Monday, December 24, 2012

Gingerbread Cake Christmas Tree Centerpiece

Year after year, a gingerbread kit sat in my parents’ garage with all the Christmas ornaments and glittery garlands and other decorations, just waiting to be made.  That particular kit was for Santa’s sleigh and reindeer, and I was just dying to make it.

Every year, I’d ask my mom if we could make it, hoping she’d say yes, but it seemed there  was always a reason not to – it would be too messy, too time-consuming, too… something.  I was so disappointed.

Come to think of it, I’m not sure why I would have needed supervision to make it, since by that time I was at least 13 years old, and already able to cook and bake without any help.  And the gingerbread pieces in the kit were already baked, only needing to be assembled with the royal icing provided in the kit and then decorated.  I really don’t remember if we ever made it one year, or if it just got thrown away after collecting dust for so long.

One Christmas when I was in China, the university where I was teaching hosted a party, and my friend Jessica and I decided we would make a gingerbread house.  Of course, we had no access to any pre-made kits, and no knowledge or means of making homemade gingerbread, so we made do with what we had.  We bought bags of some kind of wafer cookies to use for the frame of the house, held together by peanut butter and frosting, and then decorated with whatever assorted candy we could find.  In the end, it was pretty cute, even though it wasn’t a true gingerbread house.  The night of the party was a freezing cold, terribly windy night – the wind coming off the sea from the harbor was intense and bone-chilling – and we barely managed to carry our cookie and candy creation from the apartment up to the school in one piece.

For our first Christmas together a few years ago, Jamie and I started our own tradition of making a gingerbread house from whatever little kits were available at the grocery store.  One of these years, I’m going to have to get creative and make/design my own, but I haven’t been brave enough for that yet.

This year, for a different spin on a gingerbread house, I thought I would make a tree instead out of layers of cake.  The cake could be any flavor, depending on what color you want it to be, but I used a spice cake mix.  It’s easily baked in a cookie sheet (one with sides) so that there’s more surface and a thinner layer to work with.  Using a small star cookie cutter I have for reference, I drew and cut out 6 stars, each one larger than the next.  I lay my paper star patterns on the cake, secured them with straight pins, and carefully cut each star with a sharp, non-serrated knife.  After removing the excess cake, the stars are simply stacked, to create a tree, secured by a wooden skewer down the center to keep the whole thing from toppling over while you decorate it.

The most fun part, of course, is the decorating.  I drizzled the whole thing with a basic royal icing, and before it set, garnished it with green, red and white M&Ms for “lights”.  Earlier that day I had decorated Christmas cookies to look like presents, and I placed those at the base of the tree, then topped it with two angel cookies, secured with more royal icing.  A little coconut sprinkled around the base and a generous dusting of powdered sugar “snow” all over gave it the wintery finish it needed.  Isn’t it pretty?

Although I didn’t go too crazy with the candy decorations, the possibilities for how this tree could be decorated are endless.  The tree is pretty dry within about 24 hours, and makes a beautiful and festive centerpiece for the table.  Of course it’s edible, but after it dries, I don’t really think you’d want to eat it anyway.

This is a Christmas tradition that I love, and one I hope to keep every year.

Merry Christmas!!

"Gingerbread" Cake Christmas Tree Centerpiece
(downloadable star templates for the cake are attached in the printable recipe)

  • 1 spice cake mix (plus oil, eggs and water called for on box)
  • wooden skewer
  • royal icing
  • assorted candy and cookies to decorate
  • shredded coconut and powdered sugar for snow
Mix up the cake mix according to the instructions on the box.  Pour into a greased baking sheet with sides (my baking sheets measure 10 1/2 x 16 12 with 1-inch high sides, so you will need to use one at least this big in order to have enough surface to cut all the stars; you could use a slightly bigger one, but not too much bigger) and bake at 350 until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool.

Cut out the star templates and lay them out on the cake as demonstrated.  Secure with straight pins if needed.  Use a sharp, non-serrated knife to carefully cut along the outline of each star.

Starting with Star #1, carefully remove the excess cake from around the star, then use a wide spatula to pick up the star and place it on a cake board or cake pedestal.  Repeat with the remaining stars, stacking them largest to smallest (1-6).  Place the wooden skewer straight down the center of the cakes (to keep it from toppling while you decorate it) and trim the end of the skewer with wire cutters.

Drizzle the cake with royal icing, and decorate with candy and cookies before the icing sets.  The presents around the bottom are cookies that I decorated, as well as the angels at the top, which are held in place with royal icing.

Sprinkle coconut around the base of the cake and then generously dust everything with powdered sugar.  Set aside to dry - the icing and cake will become dry and hard within about 24 hours.

Recipe and Design by Curly Girl Kitchen