Eunice Power - Outside Catering Company, Waterford, Ireland.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas Baubles & Chocolate Christmas Cake

Article originally appeared in The Irish Times Sat Dec 1st 2012

Last year I shared my family Christmas cake recipe, a wonderful, rich cake, traditionally decorated with almond paste and royal icing. This year I have decided to go in a different direction.

Sugarcraft is now a big business and one that I am not very familiar with. A traditionalist at heart, I had never used roll-out icing until a few days ago. But, inspired by a wedding cake I saw last summer, I decided to go down the route of making spherical cakes and decorating them as Christmas baubles.

I bought my tins online from They came in three sizes - small, medium and large so I bought two of each - my first Christmas purchase. Following on from that was a visit to Brennan's cook shop in Cork which is an Aladdin's cave of all things sugarcraft. It stocks specialist books, edible glitter and lustre sprays, gold dust, piping nozzles, multi-coloured sugar paste and silver, gold and pearl balls - all essentials in the baking cupboard for Christmas. They have a website,, but it isn't any substitute for a visit to the shop.

I experimented with various recipes, and came to the conclusion that a Madeira cake recipe worked best for the baubles, especially one with almonds, which gave the cakes a damper texture and longer life.

Once the cakes were cold I trimmed the uneven bits and stuck the two halves together with some butter icing. I then put them in the freezer for 20 minutes so the butter icing would set. When I took them out of the freezer, I trimmed off the excess icing that had oozed out so I had a perfect ball.

I then rolled out my block of icing, painted my ball with some warm apricot jam, said a prayer and proceeded to cover my first ball. It took a little time to get it all even. I used a palate knife to gently smooth out any lumps and bumps. A little patience is certainly required here.

I then made some royal icing, I used instant royal icing and used some liquid gold colouring to give it a festive colour. The addition of the colouring made the icing a little runny, so I added some icing sugar which made it firmer. I then piped the icing onto the balls; it got easier as I got more confident.

I used some pearl balls and other decorations to add bling and then went over them with some lustre spray. The end result is highly impressive, as you will see from the photograph. The piping, along with the spray, covered up any blemishes - the ultimate cosmetic camouflage palette for cakes.

I used a chocolate cake recipe for my cake balls, as I knew it would be a hit with my young sons, but feel free to experiment - a good lemon Madeira cake would work well. Just substitute 50g of ground almonds for flour if almonds are not already in the recipe and use regular flour, not self-raising.


For the cake, I used the following recipe. This is a great chocolate cake recipe to have in your arsenal - if making for other purposes use two 23cm round sandwich cake tins. It will take about 40 minutes to bake in those.

  • 185g butter, at room temperature (the butter should be as soft as face cream)
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 385g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 240g plain flour
  • 70g cocoa powder
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 250ml water
  • Butter cream icing
  • 60g soft butter
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 250g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas 4, and grease your tins. The cake is an all-in-one recipe, so just put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat with a K-beater, if you have an electric mixer, until well combined. Fill the tins almost to the top, the mix will rise a little in cooking. I found that I had to make sure my round tins stayed level in the oven so I nestled them in a bed of baking beans to keep them level. The cakes all took different times to cook. The small ones took 20 minutes, medium took about 30 minutes and the large ones about 45 minutes, you just have to keep an eye on them.

To make the butter cream icing place all the ingredient in a mixing bowl and beat with a K-beater until light and fluffy, about seven to 10 minutes.


For those who don't like traditional Christmas cake, and don't want to go on the Christmas bauble journey, try this super rich, chocolatey boozy version. My friend and neighbour Anike, a great baker herself, gave me the recipe at least a decade ago and I have been baking it ever since. The cake will last for at least a week, and it's best left for a day before eating to allow the flavours to develop. It's a great party cake, served with creme fraiche. The cake can be made in a 30cm cake tin or a similar size novelty cake tin. I use a Christmas tree shaped tin that is pulled out from the depths of my baking cupboard every Christmas.

  • 80g of sultanas soaked in 100mls of brandy overnight
  • 370g dark chocolate drops
  • 100mls of water
  • 215g butter and a little extra for greasing
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 95g plain flour, sieved
  • 135g ground almonds
  • Chocolate glaze
  • 135g chocolate
  • 55g butter

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas 4. Brush the base and sides of your tin with melted butter, and dust with flour. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and creamy. Melt the butter with the water in a saucepan over a gentle heat. When it is melted take it off the heat and stir in the chocolate. Keep stirring until the chocolate is melted. Fold the chocolate mixture into the beaten egg yolks and sugar, then fold in the flour and almonds, followed by the soaked sultanas and brandy.

Whisk the egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl until stiff, but not dry. Fold the egg whites into the cake mixture. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool in the tin and carefully turn the cake out on to a cooling rack.

For the glaze, melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. When melted, stir until smooth. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then spread evenly over the top of the cake. When the glaze has set, decorate with a Christmassy theme.

Photographs: Shane O'Neill
Food styling: Paula Ann Ryan