christmas, layer cakes, sponge cakes

Christmas Tree Layer Cake

When I filmed this video I was talking about how we never have a christmas tree and how I don’t need one and how I think that it makes my boyfriend slightly sad… and then the next day he bought a bloody christmas tree. It takes over the whole of the living room and the only decorations on it are 3 massive strands of tinsel (in gold, purple and silver) and tree lights that light up in 4 different colours. Shoot me already. So if you’re like me and you prefer a cake tree to a real one this is the recipe for you… and if you do like real trees you can still give this a go!

Recipe:

Red Wine Cake:

  • 550g Flour
  • 200g Cornflour
  • 50g Cocoa Powder
  • 2 Tbsp Baking Powder
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 8 Eggs (medium)
  • 400g Caster Sugar
  • 400ml Vegetable Oil
  • 250ml Red Wine
  • 150ml Buttermilk
  • 200g Ground Dark Chocolate

Cinnamon French Buttercream:

  • 675g Soft, Unsalted Butter
  • 9 Eggs (medium)
  • 300g Caster Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Cinnamon
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Gel Colours in Green and Black

Royal Icing:

  • 2 Tbsp Egg White Powder
  • 250g Icing Sugar
  • 4 Tbsp Water
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • Gel Colours
  • Yellow Fondant for the star

Method:

A couple of days before baking the cake we’ll start by making the fondant star that will sit on top of the cake. Using a small rolling pin, roll a bit of yellow fondant out to about half a cm thickness. I like to use potato flour to stop the fondant from sticking as it is very easy to brush off later. Then take a star shaped cookie cutter and cut two stars out of the fondant. Then we need to cut a notch into each of the stars, using a sharp knife. On the first star the notch goes at the bottom, on the second star on the top. They have to go though to the middle of the star and be as wide as the star is thick, so we can slot them together when they’re dry. I have softened the edges of the stars and the notches with a cake decorating tool, or you can use your finger. Stick a skewer into the bottom of the star that has the notch at the top, brush the potato flour off with a soft brush and then set them aside to dry out completely. This will take a few days.

Preheat the oven to 170 degree C (150 Fan). Prepare a 30cm x 40cm perforated baking sheet with baking paper or a reusable baking mat and a baking frame.

Combine eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and whip the mixture until it’s light in colour and very fluffy. This will take about 4-5 minutes in a stand mixer, a little bit longer using a hand mixer. Add oil, red wine and buttermilk on a slow speed and mix for a minute. Then combine flour, cornflour, salt and cocoa powder and sieve them into the batter. Then add the ground chocolate (I have blitzed it in a blender but if you want chunks of chocolate just chop it up roughly) and fold the dry ingredients in carefully. We want to knock as little air as possible out of the mixture. When the cake batter is well combined fill it into the prepared baking frame and stick it in the oven for about 35-40 minutes. Make sure to check if the cake is done by sticking a skewer into the middle. If it comes out clean it’ll be done.

The most important thing when making buttercream is to whip the soft butter until it’s really light in colour and fluffy in texture. This will take about 5 minutes. To prepare the french buttercream put the eggs, sugar and salt into a heatproof bowl and put this over a pot with simmering water. Whisking at all times, you want to bring the mixture up to 65 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer you can check if it’s ready by rubbing a bit of the mixture between your thumb and forefinger. If you can’t feel any sugar crystals anymore you can take it off the heat. Then we need to whisk the mixture until it’s cooled down to room temperature. You can do this with a hand mixer but it might take a very long time. In a stand mixer it’ll take between 15 and 20 minutes. This will create a very light, fluffy and stable egg sugar mixture. When it’s cooled down to room temperature we can add the whipped butter one spatula full at a time, then add the cinnamon and whisk until it’s well combined. Scrape the bowl down and mix for another couple of seconds. Take a pea sized blob of green gel colour and add it to the buttercream, mix it in well and add more if you need. If the green you’re using is too light in colour you can add a bit of black to give it a bit more depth. Keep adding colour until you’ve got a nice needle tree green. Again make sure to scrape the bowl down and the mix for another couple of seconds.

I’ve used a few different sized cookie cutters and a cake ring to cut 5 circles out of the sheet of cake we baked. They’re 20cm, 18cm, 16cm, 10cm and 6cm in diameter. The 20 cm one I have put together from 2 half circles. Check out the video if you want to see how I cut the cake. Don’t throw away the leftovers as we’ll use them later to flesh the cake out a bit.

Level the cake circles using a cake leveler or a bread knife. I like to use a turntable to decorate my cakes but you can do it without one. Put a cake lifter or cake board on the turntable, then add a bit of buttercream to stop the first layer of cake from sliding around. Add the two halves of the 20cm circle, making sure that they’re in the middle of the cake lifter. Then add a big blob of buttercream and spread it out using an offset spatula. Finish the buttercream layer off by holding the spatula straight over the buttercream layer and turning the turntable at the same time. This will get rid off excess buttercream and level it off nicely. Then add the next cake circle and repeat the process until you have reached the 6cm layer.

Take the leftover cake and break bits off it off and glue them to the cake using more buttercream to create a nice tree shape. It’s something that I love about this cake: It doesn’t matter how badly a job you’ve done with building the cake, you can just add more cake and buttercream until you’re happy with the shape. When you are indeed happy with the shape you want to cover the whole cake in a thin layer of buttercream using a small offset spatula. This is the crumb coat and will lock crumbs in so they don’t get into the final layer of buttercream. Now the cake needs to go into the fridge for an hour until it’s nice and cold and firm.

I’ve used a grass piping tip (a flat tip with loads of little holes in the front) to create the ‘needles’ on the tree. If you have an adapter for the piping tip use that in your piping bag as it stops it from breaking too easily. It’s a bit difficult to push the buttercream through the piping tip. If you don’t have an adapter for the tip only put a bit of buttercream in the piping bag at a a time to reduce the pressure on the bag. Give the piping bag a good shake after filling it up to get rid of air bubbles that might be trapped in there. Then, holding the piping bag at a 90 degree angle to the cake, pipe short bursts of buttercream all over the cake, creating the ‘needle’ look. I found that the piping bag gets a bit greasy and slippery from the buttercream and that the piping tip clogs up after a while so make sure to clean them every couple of minutes. When the whole cake is covered in buttercream put it back into the fridge for another hour.

To make the royal icing for the tree decorations combine egg white powder and icing sugar, then add vanilla extract and water and then whip the mixture for 6-8 minutes in a stand mixer, a bit longer with a hand mixer. It should get fluffy and form stiff peaks. Then divide it into 4 bowls and add different gel colours. Then prepare 4 piping bags with piping tips. I have used a very small round tip, two medium round tips and a medium sized star tip. I wanted to create yellow ‘tree lights’, so using the smallest piping tip, I’ve piped half round shapes in a spiral all the way down the tree. Then using the other tips I’ve piped big blobs all over the tree to make them look like baubles.

Finally we need to add the star to the tree. Take the skewer out of the star and push it into the top of the cake. Then slot the dried fondant stars into each other, you can use a bit of yellow royal icing to make sure that they stick together. Then add more yellow royal icing around the tip of the skewer and gently push the fondant star back onto the skewer.

And that’s it. Done. Finito.

This was a very exhausting blog post. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!!

x Leo

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