Christmas Cake with Poinsettia and Hellebores

Everything You Need to Know About Decorating a Christmas Cake

A Christmas cake can be a rich fruit cake, a light fruit cake, a sponge cake, a yeast-based cake, or whatever type of Christmas cake is traditional in your country or one preferred by yourself and your family. However, for this article, I will be focusing on a traditional English rich fruit Christmas cake.

Nothing else is so satisfying as decorating a Christmas cake with a layer of marzipan and a coat of icing and finishing it with gumpaste or fondant flowers. You can even add some fondant models to complete your Christmas scene.

Read on…

Christmas Cake Recipe

Before you can start decorating a Christmas cake, you will need an excellent rich fruit cake recipe. You can find one in my article titled  My Rich Fruit Christmas Cake Recipe That Really Works.

If you follow the instructions carefully on soaking the fruit first, you will have a lovely moist cake.

As instructed by many recipes, you don’t need to “feed” the cake with brandy or juice.

Also, take note of how to put the cake mixture into the tin, and you should end up with a lovely flat cake ready to decorate.

By following that method, I can honestly say that I have never cut the top from a cake that has risen too much. It’s essential to begin your decorating with a flat cake.

The next task is to decide how you are going to decorate your cake.

Rule number one is that you never decorate a rich fruit cake with buttercream, dairy cream, or similar. 

It is usual to decorate a rich fruit cake with marzipan on its own or with marzipan covered with Royal icing, regular rolled fondant, or marshmallow rolled fondant.

Rich Fruit Christmas Cake
Rich fruit Christmas cake

The first stage in decorating a Christmas cake is to apply a coat of marzipan. I know many people don’t like marzipan, but then a lot do, so I always use it, and the people who don’t like it can remove it before they eat the cake.

You can buy marzipan from your cake suppliers, or you can make your own. I always make my own because it costs less and often shop-bought marzipan doesn’t taste very nice. Also, shop-bought marzipan is sometimes quite dry if produced a long time before being sold.

For a marzipan recipe, see my article called How to Make Your Own Marzipan to Cover Your Rich Fruit Cake.

I always decorate a fruit cake on the cake board.

However, before placing the cake topside down on the cake board, dab a little jam in the center of the board to stop it from slipping.

Before you cover your cake with marzipan, you need to fill in any holes where fruit may have dropped out and because the cake is upside down, even if it looks flat, it may have a slight bevel edge where it touches the cake board. Fill in any gaps around the bottom of the cake with marzipan.

Fruit Cake Prepared for Marzipan
Preparing cake to Marzipan

Before applying a coat of marzipan to the cake, brush the cake’s surface with apricot jam that has been warmed and strained.

Apricot jam is typically used because it hasn’t got a strong taste and blends in well with the fruit in the cake.

I usually add a couple of teaspoonfuls of brandy to the jam to give it that extra Christmas boozy flavor, but that is entirely optional.

If the jam is very thick and you prefer not to add brandy, add a couple of teaspoons of water instead, making it easier to brush on the cake.

Rolling Marzipan
Rolled marzipan

Roll out your marzipan just the same as you would fondant icing or even pastry. I roll it out until it’s approximately ¼ “/½ cm thick, but you can roll it thinner or thicker as you prefer.

When it’s a uniform thickness all over, take a piece of thin cord and measure the cake – side, top, and the other side – to make sure it is big enough to cover the cake.

Next, roll the marzipan around your rolling pin, then unroll it over your cake.

Smooth it over the cake with your hands and your smoothers precisely the same as you would smooth fondant icing over a cake.

The marzipan needs to be smooth and level before you add the icing to the cake.

Level Marzipan on Fruit Cake
Marzipanned cake - smooth and level

Some people don’t like icing, so they only use marzipan to cover the cake then add some decorations.

If you want to add a coat of icing over your marzipan, the next stage in decorating a Christmas cake will be deciding what type of icing you will use.

Royal Icing

Spreading Royal icing over a cake to give it a smooth finish takes a lot of practice. It’s a skill worth perfecting if you are serious about cake making and decorating. A perfectly finished Royal iced cake looks beautiful.

A recipe for Royal icing is in my article How to Choose the Best Royal Icing Recipe for Cakes or Projects.

However, if you want to use Royal icing but don’t feel that you could achieve a perfectly smooth coat first, don’t despair because you can give it a rough “snow scene” finish.

You can achieve the finish with a pallet knife or with a flat blade of a kitchen knife.  When it’s dry, you can add some Christmas decorations, and you will have a cake that has been quick to decorate and looks good.

Royal Iced Christmas Cake
Rough Royal icing

Fondant Icing 

Rolled fondant icing is the most straightforward kind of icing to cover a cake. If you can roll out pastry, then you will have no problem rolling out fondant. If you are entirely new to baking, becoming an expert at rolling out fondant won’t take long. 

I often hear people say that they prefer Royal icing because fondant icing is too sweet. 

It is odd because they are both made with equal amounts of icing/powdered sugar.  

I thought about it and realized that lemon juice is an ingredient of Royal icing which counteracts some sweetness. I started adding lemon to my fondant icing recipe, and now people love the not-so-sweet fondant I’m using.

I know it is easy to buy ready-made fondant, but if you want to have a go at making your own, you can find out how to do it in my article called  The Easiest Rolled Fondant Icing Recipe.

Marshmallow Fondant Smoothly Kneaded
Regular Fondant

Knead your fondant until it’s perfectly smooth, sprinkle your board with icing/powdered sugar and roll it out until it is approximately ¼”/ ½ cm thick or more or less to your preference.

Measure your cake with a length of thin cord so you know if the rolled-out fondant is big enough to cover the top and sides of the cake, allowing a little extra for shaping it to the cake.

Brush the marzipan with a light coat of boiled, cold water, then soak up any surplus water with a kitchen town.

Loosely roll the fondant around your rolling pin being careful not to dent the smooth surface of the fondant, and gradually unroll it up the side, across the top, and down the other side of your cake.

Using fondant smoothers, fit the fondant to your cake using your hands to help the process if required. Cut off any surplus fondant with a sharp knife.

Leave your fondant-covered cake to dry overnight to form a crust before adding any decorations.

Christmas Cake Poinsettias and Snowflakes
Christmas cake with poinsettia, holly and ivy

Marshmallow Fondant Icing

I’ve been making regular rolled fondant to cover my cakes for many years, and some time ago, I heard about bakers using marshmallow fondant.

I bought some marshmallows and had a go at following a recipe I found in a book. It was a disaster. The melted marshmallows were difficult to mix into the icing/powdered sugar, and when I eventually got it to a stage where it looked like ordinary fondant, it wouldn’t roll out.

It seemed that the marshmallow I could buy were nothing like the marshmallows available to the person who wrote the recipe. I discovered that the marshmallows available in the USA and Canada are nothing like the ones in the UK where I lived at the time. 

I never tried to make it again.  

That was until a couple of years ago when I found some large white marshmallows in my local Aldi supermarket.

Marshmallows for Fondant
Marshmallows suitable for fondant

I realized that they were more like the ones featured in the recipe and most likely the type of marshmallows that were good to make fondant. I took a gamble and bought six large packs, and proceeded to make a batch of marshmallow fondant.

It turned out well, and I used it to cover a three-tier wedding cake. The finish on the cake was very smooth, it looked good, and with some added lemon, it tasted very nice.

I have used it numerous times since, and I’m using it to cover my Christmas cakes this year.

It’s used precisely the same way as regular rolling fondant and is just as easy to use.

You can find out how to make it In my article called  How to Make Fondant with Marshmallows.

Christmas Cake Toppers

The final stage of decorating a Christmas cake will be to add some decorations to the iced cake.

These can take the form of hand-made gum paste sugar flowers, which are beautiful to look at and make the Christmas cake the centerpiece of any celebration.

Christmas Sugar Flowers
Sugar flowers for a Christmas cake topper

If you would like flowers to eat with the cake, make them with fondant.

You can add some simple fondant models of father Christmas, snowmen, reindeer, other seasonal objects, etc.

If you are good at making things, then simple Christmas models are straightforward to make, and you can find tutorials on the internet. If you do a Google search for “Christmas cake topper tutorials,” you will find many ideas.

If you are not very good at making models by hand, you can buy a wide variety of molds that will speed up the process.

I hope you enjoy decorating a Christmas cake and will take the opportunity to follow the links in this article to find recipes and instructions for marzipan and icing. 

If you want some design ideas on decorating your Christmas cake, look at my 20 Christmas Cake Decorating Ideas article.

Joyce Freeman

Joyce Freeman

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