When my friend Danielle entertains, she's apt to offer one of her two favorite things for dessert: chocolate ― in any form ― or a princess cake, an old Swedish classic. The name is fitting; that's precisely how you feel when dessert is served. And this royal cake can pull rank during the holidays. Santa would swoon if he found a wedge waiting with his glass of milk.
The smooth mantle of marzipan that wraps a princess cake like a gift is probably what makes most cooks assume it's difficult to make. Nothing could be further from the delicious truth. This very manageable dessert is assembled like building blocks. And it has the potential for a wide variety of flavor shifts. Bake one cake, split it, moisten the layers with a light syrup (any flavor you like, with or without liqueur), and fill them with a fluffy cream (good enough for dessert on its own, flavored as you like). The easiest part looks the hardest: the marzipan wrap (the Swedes like to tint it pale green). Just roll out the marzipan like a pie crust and fit it onto the cake like a second skin ― with that spandex cling.
What is marzipan?
Marzipan is a confection made with blanched almonds, ground into a fine paste, and blended with sugar syrup and, maybe, egg whites. As malleable as clay, it's often modeled into little animals and vegetables. They're so cute, you usually don't want to eat them until they're dried out ― and then you won't want to. When fresh, however, marzipan is tasty and easy to handle.
For smooth, flat pieces, roll marzipan between sheets of plastic wrap (keep them smooth). Some cooks use powdered sugar instead of plastic wrap to prevent sticking, but plastic achieves a cleaner look.
Add food coloring, a few drops at a time, to a lump of the naturally ivory-color marzipan; knead in your hands or on a board until the color is evenly distributed. For contoured ribbons, gently bend marzipan strips with your fingers into desired shapes. For figures, shape small pieces and press together.