One Christmas cake, three ways

Want to create a showstopping Christmas cake but don't want to put in the hours required to make your own traditional fruit cake? Here is a guide to creating a beautiful cake - whether that's a sophisticated masterpiece, something for the kids or a traditional snow scene - using a shop-bought cake as your base.

  1. Penguin Ski slope Christmas cake

    RFO MAIN 472x310 Penguin Ski Slope

    Featuring skiing penguins kids are sure to love this fun twist on the classic Christmas cake.

    1. Heat the jam in a small saucepan until bubbling. Set aside to cool slightly. Place the cake upside down on a chopping board. Starting just over halfway across the top of the cake, cut diagonally through the cake to the bottom edge to make 2 wedges. Brush the top of the larger piece of cake with a little jam, then line up the smaller piece on top to create a steep slope. Transfer to cake stand or serving board and brush the whole cake with the rest of the jam.

    Step 3 2. Knead the marzipan briefly, then dust your work surface with icing sugar and roll the marzipan into a large oval, 5mm thick. Drape the marzipan over the cake, then smooth down with your hands. Trim the edges, use the off-cuts to patch up any gaps. Loosely cover with clingfilm and set aside for 24 hrs to harden.

    3. The next day, stir the royal icing to loosen. Starting on the slope of the cake, spread the icing with a palette knife until the whole cake is evenly covered. Use the back of a spoon to create peaks and to smooth out a ski track in the middle of the cake.

    Step 4 4. Push 6 cocktail sticks into the cake at the sides of the ski track where you want to add trees, leaving 2cm exposed. Divide the green icing into 6 unequal pieces and shape into cones. Remove cocktail sticks from the cake and insert into the base of a tree and use scissors to cut branches, starting at the top and rotating as you cut. Carefully slot the tree on its cocktail stick back into the hole in the cake. Once in place, pinch the top of the tree into a point. Repeat with the remaining trees.

    Step 6 5. To make the penguins, take two thirds of the black icing and divide into 3 small and 3 large balls for the heads and bodies. Use a little water to attach each head to a body, then make flippers by rolling the remaining black icing into 6 balls and pinching into shape. Fix to the sides of each penguin body with water.

    6. Roll the white icing into 3 small and 3 large balls and flatten into circles. With a little water, stick the larger pieces onto each penguin’s tummy. Cut a small triangle from the smaller circles and fix, indent up, with water to make the face of each penguin. Add the eyes by pressing a cocktail stick through the white faces to the black fondant and wiggling gently to enlarge the hole. Make triangles and ovals out of the orange icing and attach to each penguin for a beak and feet.

    RFO MAIN 472x310 Penguin Ski Slope7. Dress the penguins with red fondant accessories, such as hats, scarves or ear muffs, then arrange them on the ski track and board, use cocktail sticks to keep them in place if necessary. To finish, scatter the sugar snowflakes onto the ski slope and around the cake board, then sift icing sugar over the penguins and trees to create a snowy look. Remove the cocktail sticks before eating. 

  2. Meringue kisses Christmas cake

    RFO MAIN 472x310 Candy Cane Meringue

    A sophisticated cake topped with meringue kisses is the perfect way to end your festive dinner party.

    1. Preheat the oven to gas ¼, 110°C, fan 90°C. In a very clean bowl, whisk the egg white to stiff peaks. Add the caster sugar, 1 tsp at a time, whisking well after each addition. Once the sugar has been incorporated, continue to whisk until the meringue is smooth and glossy in appearance.

    2. Secure nonstick baking paper to 2 baking trays with a little meringue mix under each corner. Fit a disposable piping bag with a star-tipped nozzle, then trim the bag to 10cm in length.

    3. Using a small paintbrush, brush thin lines of food colouring inside the bag. Spoon 2 tbsp meringue into the bag; carefully push down until it reaches the end of the nozzle. Pipe small rosettes (5mm-2cm) onto the baking paper, 2cm apart, until the bag is empty.

    4. Using a round-tipped nozzle and a fresh piping bag striped with food colouring, repeat with more meringue. Finally, in a clean bag without any food colouring, pipe plain kisses with the round tip, then a star tip. Bake until the meringues come away cleanly from the paper. The smaller kisses will bake faster than larger ones, so check after 1 hr, remove meringues that are done, then return the trays to the oven for another 10 mins and check again. Transfer the cooked meringues to a wire rack to cool.

    5. Put the cake upside down on a stand. Stir the frosting, then use a palette knife to spread it all over the cake. Top two thirds of the cake with kisses. Cover the undecorated part with baking paper while you crumble over extra meringue and dust with glitter. Remove the paper to serve.

  3. Snowy forest Christmas cake

    RFO MAIN 472x310 Forest

    For those who want to create something more traditional, this snowy forest cake is a simple option.

    1. Put the cake on a board and cover with jam and marzipan as per step 2 of the penguin cake, rolling out the marzipan to a circle rather than an oval. Leave for 24 hrs to harden.

    2. Meanwhile, beat the egg white in a bowl with a fork until frothy, and scatter the caster sugar on a plate. Trim 5 rosemary sprigs to varying lengths, then dip into the egg white, stalk first. Allow the excess egg white to drip off, then roll in the sugar and place on a baking tray lined with nonstick baking paper. Leave to dry for at least 1 hr or overnight.

    3. Put the royal icing in a bowl, stir to loosen, then spoon on top of the cake. Use a palette knife to spread the icing over the top to a thickness of 1cm, then ease it down the sides to provide a thin covering of about 3mm. Using a cake smoother or palette knife, smooth around the sides in one continuous movement, turning the cake board as you go. Use the back of a spoon to create peaks.

    4. Push the frosted rosemary sprigs upside down into the icing to make trees. Scatter the nuts around the base of the trees and sieve a little icing sugar over the top to resemble snow. Remove the rosemary before eating.