On the Eighth Day of Christmas, The Country Kitchen baked for me… Luxury Brandy Matured Christmas Cake with Marzipan and Holly Fondant
HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Well that went quickly didn’t it? It feels like only a few months ago I came home from my travels and surprised my family for Christmas, yet here we are on the first day of 2014. Gosh what a year it has been!
So, for me, Christmas has been quite a weird time to say the least. Not in a bad way at all, it’s been great fun and I love the Christmas season with all the lights and pretty decorations everywhere. But my gosh there never seems to be an end to the amount of planning and preparation, gift buying and making and wrapping. It’s a wonder I had the time to make any Christmas Cakes at all!The origins of the Christmas Cake can be traced back to medieval times, and what we enjoy now is a merging of two traditional feasting recipes – Plum Porridge, or what we now know as Christmas Pudding, and the Twelfth Night Cake.
Traditional Regency Style Twelfth Night Cake
Twelfth Night falls on the 5th of January and marks the end of Christmastide; the Twelve Days of Christmas. On this day, it was traditional to eat a cake made from almonds, dried fruits and spices, and covered with almond paste, or marzipan as it is more commonly known. Plum Porridge was made from oatmeal, stewed meat and breadcrumbs and was eaten on Christmas Eve to line the stomach after a day of fasting. In the 16th century, people started to add butter, flour and eggs to the recipe, along with the addition of dried fruits and nuts, to replace the oatmeal in an attempt to hold the mixture together better. This was then boiled, and eventually became what we now know as Christmas Pudding.
An illustration from the 18th century depicting an early form of Christmas Cake
The Christmas Cakes we have nowadays are unrecognisable compared to the original ones of the 16th century. We decorate ours with sugar paste (fondant) or Royal Icing, figurines and scenes of Winter Wonderlands – a far cry from the boiled ‘porridge’ of medieval England. The addition of marzipan and fondant came about when the Twelfth Night Cake was banned by Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s, as the Puritans believe the feasting on this day to be too excessive. So, people began to have their Twelfth Night Cake on Christmas Day instead, and covered them in marzipan and icing to disguise them. And with that, the Christmas Cake was born, and over time it became more elaborately decorated and with the addition of alcohol feeding it to enhance its flavour.
And with that, I bring you my first recipe of 2014 –
Luxury Brandy Matured Christmas Cake with Marzipan and Holly Fondant.
Start by cooking your Christmas Cake as far in advance as possible, using your favourite recipe. I have included the one I used below so you can see exactly how it turned out, but feel free to use any recipe you like.
The most important thing about making a Christmas Cake is the timing. You can even make it now so it has almost a full year to mature. Can you imagine the flavour you would get from that cake – WOW! I bake mine in October and hand feed them with brandy every week leading up to the point where I want to marzipan them, so they had a good 6 weeks to mature and get suitably ‘drunk’.
Once your cake is cooked and cool, wrap it up in a double layer of baking paper and then two layers of aluminium foil. Store it in a cool, dark and safe place, up until the time you want to marzipan it. I recommend at least 6 weeks, if not longer, if you want to get the best flavour, as a proper Christmas Cake should be fed with Brandy every week leading up to Christmas.
Once you are ready to apply the marzipan, take the stored Christmas Cake and remove the foil covering, but keep the parchment paper underneath intact. Slice the top of the cake with a sharp knife so that it level and smooth, and gobble up those bits cut off!
Just look at that top! I was almost ashamed to cover it up, it looked so beautiful. Bursting with giant raisins, currents, glacé cherries, apricots and so much more dried fruits than I could count, I felt like I was staring down on top of some jewelled pillow, rather than a seriously heavy cake (these things weigh a ton; you can practically do weights with them!)
Now the top of my cake was level, it was time to get to work on my marzipan. Sprinkle a flat surface with icing sugar and roll your rolling pin in it, so that it does not stick to the marzipan when you are rolling it.
Take your marzipan and kneed it in your hands to soften. This is always worth doing as it will make it much easier to roll, and also leaves you with a smoother surface when you attach it onto your cake.
Next, take your rolling pin and roll the marzipan out until it is about 5mm thick. Because I had made my Christmas Cakes square, I had to roll my marzipan out into the same shape, which is a lot harder than it seems!
I found the trick was to rotate the marzipan after every roll, so that it spread evenly and the corners stayed intact, and also making sure I applied an even pressure to my rolling pin. Of course, if you are decorating a round cake, you won’t need to do this, but still be careful that you are applying the same amount of pressure to the rolling pin.
There we are, perfect! Yes, mine did go a little wonky around the lower edge, but that’s okay as I was going to be trimming the sides off and tucking them underneath the cake anyway.
Now that the marzipan was ready and waiting, it was time to prepare my cake glue, otherwise known as… Apricot Glaze. Here is a great tutorial from Cookery Skills on how to make it.
First I heated my apricot jam in a non-stick pan, until it was lump-free and shiny. Then I brushed it all over my cake with a pastry brush, making sure it was evenly spread over the top and sides.
Now came the tricky part; placing the marzipan over of the cake without it splitting or being wonky… To do this, I carefully folded it over my rolling pin covered in icing sugar, lifted it up SLOWLY and carefully unrolled it over the top of the cake. When you do this, make sure you are quite a bit higher up than the cake, so you know you are getting it in the centre.
I in particular find this quite a challenge, and had to give my hobbit-sized 5’ a boost by standing on a stool. I know, I must have looked pretty silly doing this, hovering over a cake while being covered in icing sugar and holding a marzipan-covered rolling pin in my hands. Good thing I live in a remote area with very few people walking past my windows…
Ahh thank goodness for that, I can now breathe a long sigh of relief. With the hardest part out of the way, it was time to tidy my cake up a bit. First I smoothed down the surface of the cake, rolling the top with the rolling pin to make it perfectly flat, and brushing the sides down and pushing the edges into the corners as much as possible. Make sure there are no air bubbles trapped underneath, but if there are these are easy to get rid of. Simply make a small incision and squeeze the air out, then press the marzipan back into position. See, simple!
To make your corners smooth, first you need to make sure the sides of the cake are flat and stuck down well. Pinch the edges of the marzipan together, so you get what looks like legs sticking out of the corners. Take a very sharp, but small, knife and cut through the marzipan at about 2-3mm away from the cakes edge. This is so you can pinch the cut edges together and smooth them down, creating a neat and rounded corner. Do this on all four corners, then cut the marzipan away from the sides of the cake and press underneath using a blunt knife.
There we are, all done. Congratulations, you have just marzipanned your Christmas Cake! Glass of brandy for you, glass of brandy for… oh, the cake can’t be fed any more brandy, better drink that one too then I guess!
Now that the marzipan is on, store the cake in an air tight container in a cold place for a week before you ice it. This is very important, so please don’t try and skip this stage. Why it is so important I hear you ask? Well, the thing with marzipan is that it releases a certain ‘oil’ while it is resting, which needs to dry out before you put anything else on top of it. If you went ahead and decorated your cake with the fondant icing now, by the time you went to serve it, the icing would have discoloured and you would not have that beautiful snow white finish. Also, it would be very sticky in between the layers, and the texture would not taste great.
Fast forward one week, and it’s time to add the finish touched to your Christmas Cake. Start in the same way as you did for the marzipan, and dust a flat surface and your rolling pin with icing sugar. Kneed the fondant icing in the your hands to soften, then roll out until it is between 3-5mm thick, depending on how much icing you like.
Boil the kettle and pour a little water into a cup, and leave to cool completely. Once that water is cool, brush a thin layer over the entire cake, and pick your icing up very carefully by folding it over the rolling pin and draping it over the cake. Take your time with this, as you are only going to get one chance to do this. So no pressure or anything…
Cut the sides in the same way as before by forming pleated corners, and slicing with a small, sharp knife then pinching together again. Smooth down so you cannot see any of the joining lines, and rub down until smooth and rounded. If you find there are a few cracks in the icing, don’t panic! Get a very small amount of water and carefully brush over the cracked area. Leave until almost dry and then smooth down gently so the icing joins up again.
Okay, time for the fun part – making the decorations! I wanted to my Christmas Cakes to have a traditional Holly and Berry theme, so I chose to go for green and red fondant to make a garland of holly and berries to go in the middle of my cake. First, I rolled out my green fondant for the holly leaves, using the same technique as I did for the marzipan and fondant.
Next, I drew out the shape of a holly leaf on a piece of paper and cut it out carefully, making sure the outline was well defined and clear. I placed this on top of the green fondant and cut around the leaf shape using a very sharp but small knife, as this allowed me to get the neatest lines.
Once I had the amount of holly leaves I needed, I set about making the holly berries using my red fondant. These were super easy – you literally just take a small piece of the fondant and roll it in your palms until it forms a small ball. You can make these as big or small as you like, so have fun and be inventive with your decorating!
Just look how sweet these are!
To attach the coloured fondant to the cake, I brushed the undersides of the holly leaves with cool water and pressed gently into position. Then I gave the tops a light covering of sugar-water to give them a glaze, and also help the berries stay in place, which I had dipped into cool water and placed gently into position.
I chose to decorate my Christmas Cakes with a five leaf holly pattern in the middle with three berries in the centre, but it’s totally up to you what you want to do. You could cut out more holly leaves and make a wreath to go in the middle if you preferred, with the red berries hidden amongst the leaves. That actually sounds quite nice, maybe I will do that for next year’s cakes.
Once the middle section of my cake was done, I focused on the outer edges. I already had the smaller red berries to use, but I wanted something else to contrast the bright red and green, as well as bring a little festive sparkle to my cake. So I chose to add some edible silver pearls which I mostly use for decorating cupcakes, but thought these would make a lovely addition. And they really did! They brought the colours out beautifully, and gave the cake that little sparkle every time I walked past it.
Now that I was happy with my decorations, it was time to attach them firmly to my cake. I started by dipping the red fondant balls in cold water and placing them into position around the cakes edge, leaving big enough gaps in between for the smaller silver pearls. With these firmly in place, I went about arranging the silver pearls and making a small indentation so I knew exactly where they were going to go. However, I needed something to act as glue so they would stick to the cakes icing, otherwise they would easily fall off.
So I turned to my trusty biscuit decorating friend – glacé icing. I only made a small amount as I didn’t need much, and also because if you put them in a lot of icing, the silver comes off and melts into the surface it is attached to. And I really didn’t want to wake up the next day to find that the top of my cake had ripples of silver flowing down the sides. As pretty as that sounds, it’s just not what I wanted for my Christmas Cake!
I very carefully put a small drop in each of the holes I had made for the silver pearls by pressing them into the top of the cake. I used a long cocktail stick to do this, as it was exactly the right size and meant I was not putting too much icing into the gap.
Once the last silver pearl was in place, I was done and my cake was complete! I have to admit, I was actually quite surprised at how they turned out, as I was a little nervous, but in the end I was very pleased with the final result. What do you think?
And there we have it; one beautifully decorated Christmas Cake ready to show off to your friends and family! If that doesn’t bring the festive cheer out of even the scroogeiest of guests, then I reckon you are going to need something a lot stronger than a brandy fed Christmas Cake to get them in the Christmas mood…
And with my first recipe of the year, I must bid farewell to what has been a brilliant 2013, and wish you all the very best of luck for the New Year. Just remember, it’s never too early to make your Christmas Cake, so why not start now?
Luxury Brandy Matured Christmas Cake with Marzipan and Holly Fondant
by The Country Kitchen
- 155g Butter
- 175g Dark Muscovado Sugar
- 680g Luxury Mixed Dried Fruits:
- 130g Raisins
- 130g Sultanas
- 110g Currents
- 110g Dried Apricot
- 100g Mixed Peel
- 100g Glacé Cherries
- x1 Orange, zest and juice
- x1 Lemon, zest only
- 90ml Brandy, plus 4 tbsp. more
- 75g Blanched Almonds
- x3 Large Eggs
- 75g Ground Almonds
- 175g Plain Flour
- ½ tsp Baking Powder
- 1 tsp Ground Mixed Spice
- 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
- ¼ tsp Ground Allspice
For the Decoration:
- 750g Marzipan
- 500g White Fondant
- 100g Green Fondant
- 50g Red Fondant
- Silver Pearls, to decorate
- Prepare all of your ingredients before you start to mix anything together; start by getting the zest and juice from the orange and zest from the lemon, then set aside.
- Cut the butter in cubes, half the glacé cherries and then finely chop the dried apricots into small slices. This may take a while but do not be tempted to use a food processor, otherwise you will end up with a ball of apricot mush!
- In a large saucepan, add the chopped butter, sugar, dried fruits, zests, orange juice and 90ml of the brandy. Heat until the butter has melted and the sugar is dissolved, and then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mixture should be of a dark, thick consistency and be just bubbling.
- Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for 30 minutes, then cover and store overnight so the fruits have time to absorb all the brandy.
- The next day, preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan assisted, and line a 6×6 inch cake tin with baking paper.
- Toast the blanched almonds in a dry frying pan, tossing them until they are golden and set aside to cool before roughly chopping.
- Beat the eggs until they are light and fluffy, and then add to the fruit mixture along with the toasted nuts and ground almonds. Fold everything together with a metal spoon, until all ingredients are evenly spread through the mixture.
- In two batches, sieve in the flour, baking powder and spices and stir gently, making sure everything is totally incorporated.
- Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and gently press it down so you have an even top and corners.
- Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour. Without opening the oven door, turn the heat down to 150°C/130°C fan assisted and cook for a further 1 hour and 40 minutes until the cake is dark golden and firm on top. If you find the top of the cake is becoming too dark, cover it with a piece of foil and continue cooking.
- When it is cooked, leave the cake in the tin and pierce it all over using a skewer. Spoon the reserved 4 tablespoons of brandy over and allow it to soak in.
- Once the cake is cool, remove it from the tin and wrap it up in a double layer of baking paper and then in two layers of aluminium foil.
- Feed the cake with 3 tablespoons of brandy every week by piercing holes into it, and then pouring the brandy over. Be sure that you wrap the cake up properly afterwards, and store it in a cool, stable place.
Decorating The Cake:
One week before you want to serve your cake, you will need to cover it with a layer of marzipan. You many need to cut the top of your cake so it is level, otherwise it will have a lumpy surface.
- To marzipan the cake, roll the marzipan out on a flat surface covered with icing sugar until it is about ½ cm thick.
- Heat the apricot glaze in a saucepan and then brush evenly all over the cake using a pastry brush.
- Carefully lift the marzipan by folding it over a rolling pin, and unfolding over the cake. Flatten the top and sides of the cake so it is smooth, and trim the edges using a sharp knife. To make neat corners, pinch the marzipan edges together and cut in a one-directional sawing motion about 2mm away from the cakes edge, and then press the creases together until smooth.
- Given the top and sides a final brush down, then store the cake for a week in an airtight container before applying the icing. This allows the marzipan to dry out, and prevents it from discolouring the fondant icing.
- To ice the cake, roll out the fondant over icing sugar so it doesn’t stick to the surface or rolling pin. Boil a little water and then leave to cool, and then brush this over the marzipan layer. Place the fondant over in the same way you did the marzipan, using a rolling pin to lift and position it. Trim the sides and edges so they are neat, pushing underneath the cake with a blunt knife.
- Make the holly and berry decorations by rolling out the green fondant icing and cutting out the shapes of a holly leaf. Do this by placing a cut-out of a holly leaf on top of the green icing, and cut around its edge with a small, sharp knife. Roll the red icing into 19 balls and set aside.
- Position the holly leaves on top of the cake and stick into place by brushing the underside of the fondant with cool water, and gently pressing down.
- Dip three of red berries into the water and press into position gently, so they don’t lose their shape. Brush the tops with a little sugar-water to make a glaze, and to keep them firmly in place.
- Position the remaining red berries around the edge of the cake, then dip in cool water and place back in position to stick down.
- Very gently press the silver pearls into place, so you make a small indentation in the fondant topping.
- Make a small amount of glacé icing using 1 tbsp. icing sugar and a tiny drop of water. Put a small drop into each of the holes for the pearls using a cocktail stick and gently drop the pearls into place.
- Store the cake in an airtight container, and then show it off to your guests on Christmas Day! This cake will keep for up to 2 months if wrapped in a double layer of cling-film and stored in an airtight container.
Welcome to 2014 everybody! I hope I can bring you as many new and interesting recipes as I can imagine, and that you continue to enjoy them as much as I do.
Happy New Year and all the best for 2014!
Happy Baking x