Sumptuous pecan and ginger-laced sponge cake, perfectly crisp gingerbread, delicate, and twinkling meringue feathers.
It doesn’t get more lavish than this spectacular swan cake. Two and a half hours of prep time isn’t for the faint of heart, though this cake takes a fraction of the baking time than a cake made using a traditional Christmas cake recipe. Plus, it doesn’t need to be made months in advance or be doused regularly in brandy. This substantial showstopper will feed 24 people. At 756 calories a slice, it’s an indulgent cake – but it is Christmas, after all.
For the cake base
- 300g (10oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 300g (10oz) soft light brown sugar
- 6 large eggs, beaten
- 150g (5oz) pecans, toasted and chopped
- 300g (10oz) self-raising flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- 45g (11⁄2oz) stem ginger in syrup, chopped, plus 2tbsp syrup
For the buttercream
- 500g (1lb 2oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 1kg (21⁄4lb) icing sugar
- 8tbsp rum
For the gingerbread biscuit
- 100g (31⁄2oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 100g (31⁄2oz) soft light brown sugar
- 75g (21⁄2oz) golden syrup
- 325g (11oz) plain flour
- 1⁄4tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1⁄2tbsp ground ginger
- 1⁄2tsp mixed spice
- 1 small egg
For the meringue
- 4 egg whites
- 250g (9oz) caster sugar
- Edible glitter
For the royal icing
- 45g (11⁄2oz) egg whites
- 300g (10oz) icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
You will also need
- 3 x 20cm (8in) cake tins, greased and lined with baking parchment
- Piping bag with a small nozzle
- Heat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until pale in colour. Add the eggs a little at a time then fold in the pecans, flour, baking powder, and ginger with its syrup. Divide between the tins and bake for 30 mins, until risen and springy. Remove from the oven, cool in the tins for two minutes, then cool on a wire rack.
- For the buttercream, use a mixer or an electric whisk to beat the butter with the icing sugar and rum. Place a tea towel over the top so that the icing sugar is contained.
- Place the cakes on a board and layer them up with the buttercream, reserving the remainder. Put the cake in the fridge to chill. Leave the leftover buttercream out at room temperature but cover.
- While the cake is chilling, make the gingerbread. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a pan then allow to cool slightly. Combine with the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices. Beat in the egg until all combined. Chill the dough for 20 mins.
- Heat the oven to 200C/Gas 6 and roll the dough to a thickness of 3mm, then cut out a 30cm (12in) long head and neck. Bake for 10 mins and allow to cool.
- For the meringue, heat the oven to 110C/Gas 1⁄4. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then add the sugar gradually while whisking, until the meringue is thick and glossy. Line a few baking trays with baking parchment, then spoon dollops of the mixture onto the trays, using a palette knife to spread them out to create ‘feathers’. Make sure they’re not too thin or they’ll crack – keep the thickness to at least 1mm. Sprinkle with glitter and place in the oven for two hours until dry. Allow to cool, then peel from the tray using a palette knife.
- For the royal icing, mix the egg whites and icing sugar for five mins, until smooth. Put the icing into a piping bag and draw the outlines of the swan head onto the gingerbread biscuit. Carefully smooth any mistakes with a damp clean paintbrush. Allow to set for 10 mins. Water down the icing sugar with 1-2tsp of water so it’s a pouring consistency. Spoon onto the neck and body, avoiding the beak and crown. Use a spoon to tease it into the corners, pop any bubbles with a cocktail stick, then sprinkle with a little glitter. Allow to dry for about 30 mins until the icing is set hard.
- To finish the cake, remove it from the fridge and cut a wedge-shaped piece from one side, as well as a slit for the neck. Trim the rounded side off the piece to create a triangle. Put the main cake and the triangle onto the serving plate at the back to create a heart shape. Cover the entire cake with the leftover buttercream.
- Press the neck into the slit in the cake. Starting from the back, gently push the meringue feathers onto the buttercream, overlapping until you reach the front.
Top tips for making this swan cake
The gingerbread recipe will make more than you need. Use different shaped cutters to make biscuits to give as edible gifts or put a hole in them before baking so you can hang them on your tree.
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Rose Fooks is Deputy Food Editor at Future Publishing, creating recipes, reviewing products and writing food features for a range of lifestyle and home titles including GoodTo and Woman&Home. Before joining the team, Rose obtained a Diplome de Patisserie and Culinary Management at London’s Le Cordon Bleu. Going on to work in professional kitchens at The Delaunay and Zedel.
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