It’s Mandi here with a holiday cake idea for you to try! Getting creative with sweets is part of the fun of holiday season, but the fun isn’t just limited to Christmas cookies. I made my daughter Lucy a teddy bear cake for her first birthday using this Martha Stewart guide, and it was so enjoyed by my chocolate-loving family that I thought I’d do something similar for Christmas time. This time around I created my own template for a tree-shaped cake and used chocolate ganache sprinkled with nonpareils to make it extra festive. Check out my instructions below to see how you can make your own!
What you need:
1 9×13 cake (I used chocolate)
1 batch of frosting (I used a can of store bought dark chocolate frosting)
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup of heavy cream
nonpareils or white sprinkles
spoon or whisk
template (part one and part two)
do not resize or scale to fit for printing)
wax paper or parchment paper
Begin by baking your cake and allowing it to completely cool. You can bake it the night before if you’re concerned about timing. Then, cut out the pieces of the cake template. And as you cut them, lay them in their places on top of the cooled 9×13 cake before you forget where they go! (But don’t worry: If you forget, you can just refer to the images in this post.)
When the pieces are in place, use a bread knife to cut out the cake, but make sure you leave the papers in place, so you know how to arrange them into the tree shape. Refer to the image below to match up your cake pieces. They will fit together to make two trees, one large and one small. Piece #7 gets flipped upside down, and you can use the little scrap pieces to fill in any large gaps. Don’t worry about small gaps or uneven pieces, because those can be filled with frosting.
Before frosting the cakes, find a serving tray that will fit both of the cakes, or one platter for each cake. Cutting a piece of foam board works nicely, and is inexpensive. I flipped a serving tray upside down for my cakes, but a 12×17 jelly roll pan works great for the larger tree, and will give you an excuse to keep the smaller tree cake all for yourself! After finding a serving tray, cut out small pieces of wax or parchment paper to place underneath and around the cake to keep the tray clean while frosting the cake. Then place the pieces of the trees onto the paper and get ready to “glue” them together with frosting.
I used a generous amount of frosting for the areas that were really uneven, and barely used any frosting for the higher points of the cake. You don’t need to frost in between each piece, just coating the top and sides of the cake will do. Be careful not to spread around too many crumbs on the sides of the cake which have cut edges. If you want your presentation to be super pristine, or if you’re skipping the ganache, you should refrigerate the cake after one coat of frosting, and then apply a second coat of frosting after the first layer has cooled. The first step is called a crumb-coat, because it traps all of the crumbs and makes it easier to get a neat finish with the second layer.
I decided I didn’t need a crumb coat for two reasons- One, I didn’t have enough frosting. Oops! And two, I figured the ganache would cover up most of the imperfections. And it did. Whew!
Before applying the ganache, be sure to remove the paper from underneath the cake or you might ruin the look of the ganache when pulling out the paper. I learned this the hard way and had to refrigerate my cake and then use a knife to gently separate the ganache from the paper.
To make the ganache, I followed Ina Garten’s chocolage ganache recipe, skipping the instant coffee and adding an extra half batch to allow for plenty of ganache for each cake. For a double boiler, I set a tempered glass bowl on top of a pan of simmering water on the stove and added to it the crumbled chocolate cream, stirring until it reached a smooth consistency. Then I poured the ganache over the cake and spread it out with a frosting knife, taking it just to the edges of the cake so that it would drip beautifully down the sides.
It’s helpful to only do one cake at a time when coating with ganache, because you’ll have to quickly add the nonpareils before the chocolate sets up. When sprinkling the nonpareils, you may want to fill the small lid of your sprinkle jar instead of pouring directly from the entire container, or you may accidentally dump too many sprinkles and ruin the finish of the ganache when trying to fix your mistake. Just start with a small amount of sprinkles and increase until you get the look you want.
I love the elegance of the ganache finish and nonpareils, but if you want to make this project a little more fun, you could just leave a simple frosting finish and decorate the tree with a variety of candy and piped frosting for garland and ornaments! And since the template creates two cakes, you can make one to take to a party, and one to keep at home.
Happy baking! –Mandi
Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson