This might very well be the ultimate Christmas cake. With melt-in-the-mouth chocolate sponges, fluffy Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, a luscious chocolate ganache drip and a small forest of candy canes on top… this candy cane cake is dressed to impress.
Hey friend. Get your candy canes and Christmas music ready. We’re making a candy cane cake today, and it’s going to be fabulous.
I like making over-the-top desserts around this time of year. If you ever get the inclination to cover a cake with luscious chocolate ganache drip, stick a small mountain of ultra-colourful candy on top of it, and pile on some more candy just for good measure… now’s the time.
That’s not to say you can’t do it on a random Thursday in July. You can. (In fact, please do.) But Christmas is extra special. Everything is somehow more in the days leading up to December 25th. (I say “days”… I actually mean “weeks” and maybe “months”.)
So let’s chat about the cake.
First, we have the melt-in-the-mouth chocolate sponges that taste exactly like hot chocolate (just… you know, in cake form), which we know and love from the ultimate gluten free chocolate cake. Listen, there’s no point in trying to improve something that’s already perfect.
Next up, there’s the vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream. I know, I know. It’s completely horrible of me to go for vanilla, when I could’ve used peppermint to tie the whole candy cane cake idea together. But… I’m just not a huge fan of peppermint flavour. *gasp* Yes, I’ve said it.
You can, of course, totally add a splash of peppermint extract to the frosting. Or even orange extract if you’re in the mood for that classic flavour combo of chocolate+orange. There’s no rules here, more like guidelines, gentle suggestions.
To add more colour to the inside of the cake (and to take the candy cane theme a step further), I coloured part of the frosting with red food dye and piped alternating concentric circles of white and red buttercream to make the frosting layers.
This gives the cake an extra pizzazz, and trust me – when you cut that first piece and expose those wonderful layers… there’s gonna be a whole lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing. And let’s be honest, we’re all partial to a bit of cake-flattery, aren’t we?
Now, we come to the the bit we’ve all been waiting for: the decorations.
First, a luscious dark chocolate ganache drip. It’s chocolate and it’s pretty – don’t skip it.
Then, the candy. So much candy. All the candy.
Two words: GO. CRAZY.
Seriously, anything goes. Peppermint bark (that is: melted white chocolate with crushed candy canes scattered on top of it), candy canes, candy cane-coloured candy, candy cane lollipops… so long as it’s red-and-white and fun – just pop it on there.
I also crushed some more candy canes (which is an excellent stress-relief, by the way) and made a “collar” round the bottom of the cake. It gives the cake a balanced appearance, and makes it even more beautiful. (I know, that almost seems impossible).
A friend described this cake as “Willy Wonka factory meets Santa’s workshop”. Which is… pretty much spot on.
This candy cane cake makes me happy. It makes me smile. It makes me hum Christmas songs (completely out of tune) and want to dress in horrible Christmas jumpers.
I hope it does the same to you. Because if there is such a thing as Christmas cheer in cake form – I think this just might be it.
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Candy Cane Cake (Gluten Free)
For chocolate sponges:
- 3 1/3 cups (400 g) plain gluten free flour blend (I've used a simple store-bought blend containing only rice, potato and maize flours, with no added xanthan gum)
- 3/4 tsp xanthan gum
- 2/3 cup (85 g) cocoa powder
- 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 2 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 2 1/4 cups (450 g) granulated sugar
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 3 medium eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups + 1 tbsp (375 mL) milk, room temperature
- 3/4 cup + 1/2 tbsp (187 mL) vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp (375 mL) boiling hot water
For Swiss meringue buttercream:
- 9 medium egg whites
- 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 4 sticks (450 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla paste (or peppermint extract, or other extract/flavouring of choice)
- red food colouring, preferably in gel form
For chocolate ganache drip:
- 2 oz (3/8 cup, 57 g) finely chopped dark chocolate
- 3/8 cup + 1 tbsp (87 mL) double/heavy cream
- 7 oz (200 g) white chocolate, melted
- candy canes and other red&white candy of choice
For chocolate sponges:
- Pre-heat the oven to 355 ºF (180 ºC) and line three 6 inch (15 cm) round cake pans with greaseproof/baking paper.
- In a large bowl, sift together the gluten free flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder.
- Add the granulated sugar and salt, and whisk well.
- Add the eggs, milk and vegetable/sunflower oil. Whisk well, until you get a smooth cake batter.
- Add the boiling hot water, and whisk until you get a runny cake batter with no lumps.
- Evenly distribute the cake batter between the two lined cake pans, and bake in the pre-heated oven at 355 ºF (180 ºC) for about 45 minutes or until spongy to the touch and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
- Allow to cool.
For Swiss meringue buttercream:
- Mix the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in a heat-proof bowl, and set the bowl above a pot of simmering water.
- Heat the meringue mixture with constant stirring until it reaches 150 ºF (65 ºC) and the sugar has melted.
- Transfer the heated meringue mixture into a stand mixer with a whisk attachment (or use a hand mixer with the double beater attachment) and whisk the mixture for 5 - 7 minutes, until it reaches room temperature and forms glossy peaks. Do not over-whisk as you can lose some of the fluffiness. (NOTE: The meringue must be at room temperature before you start adding the butter – otherwise, you'll get a soup and not a deliciously fluffy buttercream!)
- Add the butter, 1 - 2 tbsp at a time, while constantly whisking/beating at medium speed. If using a stand mixer, I prefer to switch to a paddle attachment for this step.
- Continue until you've used up all the butter.The buttercream will probably look like it's split at some stage (or it might become very runny, almost "soupy") – don't worry, that's normal. Just continue adding the butter and whisking/beating. The buttercream will eventually become velvety smooth. Be careful not to over-beat it, though – you will lose the air (and fluffiness) from the original meringue!
- Add the salt and flavouring of choice, and whisk/beat briefly until evenly incorporated.
- Separate the buttercream into three equal parts. Colour one part a vibrant red colour – if it seems too light, add a sprinkling of cocoa powder to get a deeper red colour.
For chocolate ganache drip:
- Place the chopped dark chocolate into a heat-proof bowl. Heat the double/heavy cream until only just boiling (either on the stove or in the microwave), then pour it over the chocolate.
- Allow to stand for 2 - 3 minutes, then stir well until you get a smooth glossy ganache.
- Set aside and allow to cool slightly.
- To make the peppermint bark, spread the white chocolate on a baking sheet covered with cling film or aluminium foil, and sprinkle it evenly with crushed candy canes. Allow to set either at room temperature or in the fridge/freezer.
- Set some of the crushed candy canes aside (or crush some more if you've used them all up for the peppermint bark) for the "collar" around the bottom of the cake.
Assembling the cake:
- Place the bottom cake/sponge layer on the cake stand of choice. Pipe concentric circles of alternating white and red buttercream on top of the sponge.
- Place the other sponge on top and repeat, creating the opposite colour pattern to the one below (if red is the outermost colour in the bottom layer, start with white this time – see post for pictures).
- Place the final sponge layer on top. Frost the outside of the cake with the remaining white buttercream, creating an even smooth layer.If your buttercream isn't perfectly smooth, you can use a cake smoother (metal bench scraper) dipped in hot water (and dried) to create a super smooth surface by "melting" the outermost buttercream. Do this gently – you want to smooth away any imperfections, not completely melt your frosting.
- Chill the cake in the fridge for about 1 hour.
- Once chilled, decorate the bottom third of the cake with the crushed candy canes.
- Check the consistency of the chocolate ganache. It should be runny enough to drip, but not too hot (otherwise it will melt the buttercream). If it's too thick, heat it up briefly in the microwave.For the easiest (and prettiest) drip, transfer the chocolate ganache into a squeeze bottle.Create the chocolate drip: first allow the chocolate ganache to gently run down the sides, then fill out the top of the cake by drizzling on more ganache and smoothing it out with an offset spatula.
- Break up the peppermint bark (or cut in into neat triangles), and use it and the other candy of choice to decorate the top of the cake.NOTE: The candy can go soft and sticky after a while – I recommend putting it onto the cake just before serving, or just before it's about to be "unveiled".
- That's it! Enjoy!
- The cake keeps well in a closed container or wrapped in cling film, in the fridge for 3 - 4 days.