Fun

Check Out this Amazing Xmas Tree Cake Recipe By the Dad Behind "Preppy Kitchen"

We're thrilled to be working with John Kanell, the gay dad behind the popular "Preppy Kitchen" account, to bring you some amazing holiday recipes! First up: learn how to "paint with buttercream" in this incredible Christmas Tree Cake recipe

My husband and I love entertaining during the holidays, and a great cake is often the focal point for our gatherings. For this Christmas Tree Cake, I made a spicy gingerbread batter for the layers and piped a two-tone swirl of Italian meringue buttercream in between each layer. The red batch is spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, and cloves, while the white part is a mellow vanilla flavor. For those who don't know, Italian meringue buttercream is creamy, less sweet than your average frosting and PERFECT for cake decorating as it's quite smooth. I "painted" the tree on with a pallet knife and dusted it with confectioner's sugar for a snowy effect. My twin boys were mesmerized by the process as they watched from their highchairs. Maybe next year they'll be able to help out!



How Do You Paint with Buttercream?

This Christmas tree cake is fluffy, moist and has ALL the holiday spices you could ever desire. I wrapped it in the smoothest buttercream ever and added a whimsical red and white swirl inside. I spiced the red buttercream but you could add spices to the other batches too!

  • Using a pallet knife to apply buttercream and create an image with depth and character is actually pretty easy.
  • Chill the cake first. It's much easier to work on a stable surface.
  • Draw a quick sketch of your tree using a toothpick or skewer to serve as a guide.
  • Practice on a plate first so you can get used to how much buttercream to add you your knife and how to swipe it on to simulate the look of pine tree branches.
  • If you mess up it's pretty easy to remove mistakes with a small knife and start over.
  • remember to apply the buttercream with the tip of your knife then swipe up to create that depth. there's a flick of the wrist involved.

If you find cake decorating to be a bit intimidating then check out my How to Decorate a Cake post, it has lots of helpful tips and a full how to video.

DON'T let Italian meringue buttercream intimidate you!! It's so much easier than you think! If you haven't made it before check out my How to Make Italian Buttercream post. It has a FULL how to video and should answer all of your questions.

Steps to Making the Christmas Tree Cake

This Christmas tree cake is fluffy, moist and has ALL the holiday spices you could ever desire. I wrapped it in the smoothest buttercream ever and added a whimsical red and white swirl inside. I spiced the red buttercream but you could add spices to the other batches too!

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour three 6″ cake pans. Use damp baking strips for even layers. You may have some leftover batter so prepare a cupcake tin with cupcake papers. Combine boiling water and baking soda in a medium bowl. Sift together the flour, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt into a large bowl.

2. Using a standing mixer with a whisk attachment beat the butter on high until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about two minutes.

3. Add the molasses, ginger, baking soda mixture, and flour mixture. Beat in the eggs. Divide the batter evenly between the three pans and bake from about 30-35. You'll have some left over batter. Use it to make a few cupcakes and bake them for about 15 – 20 minutes. Allow cake layers to cool in the pans for about 10 minutes then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

4. Beat the egg whites and ½ cup of sugar until soft peaks form. In a medium saucepan add the remaining 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water then place on low heat. Stir until sugar melts and becomes clear. Maintain at medium high heat until temperature reads 235-240F. Drizzle the sugar into the mixer immediately. Run mixer until merengue is cool/tepid. Add room temperature butter into running mixer one tablespoon piece at a time. Add the salt and vanilla. Beat until butter is combined and mixture has reached a silky consistency. Divide buttercream into 3 bowls (largest batch for the white buttercream, smaller amount for the red and smallest for the green.) Use red food coloring to get a desired deep red color for the swirl. Add spices, mix until combined, transfer to a piping bag and snip off the tip.

5. Transfer some plain white buttercream to a piping bag and snip off the tip. Add the red and white to a piping bag and snip off the tip. Pipe a red and white swirl between each layer.

6. Cover in plain white buttercream and smooth with an offset spatula and bench scraper.

7. Use the matcha powder, as well as black and brown gel food coloring to get a deep green tree color. Dye a tablespoon of the buttercream with cocoa powder or brown food coloring for the stump of the tree.

8. Smear on a layer of buttercream to a piece of parchment paper and freeze for about 5-10 minutes. Use an sharp knife to cut out a star shape. Free again. Add gold leaf to the star and transfer back to the freezer.

9. Sketch out a tree using a toothpick.

10. Use a palette knife to add layers of green to create a tree.

11. Transfer the rest of the red food coloring to a piping bag fitted with a small round tip. Pipe red ornaments on the tree.

12. Dust with confectioners sugar and apply the buttercream star using a small dollop of buttercream as glue.

Course Dessert

Cuisine American

Keyword Christmas cake, christmas dessert, christmas tree, holiday dessert

Prep Time 20 minutes

Cook Time 35 minutes

Total Time 55 minutes

Servings 10

Calories 263 kcal

Author John K.

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 1 2/3 cups all purpose flour 213g
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 200g
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda 1g
  • 1 tsp baking powder 3g
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter 176g, room temperature
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sour cream 120g
  • 1 tsp vanilla 5mL
  • 1/2 tsp peppermint extract, optional 2.5mL

For the Buttercream

  • 1 lb confectioners sugar 462g
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter 228g
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream 120mL
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 5mL

For the Christmas Trees & Frosting

  • 12 sugar cones
  • 2 lbs confectioners sugar 905g
  • 1 lb unsalted butter 454g
  • 1-2 tbsp milk or heavy cream 15-30mL
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 5mL
  • 20 drops green food coloring

Instructions

    For the Cake:

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour three 6" cake pans. Use damp baking strips for even layers. You may have some leftover batter so prepare a cupcake tin with cupcake papers.
    2. Combine boiling water and baking soda in a medium bowl.
    3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt into a large bowl.
    4. Using a standing mixer with a whisk attachment beat the butter on high until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about two minutes. Add the molasses, ginger, baking soda mixture, and flour mixture. Beat in the eggs.
    5. Divide the batter evenly between the three pans and bake from about 30-35. You'll have some left over batter. Use it to make a few cupcakes and bake them for about 15 - 20 minutes.
    6. Allow cake layers to cool in the pans for about 10 minutes then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

    For the Italian Buttercream:

    1. Beat the egg whites until foamy then add in a 1/4 tsp cream or tartar and slowly add ½ cup of sugar while the mixer is running. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form.
    2. In a medium saucepan add the remaining 1 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water then place on low heat.
    3. Stir until sugar melts and becomes clear.
    4. Maintain at medium high heat until temperature reads 235-240F.
    5. Drizzle the sugar into the mixer immediately.
    6. Run mixer until merengue is cool/tepid.
    7. Add room temperature butter into running mixer one tablespoon piece at a time.
    8. Add the salt and vanilla if using
    9. Beat until butter is combined and mixture has reached a silky consistency.
    10. Divide buttercream into three bowls. one for the white, one smaller batch for the red swirl and the smallest batch for the green tree
    11. Use red food coloring to get a desired deep red color for the swirl. Add spices, mix until combined, transfer to a piping bag and snip off the tip.
    12. Use the matcha powder, black and brown to get a deep green tree color. Dye some with cocoa powder or brown food coloring for the stump of the Christmas tree.

    For the Assembly:

    1. Transfer some plain white buttercream to a piping bag and snip off the tip. Add the red and white to a piping bag and snip off the tip.
    2. Pipe a red and white swirl between each layer.
    3. Cover in plain white buttercream and smooth with an offset spatula and bench scraper.
    4. Use a palette knife to add layers of green to create a Christmas tree.
    5. Transfer the rest of the red food coloring to a piping bag fitted with a small round tip.
    6. Pipe red ornaments on the tree.
    7. Schmear on a layer of buttercream to a piece of parchment paper and freeze for about 5-10 minutes.
    8. Use an exacto knife to cut out a star shape. Free again.
    9. Add gold leaf to the star and transfer to the top of the tree.
    10. Dust with confectioners sugar.
    1. Butter and flour three 6-inch pans. I use damp cake strips on my pans for more even baking as well. Preheat oven to 340F.
    2. Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the wet ingredients together.
    3. Add the wet to the dry and mix until combined. Divide the mixture evenly into the cake pans. I like to use a kitchen scale to measure for even layers.
    4. Bake for 30 -35 minutes or until the centers are set and springy.
    5. Let the layers cool in the pans for about 4 minutes, then dump each layer out onto a cooling rack.

    For the Buttercream

    1. Beat the room temperature butter until light and fluffy.
    2. Add the confectioners' sugar, vanilla, food coloring and heavy cream. Mix together until a desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a piping bag.

    For the Frosting

    1. Cream the butter. Add the sugar and mix on high. Add the milk a tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.
    2. Add the green food coloring, mix until combined then transfer to a piping bag

    For the Assembly

    1. For the Christmas trees on the side of your cake, use a serrated knife to cut the ice cream cones into different sizes. Once you have a variety of desired sizes, carefully cut them in half.
    2. Use a number 30 tip to pipe star-shaped dollops onto the surface of the cone beginning at the bottom and working to the top. Place the cones that have been cut in half on around the side of your cake before piping.
    3. When all of your trees have been piped and placed, sift confectioners' sugar onto the top of the cake and it's ready to serve!

    Recipe video:

    This recipe was previously published on John's cooking blog, Preppy Kitchen.

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