Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas cake in Japan (part 3 - marzipan+icing!)

Following on from the Christmas cake recipe post, you now have a beautiful, boozy fruitcake that you've been lovingly watering with brandy for a few weeks. The next steps are to marzipan and ice it to turn it into the traditional festive treat.

I have not been able to find marzipan in Japan yet (correction, now I have!), but it is quite easy to make. I tested out a raw egg version against a slightly cooked egg version, and the end results were very similar. I used about 700g of the cooked version and found it was quite enough to cover my 9 inch cake without being too stingy on the thickness.

Here's what you do when you've made your marzipan:
  • Roll out your marzipan in a large round to your desired thickness. Some recipes advise cutting out a piece the exact size of the top of your cake, and doing strips for the sides separately, but I went for the large circle to encompass the whole cake in one go. If your marzipan is sticky and hard to roll, try rolling it between two sheets of plastic wrap, it helps a lot!
  • Heat up a few tablespoons of apricot jam in a pan. This will make it runnier and easier to apply to the cake but most importantly it will kill any tiny spores of mold that might be forming in the jar, unbeknownst to you.
  • Place your fruitcake on a cake board or baking paper, with the bottom side facing up to create a nice flat surface for icing.
  • Add a little brandy to the jam and brush the warm 'glue' all over the top and sides of the cake. Give it plenty on the sides to avoid the marzipan dropping off when you're cutting the cake later.
  • Place the large round of marzipan over the top of the cake and gingerly smooth it down the sides, cutting off any excess that trails around the edges. Smooth it down nicely with your hands and press together any cracks that appear. Don't worry too much if you have to patch parts of it, the marzipan will be completely covered by icing later.
  • Put the cake somewhere cool and dry for a few days, up to a week, so that the marzipan can dry out completely. If you skip this drying stage then the oil from the almond powder can discolour your icing, apparently. I laid a piece of baking paper loosely over the top to stop it getting dusty.


While the marzipan is drying out you have a week to look around for ornaments for the top of the cake. :) Once it's dry, you'll be covering the cake with icing. You can use fondant icing if you like, which is a rollable gummy kind of icing that doesn't get too hard, even when on the cake. In the UK you can buy this ready made and just roll it out to fit your cake. I haven't yet found it in Japan, but I preferred the sound of using home made traditional royal icing anyway, and set my mind on doing a rough snow scene of a cake with swirls and peaks. Royal icing is made with icing sugar, whipped egg whites and lemon juice. Most recipes call for adding some glycerine to stop the icing from drying too hard, but I was unable to get hold of food-quality glycerine in time for the cake. Any Japanese pharmacy sells a form of glycerine intended for external use, but I understand that this is not of the quality you'd want to be putting in your food. Next time I'll try ordering online in advance.

Making the icing was a bit intimidating but it all came together easily enough, following the recipe and whipping with a hand mixer on slow speed as the consistency gradually stiffened with the whipping and adding of sugar. Slapping the icing on the cake was also huge fun, and although I found a rubber spatula easier to use than the traditional pallet knife, I found it was difficult to make it look too bad whatever I did.

Two things I would advise perhaps: if you're adding a tiny bit of blue food colouring to make your white dazzling bright, as many royal icing recipes confide, do add just a tiny, tiny amount at a time and mix it in completely. Also, though slapping and swirling the icing on is fun, when I do it again I'm probably going to make my icing layer slightly thinner - The top layer of the icing dried out overnight, but to my initial horror it was still marshmallow-like under that crisp shell when we excitedly cut our first slice. Patience prevailed and a few (4) days later the whole thing was completely dry. Solid! It's really quite hard to cut through the icing layer without parts of it shattering, and I think the glycerine would have helped there along with the icing being a slightly thinner layer.

Over all though, it's a great success. It tastes just like it should, the cake is wonderfully moist and doesn't taste too boozy despite the regular and generous brandy feedings, you can taste the marzipan, and the fresh royal icing tastes fantastic, even if it does come in bits. I took a few slices to a party recently and it was very warmly received. With a 9 inch cake I'll be giving slices away for some time to come!

Here's the finished product:

Decorations from Roppongi Hills German Christmas market, Nissin + the 100 yen shop
And here's the inside.

Merry Christmas!

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