Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The icing on the cake

You'd think that after spending my Saturday making all those Christmas mince pies and meringues, (and cleaning the oven) I'd have spent enough time in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I still had one more thing on my list. It was time to make a start on icing my Christmas cake.

While my pies were baking, I'd dragged my cake out of the cupboard and poked toothpick-holes all over it before pouring half a cup of rum over the top. Having left this to absorb for a few hours, it was time to begin the icing.

My job for Saturday night was to do the almond icing (p76), which I'd then leave to set for a couple of days before adding the royal icing (p78). The icing was pretty easy to make: I just used my mixer again to combine ground almonds, icing sugar, caster sugar with eggs and almond icing.

I'd bought my ingredients at Bin Inn, but on reflection I think I should have got the ground almonds from a supermarket. They weren't quite ground finely enough, and there seemed to be traces of husk in it. I think I'd noticed this last time I used Bin Inn ground almonds, but I'd forgotten about it.

I also found I had forgotten to buy caster sugar. I had some in the cupboard, but not the full cup I needed. With my meringues in the oven, I couldn't pop out to the supermarket, so I had to substitute about half the caster sugar for plain sugar.

So my almond icing wasn't as smooth in texture as I intended. I guess I'm used to that smooth, unnaturally yellow almond icing you buy in a packet. Mine had much more of a 'home-made' vibe about it.

I brushed the cake with some egg-white (left over from my pastry making) and rolled out my almond icing to a suitable size for my cake. It was slightly crumbly, and I couldn't see how I could get it over the cake without it falling to pieces. I gave it a go though - I managed to get it on the cake but it all fell apart as I tried to manoeuvre it into place.

I spent the next little while doing a fixit job, and finally, the whole cake was coated in a reasonably even layer of icing. It had a bit of a patchwork look about it, but never mind - the royal icing would cover that up! I set the cake aside for the next few days for the icing to harden.

Last night, I moved on to the royal icing. The royal icing recipe is apparently "sufficient to ice and decorate a 20cm square fruit cake". Well, mine was 23cm square - quite a lot bigger - so I decided I better do a 1 1/2 recipe.

Egg whites form the basis of royal icing - I needed six whites, and 1.5kg icing sugar. After beating the whites, I added the sugar in spoonful by spoonful. By the time all the sugar was beaten in, the icing was so thick it was stuck in a big lump around the whisk of my mixture. I mixed through some lemon juice and glycerine and the icing was ready.

 It wasn't quite what I expected, though. The royal icing you buy in the supermarket is the kind you roll out - much the same as the almond layer. Mine may have been thick, but not thick enough for rolling. The recipe didn't mention anything about rolling either. I decided that home-made must just come out differently, grabbed my cake and started to spread the icing on.

It was never going to get the smooth finish of a rolled icing. I got the sides as smooth as possible (i.e not very) and made a few swirly patterns on the top. The biggest difficulty was knowing how thick the icing was on any given part of the cake. It took me a while, but I think I got it fairly even in the end.

I was at a loss when it came to decorating the cake. I wasn't confident I could decorate the cake without making a mess of it, but I felt I couldn't leave it plain.

I'd intended to cut decorative shapes out of leftover pastry, but since the pastry didn't turn out to be the rolling/cutting kind, that was out the window. Eventually I just grabbed some of the silver balls that I usually use on spice biscuits and applied those around the sides of the cake.

One day later, the royal icing has already hardened up nicely. Since the icing wasn't going to smear if I played around with it, I prettied up the cake for a for the photo with a couple of flowers and ribbony bits on the top. That bit's not going to stay on there though - apart from in this photo, noone's going to see the cake before I cut it into bits.

So that's the cake sorted. What's next on the list..?


  1. Impressed! I always wondered that about the royal icing recipe, but never got up the guts to try it. When it hardens, does it end up the same texture as the almond icing like the bought stuff? It looks lovely!

  2. Haha no, it goes rock-hard and shatters everywhere when you try to cut it. Not recommended!


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