Gingerbread man Christmas cake
Christmas cake with a difference. I’ve embraced the cut out technique using an actual gingerbread man cutter. Feel free to use one large gingerbread man or, depending on the size of your cake, a mix. I prefer to keep my gingerbread men looking quite classic, but decorate them however you like. Coloured sweet buttons and candy canes are both popular choices.
Equipment and preparation: You will need gingerbread man cutters of various sizes and a piping bag.
Put the mixed dried fruit and cranberries in a bowl. Using kitchen scissors, snip the prunes, dates and figs into small pieces, removing any stalks, and drop into the bowl. Add the brandy and orange zest and juice, and stir well to combine. Cover the bowl with a shower cap, clingfilm or plate and leave to soak in a cool place for at least 12 hours or, even better, 2 days.
When you’re ready to make the cake, grease and line a 20cm/8in round loose-bottomed tin and preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4.
Spread the nuts on a baking tray and toast, checking frequently to be sure they don’t burn, for 5–10 minutes or until fragrant (you can skip the toasting, but it really brings out their flavour). Cool, then chop the nuts – I like them relatively chunky to contrast with the fruit. Turn the oven down to 140C/120C Fan/Gas 1.
Using a hand-held electric whisk (it’s tricky to beat this small quantity in a free-standing mixer), beat together the butter and sugar for 5–10 minutes or until very light and creamy. Beat in the treacle or syrup, if using. Gradually add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour and spice into the mixture and fold in. Finally, stir through the soaked fruit, with any liquid left in the bowl, and the chopped nuts.
Spoon the mixture into your prepared tin and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon dipped in hot water. Bake for 2¼–2½ hours or until the cake is firm to the touch and a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean. Set the tin on a wire rack. If you want to ‘feed’ the cake, leave it to cool for about 15 minutes, then prick the top all over with a cocktail stick or skewer, going about 3cm deep. Brush over about 1 tablespoon of brandy. Leave to soak in while the cake is cooling. Once the cake is cold, remove from the tin and wrap in fresh baking parchment, if you like, and then in foil before storing in an airtight tin or container for at least 5 days before eating. You can repeat the feeding process weekly for up to 5 weeks.
When you’re ready to finish the cake, gently heat the apricot jam and spread over the surface of the cake. Roll out the marzipan to about the thickness of a pound coin and cover the whole cake. Roll out the fondant icing to the same thickness and cover the cake completely, pressing down to smooth it out.
Place your gingerbread man cutter/s on to the surface of your fully iced cake according to your desired arrangement. Press your cutter/s through the fondant and marzipan layers and remove the icing with the cutter still inserted to help give a cleaner outline. Add the gingerbread man features to the cut out shape using either cut out and shaped pieces of white fondant or fondant water icing placed in a piping bag. Marzipan shapes and sweets can be added on to an around your gingerbread man shapes for extra decoration.