The icing on the cake

Christmas traditions change and evolve.  I now have a new tradition; it always used to be the case that my Mummy would make the Christmas cake which I would then decorate when I got home from university.   We always had a Christmas cake despite the fact that only my parents actually eat it but we no longer have one because it just isn’t worth it.  Sad times for me, no cake to decorate.  Even if we had a Christmas cake at home now I would no longer be able to decorate it as I don’t arrive home until Christmas Eve.   Fortunately for me, my boyfriend’s family do have a Christmas cake and I now decorate it for them and I think that it is a win win situation for everyone concerned.  I decorated the first one for them last year which, obviously, makes this year the second one and therefore, I believe, a tradition.

Decorating the Christmas cake is an important business to me and something that I put a lot of thought in to, about a year’s thought in most cases! I love decorating cakes and obviously it’s important to me that it looks perfect so this year was a tough challenge for me because it required me to let go as I was being ably assisted by a four year old.  To be fair, she was very well behaved, (she has a tendency to be somewhat strong-willed), so I was very pleasantly surprised that she was so responsive to my direction.

It started at about 11am this morning when the little one came bounding through the bedroom door having been unable to wait any longer.  You may be thinking that 11am is not an unreasonable hour but given that I did not get in from a rather enjoyable Christmas party until 2am… Frankly it was rather fortunate that I didn’t have a hangover which would have made the whole thing rather awkward.

I had a chosen a simple but effective design that actually as it turns out, is rather child-friendly.  It ended up being a slight variation on what I had done last year although the original request had been for a carbon copy.  Last year, I frosted some leaves from the garden with sugar along with some grapes.  This year the grapes were substituted for cranberries, I was really after redcurrants, perhaps not particularly seasonal but they would have looked lovely.  The first task, given that the cake had already been covered in white fondant icing, was to troop out into the garden with buckets (not strictly necessary) to collect the greenery.  You can choose any foliage that you like and please don’t ask me what I used, horticulture is I’m afraid, not one of my strong points.  My recommendation is to get more than you need because it isn’t until you come to arrange the foliage that you are quite sure which pieces you will need/want.  Foliage collected and back in the warm, you need to set about frosting said foliage.  To do this you need a large plate covered in caster sugar and an egg white.  Dip the foliage in the egg white and then roll in the sugar until coated and it looks like the leaves are covered in frost.  It is also quite a good idea to sprinkle additional sugar from a height onto the leaves as you don’t want to be too heavy handed.  It is also important to give the leaves a little shake to remove excess sugar before leaving to dry for a couple of hours.  This is obviously quite a good one for small people to be involved with; if I had chosen an elaborate scheme that involved modelling figures out of fondant icing, it wouldn’t have been possible to involve a four year old. The technique is obviously repeated to frost the cranberries but it is probably more of a rolling action than a sprinkling one.

Once dried, mix up some white icing, not so easy for a small person, then pour it onto the middle of the cake and smooth out a little with the back of the teaspoon used to mix the icing.  In terms of consistency, the icing needs to be quite thick because you are using it as a glue and the effect would be ruined if the icing was too runny as it would look messy.  Then you choose pieces of foliage to lay on top of the cake and arrange the cranberries in amongst the leaves.  It is very simple to achieve a most beautiful snowy and festive Christmas cake.  I finished this cake off with a red tartan ribbon and yes, I was pleased with the finished article.  I thought that my little helper did an excellent job and it was so sweet to see the concentration on her face as she dipped the leaves in the egg white and then in the sugar.

My little helper is not the only person who I have been instructing in the kitchen this week.  Her uncle has also been on the receiving end of my orders.  This was the second time that I have talked her uncle, my boyfriend, through making chocolate caramel shortbread for his office bake-off.  He won the heat back in October and this Friday was the semi-final so we had to re-bake.  Once again he was triumphant and we now have the final next week.  It was apparent when we started that he hadn’t remembered anything from the previous time.  From my point of view it requires extreme patience to talk through each stage and tell him exactly what to do without diving in and doing it myself.  I’m not sure who it was a bigger challenge for but we battled through and on to the final!

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