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Top 5 tips for decorating Christmas cakes

Harriet Worthington30 November 2016

It has been a long-standing tradition in my household that my Grandma bakes and decorates the annual Christmas cake. Undeterred by the distance between us (our family home is in Yorkshire, whilst she resides by the sea in Wales), she duly bakes, decorates and sends us a cake via the post.

Every precaution is taken to ensure it arrives in one piece; the box is padded with wadded up pages of The Daily Mail and then sellotaped so well that a pair of gardening shears is needed to break through it.  Grandma often takes to drinking a large glass of sherry before attempting to decorate the cake (illustrated below) and so this year, we’re giving her a well-deserved rest and I’m taking matters into my own hands.

Cake decorating doesn’t come naturally to me (I’ve had my fair share of wonky snowmen) so I’ve asked two of the most talented cake makers I know for their Christmas decorating tips. Sarah Bates runs The Icing Workshop as well as owning her own celebration cake business, whilst food stylist Katie Marshall regularly bakes and decorates bespoke celebration cakes.

Someone let Grandma get drunk and decorate the Christmas cake...

A photo posted by Harriett. (@harriettjessica) on Dec 25, 2012 at 4:19am PST


1. Start with a level cake

It’s important to start with a level base before decorating, not only does it create an even surface which makes it easier to decorate, it gives the cake a professional finish.

Sarah Says...

“To level a domed or uneven cake before decorating, place something like a saucer or similar back into the washed tin you used to bake the cake then pop the cake in on top. This will raise the domed part of the cake above the rim of the tin. Using a serrated knife (so it will not drag the cake) place the knife on the edge of the tin and use the rim as a cutting guide to carve off the top leaving a completely flat surface.”


2. Colour your sugar paste correctly

Always use a paste or gel to colour your sugar paste as adding liquid to it will change the consistency making it sticky and too soft to use. Colour a small piece first, adding just a dab at a time. Once you’re happy with the shade of the small piece, use it as a guide to colour the large piece.

Sarah says...

"Use a cake smoother for a professional finish. Using this tool will polish and smooth out any lumps, bumps and uneven edges."


3. Stack multi tier cakes

If you’ve baked a showstopper (or you’re just a show-off) and have more than one tier to your Christmas cake, use a spirit level to ensure your cakes are completely level before covering in sugar paste (make sure to check again once your cakes are covered). Insert one dowel into the base cake and mark where it emerges – use this one as a guide to cut all the other dowels to the same size. Re-insert all dowels and you now have a level base to rest the board of your next tier. Use royal icing to secure each tier.

Sarah says...

“Always move away from the cake and walk around to check it looks level from all angles before adding the next tier.”


4. Incorporate real foliage into your decorations

Sometimes simple is best, whilst extravagant cakes can make a stunning centerpiece to a Christmas table, a more stripped back cake can make just as much of an impact.


Candied Lemon-Thyme for tomorrow's dinner party. #Leiths #herbs #sugar #dessert #dinnerparty

A photo posted by Harriett. (@harriettjessica) on Jun 24, 2015 at 9:06am PDT


katie says...

“Top a buttercream iced cake with holly and berries or alternatively dip rosemary branches in egg white and granulated sugar to look like icy pines. Blowtorching meringue also creates a brilliant snowy effect."


#Christmas #cake - obvs #gold #deer #grotto #robins #trees #winterscape #goldgoldgold #baking #chocolate #ganache #meringue #fruitcake 😍 #snow #instabakes #instafood #food52 #foodporn #cakeinspiration

A photo posted by Katie Marshall (@kayiemarshall) on Dec 16, 2015 at 4:14am PST


5. Make sugar paste models

Making sugar paste models is easier than you think. Use a photo for inspiration (whatever you want to make will have been made by someone before – however obscure), websites like Pinterest are great for finding inspiration. Use a mixture of half sugar paste and half flower paste kneaded together as it will hold its shape better and dry more rigid. Use cocktail sticks or uncooked spaghetti for support.

#Christmas #cake 2 of 3 with my darling sister #cute #baking #rosiesaladdays #ski

A photo posted by Rosie Jones (@rosiejones_ok) on Dec 23, 2013 at 1:36pm PST