From traditional Christmas cake ideas to quirky fondant figures, our easy Christmas cake decorations, recipes, and designs are sure to inspire.
Once you've made your favourite Christmas cake recipe, it's time to get decorating. There are plenty of easy cake decorating ideas to try at home and we've rounded up the best Christmas cake designs from snowmen to Christmas trees, from penguins to Frozen's Olaf.
"Decorating a Christmas cake is a lovely family tradition to start and you can have a lot of fun. Whether you choose to top the cake with iced gingerbread or to make decorations from fondant icing, the options are endless," says Senior Food Writer Jessica Ransom. "One of my favourite techniques is to use a cookie cutter to remove a portion of the icing. You then fill this with colourful sprinkles. It makes a little mess when cutting the cake but it's very simple and attractive on the eye."
The majority of these designs were created in Goodto's Test Kitchen by a range of qualified food experts. This includes an impressive Swan cake made by Deputy Food Editor, Rose Fooks. Rose has a Diplome de Patisserie and Culinary Management so certainly knows a thing or two about impressive bakes. There is also a showstopping polar bear cake made by Bake Off The Professionals contestant Keiron George, and a simple festive chocolate cake from Bake Off winner Frances Quinn.
Christmas cake ideas and decorations
1. Mary Berry’s Christmas Cake
Serves: 12-15 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 4 hr 30 min
What Mary Berry doesn’t know about making a Christmas cake isn’t worth knowing. Ideally, make this sherry-infused classic at least 3 weeks in advance for the best taste – if a fruit cake is too fresh, it crumbles, so this forward planning will make for a more moist bake and give time for the flavours to infuse. Mary tops her cake with royal icing and festive decorations, which you can freestyle on according to who your cake is appealing to.
Top tip: “This is a perfect Christmas cake for a beginner as it doesn’t require a stand mixer or anything fancy. The only thing this recipe needs is time as you need to feed the cake sherry,” says expert baker Naomi Boles from Boles Bakery.
Get the recipe: Mary Berry's Christmas cake recipe
2. Easy Christmas cake recipe
Serves: 14-21 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 3 hr 15 min
An excellent choice if you’re time poor, it doesn’t compromise on taste, but saves the faff of all that soaking of ingredients, thanks to the cheat’s hack of adding a jar of mincemeat into the mix. The rule is still that the cake should be made as far ahead of time as possible, before you cover it with marzipan and icing. Tie a festive ribbon around it, pop on some festive decs, and it’s good to go. Pop the kettle on, will you?
Top tip: “This a great recipe for beginner’s and adding mincemeat gives it a twist from the traditional Christmas cake and cuts down some of the soaking time,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Easy Christmas cake recipe
3. Gingerbread cake with brandy buttercream
Serves: 10-14 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1 hr 30 min
An excellent choice for those not particularly partial to a fruit cake (and there are many that walk among us), gingerbread and brandy are still marvellously festive flavours. Top with festive fruits such as cranberries, dried apricots, glace cherries and orange peel, or add nuts – chopped hazelnuts are a winner here. It could also be cutely accessorised by some mini gingerbread people. A delight.
Top tip: “This is a showstopping cake that still has Christmas-y flavours without the long wait of traditional Christmas cake. To make it easier to stack the cake layers, wrap them in cling film or foil and chill for 30 minutes first,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Gingerbread cake with brandy buttercream
4. Jolly Santa Christmas cake
Serves: 14-21 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1 hr
Using one of our fruitcake recipes, such as Easy Christmas cake, this jolly, smiling Santa face is an excellent topping choice if a) you want your bake to appeal to young kids and b) you’re partial to a spot of fondant work. And even if you aren’t, let us hold your hand through it with this easy step-by-step picture recipe using ready-to-roll fondant.
Top tip: “This cake is really on trend at the moment, with cartoon style cakes being featured in lots of bakeries. A tip for working with fondant is to knead it until it is really pliable, this will make it much easier to use,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Santa cake
5. Christmas present cake
Serves: 20 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 5 hours
Filled with pistachio, clementine, plenty of nuts and a dash of rum, this quirky Christmas present cake is a tasty twist on a traditional fruit cake recipe. The marble effect on the fondant is pretty easy to achieve and making your own marzipan, with the unusual addition of our favourite nut, the pistachio, is definitely worth the time and effort. You will need a bit of time on your hands though, so save it for a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Top tip: “This is a great cake for an amateur to fondant. The simple shape and marble effect make it a good first project,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Christmas present cake
6. Polar bear Christmas cake
Serves: 18 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 5 hr 30 min
The adorable polar bear Christmas cake is a serious show-stopper. Those shards of ice sure look tricky to master, but they’re actually made from melted Fox’s Glacier Mints. Who knew? You’ll also be in need of some blue food colouring, and to either get your hands on a polar bear (not a literal one, they wouldn’t quite fit on top of a cake), or to fashion one yourself from fondant, if that sort of thing is in your baking skill set. A definite talking point.
Top tip: “This is a fun cake to decorate with kids over the Christmas holidays as the icing shouldn’t look perfectly smooth,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Polar bear cake
7. Three trees Christmas cake
Serves: 14-21 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 20 mins
Using either sugar paste or coloured marzipan (we’d go marzipan for flavour), these cute trees on top of the royal icing on a Christmas cake are super effective, and can be decorated with little stars and baubles. Use a Christmas tree cookie cutter, or just draw a design on a piece of card and cut around it. A design that will appeal to kids and grown ups in equal measure.
Top tip: “This cake is ideal for someone who has used fondant once or twice before to get a nice smooth surface for the trees to sit on. Let the kids decorate a tree each to make the cake really personal,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Christmas tree cake
8. Swan Christmas cake
Serves: 24 | Skill level: Difficult | Total time: 5 hr 10 mins
Isn’t this quite something? Worthy of a Bake Off showstopper, this swan is a proper talking point. A light sponge made with stem ginger and pecans and a rum buttercream, the feathers are made from meringue and the swan’s classically elegant neck and head is fashioned from gingerbread. One for confident bakers only, we feel.
Top tip: “This is a showstopper cake that would be best for a more experienced baker and decorator with some time due to the cake, two icings, meringue and gingerbread components,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Swan cake
9. Snowflake Christmas cake
Serves: 14-21 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 20 mins
This simple snowflake design is great for Christmas cake beginners. Using white sugar paste and silver dragées (or sugar pearls to you and me), you’ll need to get your hands on some snowflake cookie cutters to perfect this simple, chic, crowd-pleasing topper, which could be used on a sponge of any flavour, if fruit cake isn’t your bag.
Top tip: “The use of stencils and sprinkles can make this simple cake look great with little effort. A tip for using fondant is to sprinkle cornflour or icing sugar on the surface, rolling pin and your hands before working with the fondant,” says Naomi Boles
Get the recipe: Snowflake Christmas cake
10. Chocolate cake with tiramisu cream
Serves: 10-12 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 30 mins
We don’t always associate chocolate cake with Christmas (though frankly, we think chocolate cake should be associated with all things), but this one feels more festive than most with the addition of amaretto or brandy, in the sponge and the coffee and mascarpone filling. It’s also gluten free, and an excellent choice if you shy away from fancy decor – with a simple icing sugar dusted star atop.
Top tip: “A naked cake is a good choice for a beginner. To make it look a bit neater, try piping the filling in the middle rather than spreading it,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the the recipe: Chocolate cake with tiramisu cream
11. Malteser Christmas Pudding Cake
Serves: 12 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 1 hr 5 min
For all those Christmas cake and Christmas pud non-believers out there, this is a brilliant alternative, fashioned on the look of a traditional pudding. It’s booze free, so you can give the brandy a rest, and the kids will be thrilled, plus it’s easy and quick, so ideal if you haven’t planned far enough ahead for the more trad bakes. Covered in Maltesers, drizzled with melted white choc and sprinkled with red edible glitter, it’s a great one to serve after Christmas dinner with or without a drizzle of cream.
Top tip: “This is a really fun cake that comes together in one bowl and is very easy to decorate, a perfect cake to bake with little ones,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Maltesers Christmas pudding cake
12. Rudolph cake
Serves: 15 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 20 min
Super cute, and appealing to kids, this topper works well with a classic fruit cake (you could even buy one if you haven’t the time to make). You’ll need coloured fondant and some reindeer cookie cutters, and, essentially, some Smarties or M&Ms to give them their noses – one of which should, naturally, be a Rudolph red.
Top tip: “A fun and simple way to decorate a Christmas cake. To make it even easier for beginners, purchase the marzipan and fondant ready rolled,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Rudolph Christmas cake
13. Red velvet peppermint cake
Serves: 10 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 35 mins
A break with tradition, and a welcome change from the more formal royal icing, this bake is topped with a rougher, snow scene effect, thanks to ready-made cream cheese frosting, mixed with a few drops of peppermint essence. Candy canes are one of the most simple and effective decorations, and fondant snowmen are another great way to appeal to the kiddies. Not that they need any persuasion, because who doesn’t love a good festively-hued red velvet cake?
Top tip: “This is a great cake that breaks away from the traditional, and perfect for those short on time,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Red velvet Peppermint cake
14. Igloo Christmas cake
Serves: 12-15 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 4 hr
Seriously adorable, this igloo bake is a wonderful choice if you’re nifty with the old fondant. Using a classic Christmas cake baked in a Pyrex bowl or shaped cake tin to create the igloo shape, get to work with the sugar paste to create the snow bricks and the super cute penguins. Displaying it on a raised cake stand, decorated with white felt, cut to give an icicle effect, then sit back and enjoy those compliments.
Top tip: “This cake is great for someone with fondant experience. It is a little fiddly in parts, but the igloo cake looks very impressive,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Igloo Christmas cake
15. Mini Christmas cakes
Serves: 12 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 45 mins
Far lighter than a trad festive fruit cake, these bite-sized minis can be made close to the big day and served as part of your Boxing Day buffet, or as dessert canapes, or just with a nice cup of tea and a sit down. Top with icing and a glace cherry, a pecan, or some dried fruit, like apricots.
Top tip: “These mini Christmas cakes are ideal for individual puddings on Christmas day and they don’t require any soaking or feeding so can be made the night before,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Mini Christmas cakes
16. Pick and mix chocolate and sweet cake
Serves: 8 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 1 hr 5 min
Give these brilliant chocolate cake topper ideas a Christmas makeover – add anything from choc orange segments to broken up Matchmakers, or make it more adult, with chopped Brazil nuts or chopped After Eight or Elizabeth Shaw mints. There are no rules, just whatever is your festive fancy.
Top tip: “This is a super cake for those with an especially sweet tooth. Swap out the sweets and chocolate for more festive treats like Terry’s Chocolate Orange or Quality Streets,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Pick and mix chocolate and sweet cake
17. Modern Christmas cake
Serves: 12 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1 hr
Ooh lala, doesn’t this look terribly classy and impressive? The pleats are all individual triangles of royal Icing that you layer around your Christmas fruit cake. Going for gold with the candles and ribbon is tres chic, though they could be switched for silver, and you could add pops of colour using holly instead of ivy, or even a few sprigs of mistletoe.
Top tip: “This cake looks beautiful but is not as tricky as it looks. To keep the uniformity of the cake, use a template for each rectangle,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Modern Christmas cake
18. Red velvet Christmas cake
Serves: 12-15 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 2 hr
This delicious twist on Christmas cake is gluten free and adds some non-trad elements, such as beetroot in the mix, giving the cake a brighter hue, and helping avoid a dry bake. The cranberries, port and almonds bring classic festive flavours, and it’s all topped with royal icing, thought you could swap this for a rougher cream cheese frosting, if that’s more to your taste.
Top tip: “While not a traditional cake, this twist on a red velvet cake makes it seasonal with mixed spice and dried fruits added. It’s also very easy to decorate with royal icing to look like a snowy landscape,” says Naomi Boles.
Get the recipe: Red velvet Christmas cake