There are lots of options for covering cakes, depending on the finish you require. Marzipan, followed by a layer of ready-to-roll icing (sugar paste) is popular, as is buttercream or apricot glaze.
To make 450g (1 lb) marzipan, you will need 225g (8oz) ground almonds, 125g (4oz) golden caster sugar 125g (4oz), sifted golden icing sugar, 1 large egg, 2 tsp lemon juice, 1 tsp sherry, 1-2 drops vanilla extract.
1) Put the ground almonds and sugars into a bowl and stir to combine. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients, then add to the dry ingredients.
2) Stir well to mix, pounding gently to release some of the oil from the almonds. Knead with your hands until smooth, then cover until ready to use.
Covering a cake with marzipan
Once you have marzipanned the cake, you need to allow time for it to dry, for at least 12 hours and up to 2 days, before covering with icing. Home-made marzipan takes a little longer to dry out than the ready-made variety.
1) Trim the top of the cake level if necessary, then turn the cake over to give a flat surface to work on. Place on the cake board, which should be at least 5cm (2in) larger than the cake. Brush the cake with warmed apricot glaze.
2) Dust the worksurface with sifted icing sugar. Roll out half the marzipan to fit the top of the cake. Lift the marzipan on top of the cake and smooth over, neatening the edges.
3) Cut a piece of string the same height as the cake with the marzipan topping, and another to fit around the diameter of the cake. Roll out the remaining marzipan and, using the string as a guide, trim it to size. Roll up the marzipan strip loosely. Place one end against the side of the cake and unroll the marzipan around the cake to cover it. Use a palette knife to smooth over the sides and joins. Leave the cake in a cool, dry place to dry out for at least 24 hours before covering with ready-to-roll icing. Leave to dry for at least two days before applying royal icing.
To make 450g (1 lb), you will need 450g (1 lb) apricot jam and 2 tbsp water. Put the jam and water into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until melted. Boil the jam rapidly for 1 minute, then strain through a sieve. Using a wooden spoon, rub through as much fruit as possible. Discard the skins left in the sieve. Pour the glaze into a clean, hot jar; then seal with a clean lid and cool. Store in the fridge for up to 2 months.
Covering a cake with ready-to-roll icing (sugar paste)
Ready-to-roll icing is pliable and can be used to cover cakes or to mould into decorative shapes. Blocks of ready-to-roll icing (sugar paste) are available in a variety of colours from supermarkets and specialist cake decorating shops.
A 450g (1 lb) pack will cover an 18cm (7in) cake. Wrap any unused icing in clingfilm to stop it drying out and store in a cool, dry place.
1) Dust the worksurface and rolling pin with sifted icing sugar. Knead the icing until pliable, then roll out into a round or square 5-7.5cm (2-3in) larger than the cake all round. Lift the icing on top of the cake and allow it to drape over the edges.
2) Dust your hands with sifted icing sugar and press the icing on to the sides of the cake, easing it down to the board.
3) Using a sharp knife, trim off the excess icing at the base to neaten. Reserve the trimmings to make decorations if required.
4) Using your fingers dusted with a little sifted icing sugar; gently rub the surface in a circular movement to buff the icing and make it smooth.
Covering a cake with royal icing or buttercream
Buttercream can be spread directly on to the cake; if you are using royal icing, first
cover the cake with apricot glaze (see above).
1) Stir royal icing or buttercream just before using, to make sure it is easy to spread.
2) Put the cake on a plate or cake board and use a palette knife to spread the icing evenly over the cake.
Royal icing can be bought in packs from supermarkets. Simply add water or egg white to use. To make 450g (1 lb), enough to cover the top and sides of a 20cm (8in) cake, you will need 2 medium egg whites, a tsp lemon juice, 450g (1 lb) icing sugar; sifted, 1 tsp glycerine.
1) Put the egg whites and lemon juice into a clean bowl. Stir to break up the egg whites. Add sufficient icing sugar to mix to the consistency of unwhipped cream. Continue mixing and adding small quantities of icing sugar until the desired consistency is reached, mixing well and gently beating after each addition. The icing should be smooth, glossy and light, almost like a cold meringue in texture, but not aerated. Do not add the icing sugar too quickly or it will produce a dull heavy icing. Stir in the glycerine until well blended. (Alternatively, for large quantities of royal icing, use a food mixer on the lowest speed, following the same instructions as before.)
2) Allow the icing to settle before using it; cover the surface with a piece of damp clingfilm and seal well, excluding all the air.
3) Stir the icing thoroughly before use to disperse any air bubbles, then adjust the consistency if necessary by adding more sifted icing sugar.
To cover the top of a 20.5cm (8in) cake, you will need: 75g (3oz) unsalted butter, 175g (6oz) icing sugar; sifted, a few drops of vanilla extract, 1-2 tbsp milk.
2) Gradually stir in the remaining ingredients and beat until smooth.
To make 225g (8oz), enough to cover 18 fairy cakes, you will need 225g (8oz) icing sugar, a few drops of vanilla or almond flavouring (optional), 2-3 tbsp boiling water, food colouring (optional).
1) Sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Add a few drops of flavouring, if you like.
2) Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in enough water until the mixture is the consistency of thick cream. Beat until white and smooth and the icing is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Add colouring, if you like, and use immediately.
Citrus Replace the vanilla with a little grated orange, lemon or lime zest, and use some of the fruit's juice in place of the milk.
Chocolate Blend 1 tbsp cocoa powder with 2 tbsp boiling water Cool, then add to the mixture in place of the milk.
Colour For a strong colour; use food colouring paste; liquid colouring gives a paler effect (see Cook's Tip below).
Orange or lemon Replace the water with strained orange or lemon juice.
Chocolate Sift 2 tsp cocoa powder with the icing sugar.
Colour Add a few drops of liquid food colouring, or use food colouring paste for a stronger colour if you prefer.
To cover a 20.5cm (8in) marzipan-covered cake, you will need 3 medium egg whites, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 2 tsp glycerine, 675g (1 1\2lb) icing sugar sifted.
1) Put the egg whites in a large bowl and whisk until frothy. There should be just a layer of bubbles across the top. Add the lemon juice, glycerine and 2 tbsp of icing sugar and whisk until smooth.
2) Whisk in the rest of the sugar; a little at a time, until the mixture is smooth and thick, forming soft peaks.
3) Using a palette knife, smooth half the icing over the top and sides of the cake, then repeat using the remaining icing to cover. Run the knife around the sides to neaten, then use the tip to make peaks all over the top. Leave to dry in a cool place for at least 48 hours.