a large open star piping tip; a large closed star piping tip; a 1/2-inch round piping tip; a small open star piping tip; 6 disposable piping bags; a 3-inch bow motif candy mold; a 1/2-inch multi-cavity star candy mold; a 2-inch gingerbread man cookie cutter; an 8-inch cake board; two 8-inch round cake pans; a 9-inch bundt pan; a cake leveler, optional
For the red velvet cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans and one 9-inch bundt pan with flour-based baking spray.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar to the flour mixture. Beat the mixture on low speed until partially combined, then increase to medium speed. Beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat again for 1 minute. Pour the batter into both round cake pans to three-quarters full; fill the bundt pan with the remaining batter (the remaining batter will fill the bundt pan about one-third full).
Bake the bundt cake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick tester comes out clean. Bake the round cakes for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick tester comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out on a wire rack to cool completely. Keep the oven at 350 degrees F.
For the dark chocolate cake layers: Grease two 8-inch round cake pans with flour-based baking spray.
Combine the dark cocoa powder and hot water in a small bowl and whisk together until smooth and dissolved. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the bowl and mix again. To the creamed mixture add the baking soda, salt and baking powder. Mix again briefly.
In a 4-cup or larger glass measure with a pour spout, combine the dissolved cocoa mixture and buttermilk. Whisk until combined.
Mix in the flour in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk/cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until each is incorporated. Divide the batter between the prepared pans.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 5 minutes, then turn out to cool completely on wire racks.
For the Swiss meringue almond buttercream: Set a saucepan filled one-third full of water over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer.
Whisk together the egg whites, granulated sugar and salt in a large stainless steel heatproof bowl. Set over the simmering water and whisk until the mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar has dissolved (120 to 140 degrees F on a candy thermometer, to be sure).
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes. Increase to medium high until stiff peaks are formed. Continue beating at medium-high speed until the mixture is fluffy and has cooled (the mixing bowl should feel cool to the touch), 5 to 7 minutes.
Turn the mixer off and switch from the whisk attachment to the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on medium low and add the butter, a few cubes at a time, beating until well incorporated before the next addition, 3 to 4 minutes. The mixture will deflate considerably, which is normal; keep mixing and adding butter. When all of the butter is added, beat until thick and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the almond extract.
For the green American buttercream: In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together the butter and confectioners’ sugar. Begin on low speed until crumbly, then increase to medium high, slowly adding milk or cream to thin. Add the vanilla extract and beat on high for 3 minutes.
Divide the American buttercream into 2 bowls. Tint one bowl with the leaf green food color and the other with the neon green food color. Add coloring a little at a time while mixing to achieve bright green hues. Fit a disposable piping bag with a large open star piping tip, one bag with a large closed star piping tip, one bag with a 1/2-inch round piping tip and one bag with a small open star piping tip. Divide the leaf green icing among the piping bags fitted with the large closed star tip, the 1/2-inch round tip and the small open star tip. Fill the remaining bag, with the large open star tip, with the neon green buttercream (you may have extra neon green buttercream).
Assemble the cake: Level all of the round cake layers using a serrated knife or cake leveler. Place a red velvet cake layer on an 8-inch cake board. Cover with a thin layer of the Swiss meringue buttercream. Top with a dark chocolate cake layer and repeat with the buttercream. Alternate the round cake layers and buttercream, ending with the dark chocolate layer on top. Frost the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
Frost the entire cake with a second layer of the Swiss meringue buttercream. Smooth the top and sides using a bench scraper or cake leveler. Refrigerate while you make the decorative elements.
For the decorations: To make the star decors, place the yellow melted candy in a disposable piping bag and fill the cavities of a 1/2-inch multi-cavity star candy mold. Refrigerate until set, about 20 minutes. Turn the mold over to unmold the stars.
For the bow décor, place the red melted candy in a disposable piping bag and fill the cavity of a 3-inch bow motif candy mold with the candy. Refrigerate until set, about 20 minutes. Gently turn the candy out of the mold.
For the gingerbread men, knead the marzipan with the unsweetened cocoa powder in a small bowl. Roll the marzipan to a thickness of 1/8 inch on a cocoa powder-dusted work surface. Use a 2-inch gingerbread man cookie cutter to stamp out 3 shapes from the marzipan. Press in white sugar pearls to make buttons and eyes. Set the decors aside, but have them ready to use at a moment’s notice.
Place the bundt cake on top of the frosted layer cake. Using the piping bags of green frosting, pipe large and small swirls, stars and kiss shapes onto the bundt cake, completely covering it. Fill in any gaps with small dots of piped icing. Immediately cover the cake with white nonpareils (don’t tarry, or the frosting will crust and the sprinkles won’t stick!).
Arrange red candy-coated chocolates around the cake in groups of three. Add candy snowflakes and place the gingerbread men well-spaced on top of the wreath. Press on the molded yellow candy stars. Place the candy bow on the bottom center of the wreath.
Using the green icing bag with the small open star tip, pipe a shell border around the bottom of the cake and immediately sprinkle on white nonpareils. Add candy snowflakes in random fashion to the sides of the cake. Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve. Bring the cake to room temperature before serving.
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