully informed me that it's only five days until Christmas, so I thought it was about time I showed you how to decorate your Christmas cakes that you all rushed off and made after I posted the recipe.

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Homemade marzipan and royal icing are far nicer than the stuff you get in the shops, and both require only a little extra effort. It's honestly really easy to make them yourself.

I should start by explaining that once you've put the marzipan on the cake you will need to wait at least three days, and up to a week, before you can put the icing on. This is to let the marzipan dry out and stop the oils and egg from eventually seeping through the icing and discolouring it. So make sure you start a good few days before you actually want to start devouring the thing.

Take the cling film off your cake and leave it uncovered while you make the marzipan, for which you will need the the following:

225g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
350g ground almonds
175g caster sugar (I used golden but white is fine too)
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp apricot jam

It's a generous recipe so that you can easily get a nice, thick layer. You'll have some left over but you can do all sorts with it - roll it into balls and dip in melted chocolate to make little after dinner treats, or Christmas gifts, or use it in other recipes calling for marzipan, or simply eat it as it is!

Step 1: Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and stir in the caster sugar and ground almonds. Beat the eggs with the lemon juice and almond extract and stir them into the almonds and sugar until it all begins to come together. It's a good idea to add the eggs gradually, as you don't want it too wet. If it is too soft and sticky, add more icing sugar. You want it to come together and be a little bit sticky but quite stiff. Use your hands at the end to mix everything thoroughly and bring it together into a ball. Knead the ball on a surface dusted with icing sugar until it's smooth, then put it back in the bowl while you get on with the next couple of steps.

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Step 2: Heat the apricot jam in a pan over a medium heat until it has melted slightly and the lumps are gone. Sieve it to remove the larger pieces of apricot.

Step 3: Liberally dust the surface you're working on with icing sugar, and the rolling pin too. Roll your marzipan into a circle, rolling in one direction, keeping the pressure even and gently turning it by a quarter after every few rolls. When it's large enough and your desired thickness (I love the stuff so I like it really thick), cut a square/circle the same size as the top of your cake by cutting around the base of the tin you baked it in. Brush the top of the cake with the warm apricot jam and put the marzipan square/circle on top.

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As I used the square tin, I cut the square for the top in the middle of my rolled out marzipan, then used the cut offs to make the strips for the sides of the cake. I brushed the sides with jam and stuck on the strips, trimming away the excess as so.

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If you used a circular tin, you could cut the circle for the top, then roll out a strip to go all the way around the sides, again trimming any excess.

Gently squish together all the joins and press the cake all over to secure the marzipan in place (I find this part reeeaaally satisfying). It's a good idea to do all of this on a different plate from the one that you want to serve the cake on, as it's a messy job. Once the marzipan is on, gently move the cake to the plate that you want to serve it on.

Now the marzipan needs to dry, so don't put the lid of the box or tin on - just drape a clean tea towel over the top to keep the dust off and store it in a cool, dry place...

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...So, it's been a few days (hello again) and now it's time to smother the cake in smooth, glossy royal icing. For this you need:

450g icing sugar, sifted
2 large egg whites
1tsp glycerine

Step 1: Put the egg whites in a bowl and stir the icing sugar in a spoon at a time until the mixture falls slowly from the spoon. If it gets like this before you have used up all the sugar, don't add the rest.

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Now, whisk it for ten minutes with an electric whisk, if you have one. If you don't have one (which I don't), beat it for ten minutes with your wooden spoon instead (which isn't much fun I'm afraid), until it stands up in stiff peaks sort of like in the pictures below (I say "sort of" because I think I could probably have gotten it a bit stiffer, but by this point I had actually given myself a blister so I, well...I gave up). Stir in the glycerine.

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Step 2: Spread the icing all over the cake with a knife, as evenly as possible. I decided to keep the sides smooth, and made it look 'snowy' on top. You do this by sort of tapping the icing all over with the flat of your knife. If you want to put decorations on now's the time, so they stick once the icing's dried. Leave the it to dry overnight in a cool, dry place before putting the cake in your box or tin.

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And here it is!

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I went for a bit of an old school theme because I really wanted to put this tiny reindeer that I found on top, but you can decorate it however you want.

Let me know how you get on!

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