Christmas Tree Cake

Christmas Tree Cake
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Christmas tree cake
A snow-covered Christmas tree!

It’s been weeks since you’ve read anything new here, hasn’t it? Well, the wait is over. We’re back from some travel, but we’re still pretty busy, so the number of postings might be lower than normal. Of course, you can always request a full refund.

We wanted a fun cake for December, so we did a quick modification of this recipe, changing the colors, reducing the amount to fit our baking pans (15 1/2×10 1/2 inches), and adding a few ornaments so it looks more like a Christmas tree. That’s it, so let’s start scratchin’.

Christmas Tree Cake

Christmas Tree Cake


    For the cake
  • 320 g (22 1/2 Tbs) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 560 g (2 3/4 cups) sugar
  • 7 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 525 g (3 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 420 g (1 3/4 cup) buttermilk. room temperature
  • red and green food coloring gels
  • For the frosting
  • 5 egg whites
  • 250 g (1 1/4 cup) sugar
  • 370 g (26 Tbs) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 Tbs pure vanilla extract
  • 2 mm multicolored dragees

Abbreviated Instructions

For the cake

Line two 15 1/2 x 10 1/2 inch pans with baking parchment.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip butter on medium until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.

Add sugar to butter and whip on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and whip on medium-high for 1 minute between each egg.

Add vanilla and mix in.

Add buttermilk and flour in thirds, alternating buttermilk and flour, and mixing until just incorporated between additions.

Divide the batter into two bowls; each batch of batter should weigh about 1080g. Color one with red food gel, the other with green food gel, stirring until uniform in color.

Pour batter into prepared baking sheets. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed lightly. Let cool completely in pans.

For the frosting

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together egg whites and sugar. Place over boiling water and whisk until hot, about 6 minutes.

Place on stand mixer, and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high until cool, about 10 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment, and, on medium-high, add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, allowing it to become fully incorporated before adding the next.

Mix on medium-high until thick and smooth, 6 to 10 minutes.

Turn mixer to medium, and add vanilla.


Trim edges of the cake pans, and measure and slice out four 9x3-strips in each pan. You will use three of each color. Place one strip on a plate. Apply a light coating of frosting, then place the second strip on top, alternating colors. Continue until you've formed a six-layer, multicolored cake.

Freeze for 30 minutes.

Slice each half diagonally. Arrange the wedges to form a pyramid. If needed, apply a bit of frosting to hold the wedges together.

Apply a crumb coat, then freeze the cake for 15 minutes, and apply a finish coat of frosting.

Apply dragees as if they're ornaments.

Ingredient discussion:

Salty cakes aren’t very good, so use unsalted butter. This cake uses a lot of eggs (and egg whites), so use good ones. The kind from free-ranging hens, if possible. For the food coloring, use some of the deep colors that are sold as gels. It’ll make coloring the cake faster, easier, and nicer-looking. And, vanilla extract — 100% pure is the way to go.

Procedure in detail:

For the cake:
mise en place
Getting everything ready and measured beforehand makes baking a pleasure, not a chore.
lining baking sheets
Parchment paper is probably the miracle item in baking; we wouldn’t be without it.

Mise en place. For cakes, this is a must. First, all the ingredients need to be at room temperature. You have time as the eggs, butter, and buttermilk warm, so you might as well measure out the remaining ingredients and line the baking pans with parchment. Note that you don’t grease or butter the pans; just a layer of parchment on the bottom. As part of mise en place, sift, yes, break out the sifter, together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Now just wait until the butter is room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

creaming butter
The amount of time it takes for the butter to get creamy depends on the temperature of the butter.

Cream butter. Place the butter in the  bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high until light, fluffy, and smooth. If your butter is warm, this make take just 60 seconds; if it’s cool, it may take a few minutes. Be patient.

creaming butter and sugar
It’s surprising just how light butter and sugar will get with whipping.

Add sugar. Add the sugar and beat on medium-high until the mixture is light and fluffy. This will take 5 to 7 minutes, as the sugar crystals whip air into the butter. Again, be patient.

cake batter
After the eggs are added, the batter will be really light and fluffy.

Add eggs. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium-high for at least a minute between each egg. The batter will get lighter and lighter, even surprisingly light as the eggs are added.

adding vanilla
Pure vanilla flavoring for the best-tasting cake.

Add vanilla. Add vanilla and beat on medium-high until incorporated, about 15 seconds.

adding buttermilk
After each addition, mix until the buttermilk is just incorporated.
Do not over mix once the flour is added, or your in for a tough cake.
Do not over-mix once the flour is added, or you’re in for a tough cake.

Add buttermilk and flour. Three roughly equal additions of each in this order: buttermilk, mix, flour, mix, buttermilk, mix, flour, mix, buttermilk, mix, flour, mix. You may have to fold in the last addition of flour by hand — the bowl with be very full. At each of the mixing stages, mix on low until the ingredient is just incorporated, about 15 seconds after adding buttermilk, 30 seconds after adding the flour mixture.

Divide. This will be easiest if you have a scale: just pour about 1080 grams of batter into a separate bowl. If you don’t have a scale, estimate as best you can when dividing the batter into two batches.

red cake batter
Add food color and mix, repeating until you have the depth of color you want.
green cake batter
Spread the batter into the prepared pans. It’ll come right to the top.

Color. The amount of coloring you need will depend on your colors. We used 6 drops of the green and about 8 drops of red to achieve a nice color. We started with 3 drops of coloring, stirred it in, and adjusted until we got the color we wanted. Once colored, spread the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake. Slide into the oven and bake for 25 to 33 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.

cooling cakes
Let the cakes cool completely before attempting to slice and assemble the cake.

Cool. Let the cakes cool completely in the pans.

For the frosting:
Improvising a double boiler is easy, just a saucepan with simmering water. Make sure the bowl doesn't touch the water.
Improvising a double boiler is easy: just a saucepan with simmering water. Make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Cook egg whites and sugar. We’re making our favorite frosting for this cake, a Swiss meringue buttercream. Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk together. Place the bowl over simmering water (improvise a double boiler with a saucepan), and whisk until the sugar dissolves and the egg whites are frothy and hot, about 7 minutes (you can use a thermometer to check the temperature: 160-165°F is perfect).

swiss meringue
Once the meringue is completely cool, switch to the paddle attachment.

Whip. Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on high until completely cool, about 10 minutes. The meringue will start to look and smell like marshmallow fluff.

adding butter
Add the room temperature butter about 2 tablespoons at a time.

Add butter. Switch out the whisk attachment for the paddle, and beat the meringue on medium-low. While mixing, add the butter, about 2 tablespoons at a time, waiting until each chunk is incorporated before adding the next.

Add vanilla. Add the vanilla and mix until completely incorporated and smooth.

For assembly:
marking a cake
Mark off where you need to cut before cutting. You’ll have cake left over, but these can be baker’s snacks.

Layer. Break out a ruler and mark off cake pieces that are 3 inches wide by 9 inches long.  You’ll get four of each color with more leftovers and scraps, and we’ll only use 3 strips of each color. Slice these pieces apart, and, using a long thin spatula, place a green slice on the prepared plate. Apply a light coating of frosting, then a slice of red cake. Continue until you have 6 layers.

freezing cake
The freezer is an important tool for baking. It’ll firm up a wobbly cake in half an hour.

Freeze. The cake is wobbly and hard to handle, so use the baker’s second most useful tool in the kitchen and freeze the cake for 30 minutes.

Slice and plate. Place four pieces of waxed paper around the edges of a nice cake plate. These will keep the plate clean while you work, and you can slide them out later. Now, using a long serrated knife, cut the cake diagonally from top to bottom to make two triangles. Place one triangle on the prepared plate, and the other alongside to make a tree shape. If needed, use a bit of frosting to hold the two triangles together.

appling crumb coat
The crumb coat doesn’t have to be thick, just enough to lock in the cake crumbs.
frosted cake
Making a smooth coating is pretty tough, but we keep trying.

Frost. Spread a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake. This is the crumb coat that will hold cake crumbs in place. Freeze cake for 15 minutes. Remove from the freezer and frost completely. Let warm to room temperature.

Add dragees. We found that the easiest way to place the dragees on the cake was to flick them onto the cake — they stick — and press them in lightly.

Great cake, the frosting is nice and light, the cake is very tasty, plus it looks like a layered Christmas tree. Sure, we need to improve our decorating skills, but it still looked good. And it was a hit with everyone who tried it. Especially the surprise of the layers. It’s more work than an ordinary-looking cake, so four stars.

Worth the trouble?

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