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O Christmas Treat: Christmas Cakes and Holiday Desserts

DIY a festive dessert with these tips and tutorials for cakes, cupcakes and more

Julia Murphy

Published on: December 15, 2014

A sweet way to celebrate the holidays

Once I begin decorating my own Christmas tree, I know the holidays are in full swing. And what better day to celebrate than with homemade treats? 

O Christmas treat!

This sweet little cake began life in a Nordic Ware beehive cake pan. It is essentially the same shape as this tree with just a bit of carving involved. I provide full step-by-step instructions on my blog.

The cake, sitting on a six-inch round cake board, is composed of orange cake with a dark chocolate filling. The ombre ruffles are tinted vanilla buttercream. The garland is a bit of buttercream I held back and the star is two lemon Tootsie Rolls I warmed up, rolled flat and then cut out. A toothpick is keeping it attached to the tree. The tree trunk is a can of tomato sauce (paper label removed). I smeared some chocolate buttercream along the side and pressed in small pretzel rods. These were just the items I had in my pantry.

It may be the case that I over-decorate, but I love it! I considered adding a few decorative red candies or sprinkles or stars, but I was very happy with this simple design. Access your creative side and make this tree your own. Consider placing the cake directly on another cake for a tiered presentation and eliminating the need for a trunk.

This makes for a lovely centerpiece for your holiday dessert table. Don’t be afraid to slice and serve it!

Red velvet yum! 

Santa may have a red velvet suit, but these cupcakes take the cake! Consider giving red velvet cupcakes as a hostess gift, thank-you gift, I-wish-we-spent-more-time-together gift, etc.

These cupcakes have a wonderful visual appeal. The red cake, popped inside a green cupcake liner, are topped with a wonderful vanilla buttercream puffy cloud of deliciousness and a candy cane Hershey’s Kiss. Need a surprise? I cored the center of the cupcake and added a wonderful cream cheese filling. There’s love in every bite.

Way better than fruitcake

Chocolate and strawberries seem to be a natural combination. The flavors are delicious and the colors are quite seasonal.

Baking and cake decorating is not about perfection, at least for me. Ideally, home baking can be a source of fun and creativity with an amazing slice of yumminess as a reward. Consider leaving a very thin crumb-coat of frosting as a final design. I love this rustic-yet-elegant look that appears effortless and laid back.

I garnished this cake with buttercream swirls, fresh strawberries and brownie bites that I quickly mixed together (from a box) and baked. As a last touch, some milk chocolate drizzle has been piped atop the berries and brownies. Adapt this style of design to your strengths and preferred taste: fruit, cookies, marshmallows and candy bars make for a delicious addition to almost any favorite cake.

A delicious filling 

Notice how the middle layer of vanilla buttercream is thicker toward the edge of the cake? I piped on a ring of frosting all around the edge; I used a large open round tip. This creates a wall that prevents the chopped strawberries from leaking out the side. If the jam or fresh fruit filling leaks out anyway, that’s okay, too — the cake will eat just fine. But it never hurts to have a couple new techniques in your decorating tool box.

Reminder: Leave the cake in the fridge or cool place. Do you live in a wintry wonderland? Let it sit outside, covered. When ready to serve the cake, heat the knife with warm tap water and commence slicing (see more tips for cake slicing here). Cleaning the knife between slices will keep each slice and the cake looking fresh.

Christmas colors

This is a sweet little cake. It’s a six-inch round, triple-layer white cake (almond and vanilla flavors) with tinted vanilla buttercream. The rosettes along the base of the cake really pop against that Christmas green. The candy cane Hershey Kisses offer just enough red.

Tip: Give yourself permission to invest in one or two cake stands, especially if presentation is near the top of your priorities (it doesn’t have to be, no judgment). I’m very happy with this particular stand since I can swap out the ribbon to match any season, cake design or mood.

Hidden ornaments

Surprise! Polka dots, or Christmas ornaments, whatever you want to call them.  

These fun dots are made with the same batter as the rest of the cake, but tinted and partially pre-baked in a Nordicware cake-pop pan. I bake them long enough to hold their shape, but not too long as to be overdone in the cake slice.

I’ve baked this cake before using 8-inch round pans (step-by-step instructions are on my blog) and I preferred the look of the larger cake a little bit better. The dots seem to over-power this slice, but then again … I don’t know. What is for sure known, a surprise inside cake is a winner at parties. People love it. Imagine this cake with your sports team’s colors or just about any holiday. Already the chocolate polka dots in an orange cake sounds tempting for next fall or a white cake with Spring colors.

Don’t be afraid. It’s only cake.

Sweet snowman

Sometimes, the interesting part of being creative is taking a look in the pantry. “What’s here? And can I work with it?”

This particular cupcake is an almond cupcake with coconut buttercream and a garnish of sweet flaked coconut. The snowman is two Raffaello bon bons on a kabob skewer and a hat made with an upended Dark Chocolate Hershey’s Miniature and a Mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. The eyes are made with a pair of mini chocolate chips (flat end out) and a small bit of buttercream tinted orange. A wry smile was etched on with a toothpick.

When it comes to decorating a cupcake, there are few rules. What’s in your pantry?

Festive black forest cake

Chocolate-chocolate cherries? That’s right. This Christmas take on a Black Forest cake is just the right dessert for after your holiday dinner.

This is three layers of my favorite chocolate cake with a chocolate mascarpone and cherry pie filling. The tinted buttercream ruffles is an over-the-top design that some occasions require. Keep in mind, each slice is pure decadence and sure to bring most conversations to a stop with a lovely chorus of “mmmms” and “ummumms” and the errant shout of “This!” (with or without frantic pointing).

Many cakes can be adapted into wonderful cupcakes. A chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream and a cherry pie filling garnish is both elegant and doable. Bring these to the potluck and you won’t be taking any back home.

Gentle reminder: Not every cake must be three layers; when I bake with nine-inch or ten-inch round pans, I almost never stack more than two layers.

Wondrous variey 

Embrace all the colors! Each one of these cupcakes is a white chocolate cupcake (it’s a test kitchen recipe I haven’t quite dialed in) with white chocolate ganache buttercream (which was amazing!). The dark chocolate and white chocolate swirl is a small modification.

Thoughtfully choosing a colorful cupcake liner is a great starting place for your cupcake design. Maybe the event will drive a particular color choice, like a holiday or birthday party theme? Or perhaps the flavor of the cupcake influences choice; I almost always bake a chocolate cupcake in a dark brown liner and when I bake lemon cupcakes I can’t help but reach for the yellow liners.

Cranberry, orange and cream cheese joy! 

A cranberry-orange layer cake with cream cheese buttercream is the perfect vehicle for serving up those amazing, fresh cranberries available this time of year.

Bake with what inspires you and what’s available locally. Don’t care for oranges? Choose another citrus. Maybe cranberry-grapefruit? Or, perhaps a cranberry-apple layer cake instead. Doesn’t that sound delicious?

Simple designs aren’t plain; they bring a certain quietness that somehow demands attention. Make this technique work for you with any cake you bake.

Cute as a button

Merry Christmas from all of us at my little kitchen button factory!

These designs work on any flavor of cake; this one happens to be a red velvet cake with cheesecake layer, cream cheese buttercream and a year’s supply of handmade marzipan buttons.

I blogged the step-by-step instructions for this cake design. Essentially, the buttons are made of marzipan — I found red and green at my local market. I added green coloring gel to get a deeper color (and a bit of a marbling effect) and added pink coloring gel to a neutral marzipan, which was a tan. Marzipan is quite delicious, if you enjoy almonds. It can enhance the cake flavors, though I don’t cover cakes completely with this medium. I used a variety of cutting tools with different circumferences for the buttons and a toothpick to puncture the holes.

Red velvet and cheesecake

Red velvet and cheesecake. That’s a party, right there on the plate.

When creating your own cakes, think outside the box. Don’t have marzipan? 

Other options:

  • Starbursts
  • Tootsie Rolls
  • Caramels
  • Laffy Taffy
  • Now & Laters

The candies can be warmed slightly in the microwave or your pocket and then rolled out and cut. Fondant can absolutely be a solution, but won’t bring much of a flavor punch. Again, the rules are mostly suggestions and creativity is the guidepost.

I consider this cake to be a real show-stopper. It’s fun to look at and delicious. Whatever cake you tackle this holiday, I hope the process was enjoyable enough that to want to try again. 

More holiday food inspiration

Top cake decorating tips for amateurs 

12 traditional holiday desserts from around the world

Holiday treats: Candy cane and marzipan delights

10 holiday food gifts you can make with kids

Allergy-free holiday desserts



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