As I’m writing this we are officially one week away from Christmas, and I cannot wait. Christmas is one of my absolute favorite holidays (isn’t it everyone’s?), and I am doing my best to to live the Christmas life 24/7. Decorations, music, movies. When I don’t have Hallmark Christmas movies on the TV, I’m watching the holiday season of Nailed It, or The Great British Baking Show Holidays (also on my list: the Christmas episode of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, ’cause my other favorite holiday is Halloween, of course). And in an effort to bring this holiday spirit into my own baking, I decided I needed to make a very merry Christmas-y treat to share with you all.
I am so in love with this cake, you guys. Inspired by Alana Jones-Mann’s buttercream wreath bundt cake and my love of buffalo plaid everything, this eggnog and cranberry cake is not only pretty spiffy looking, but also amazingly delicious. I used the Liv for Cake Spiked Eggnog Cake (minus the rum), and used the cream cheese frosting with nutmeg recipe that accompanies it, but instead of just filling it with frosting, I decided I needed a little tart with my sweet, and made a cranberry curd filling that I pulled from David Tanis’s Cranberry Curd Tart on NYT Cooking. These two flavors together are everything. I highly recommend all three recipes.
Now, on to the decorations, I mean, that’s the best part of Christmas anyway, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s the presents. Either way, I think you’ll like this tutorial. I did have a hard time remembering to stop and take progress photos, and you’ll have to excuse the poor quality of those photos, but they get the point across.
Just for a little background, I had three 6-inch layers of cake. I spread a thin layer of cream cheese frosting on top of the first layer, piped a dam of frosting around the edge, then filled the middle with the cranberry curd, and repeated that between the second and third layer. Immediately after filling and stacking, I quickly smoothed the excess around the outside and popped the whole thing in the fridge for about ten minutes, just to firm up my frosting dams. I was a little concerned they’d get too soft, and I didn’t want my curd to seep out. I don’t know if that was a necessary step, but it seemed to help set the whole structure. Then I did my crumb coat, chilled it again, and then smoothed on my final layer of frosting. I left a little texture in my final coat, as this cake has a bit of a rustic feel to it.
I let my cake sit in the fridge overnight and finished it the next morning. You want the frosting to be firm enough to not be tacky, but not completely hard because you want a little something for the dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg to grab onto, so I let it sit out at room temperature for about fifteen or twenty minutes before starting my buffalo plaid. I mixed together equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg for sprinkling. You’ll also need a strainer, like the one in my picture, and three strips of parchment paper about 1 inch wide. If you have a paper trimmer, it comes in handy here for getting your strips straight.
To start, you’re going to lay your three strips evenly spaced across your cake vertically. They won’t stick, but carefully, smooth them out as much as possible. Make sure there is no chance of a sudden breeze coming through, or your strips will go flying. Then put your cinnamon nutmeg mixture in your strainer and gently dust it evenly over your cake. You don’t want to go too heavy at this point, because some areas of your plaid are going to get hit twice with the cinnamon and nutmeg and you want to be sure you can see a difference between those spots, and the spots that only get one dusting. Once you have a light, even layer, carefully lift off your strips, and you should see three clear lines of frosting.
Clean off your parchment strips, and turn your cake a quarter turn. Now lay your strips down again, perpendicular to your first set, and lightly dust over the cake a second time.
Again, you want to be careful about going too heavy here because you’ll lose the differentiation between squares. You can see I had this problem in a couple of areas, but, with the rustic vibe this cake has going, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Plus, some of it will get covered up with your Christmas greenery swag. Once you’ve done your second dusting, lift off your parchment strips, and unveil the beautiful plaid beneath.
Now it’s time to pipe your greenery. I stuck the cake back in the fridge while I colored my frosting, to keep it nice and chilled. I did not use the cream cheese frosting for this, as it would be too soft for piping. Instead, I used some Tiffany blue American Buttercream frosting left over from another cake. I divided it up into four bowls, and added some additional food coloring to get four different shades of green. I played around with different amounts of blue, yellow, brown, and sometimes orange, to make sure I had an array of shades that would play well off of each other. I used a grass tip and a small round tip for two of the colors, then I made my own leaf tips in two different sizes by snipping a narrow triangle into the corner of two different plastic baggies.
Once you have your piping bags filled, you can start piping. I started from where I wanted the ends of my swag to fall, and I began with the two different pine needle style greens. For the dark green, I used the grass tip, pressing down lightly, to make contact with the surface of the cake, and then dragging parallel to the cake, and letting the buttercream fall when I released. I then moved behind the first stroke, and started a new stroke, overlapping the first. I repeated this a few times for each branch.
For the lighter green pine needles, I used a small round tip and piped short strokes for the needles, starting from what would be the center of the branch and piping out. Then I piped the stem down the middle.
When you first start piping on your greenery, you may have some difficulties getting the buttercream to stick to the areas with cinnamon and nutmeg. You kind of have to just do your best, and play around with it a little bit. Once you have some branches on, you’ll start layering, and it will become easier.
After getting some of your pine needles piped on, you can start adding some leaves into the mix. I would pipe a couple leaves onto a napkin or something first to get a feel for how the leaf shape comes out, then move to your cake. Work on building up your layers from the ends, and then you can slowly start to work your way towards the middle of your swag. You want it to gently taper off from center to ends. And remember, any time you get a weird or wobbly part, you can just pipe some more greenery over it. It’s very forgiving that way.
The last step for me, was to add some sugared cranberries. Personally, I liked it with them concentrated towards the middle, and then more sporadic towards the ends, but you could space them more evenly, if you so desire. I agonized a little over how many to add, but I think I got it right in the end.
And there you have it. I really love the way this cake looks, and I hope you do too. Let me know if you try this out, I’d love to hear how it goes. Now, on to that Sabrina holiday special!