French Vanilla Christmas Cake with Buttercream Frosting

Today is the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas. It seems only fitting that on the feast day of the Patron Saint of Children, that I share with you a delicious cake recipe. This cake is a blank slate for children of all ages to decorate. Great fun for the entire family.

In the past, I have risen before the sun to bake a cake for whatever “special” occasion was at hand – from family birthdays to the 4th of July. The cake was made from scratch, and depending upon the recipe, involved sifting and measuring and all sorts of mulit-steps. Once the cake was baked, I then spent hours frosting and piping to create my master piece. While everyone was “wowed” I was exhausted. Then it hit me, it really didn’t matter how elaborate the piping or details – in the end it was cut into pieces and quickly disappeared into the satisfied tummies of my well-fed family.

Once that light came on, things changed. A few years back I  decided to tackle the dessert with a slightly different approach – one that works well for just about any any special occasion that involves children.

First, I baked a cake from a box (yeah, I know . . . but with a few alterations, it was buttery, moist and delicious). The cake itself wasn’t much work, baking in about 35 minutes. The cake was allowed to cool 10 minutes in the pan, then inverted onto a cutting board, to be inverted a second time on the cake board, thus turned right side up. Once the cake had fully cooled (about 2 hours), Kiddo made the frosting. (Team effort all the way). I frosted the cake and brought it to the party “naked”.

Over the years, I’ve made a number of Gingerbread Houses. In so doing, I’ve collected a few reusable pieces from my Gingerbread village. Here’s the fun part – I brought those food-safe decorations to our Christmas gathering and put the children (in this case my young niece) in charge of decorating the cake. My instructions were simply – I spread out all the pieces (she elected not to use everything) and told her whatever she did would be “beautiful” – have fun and be creative. Putting my niece in charge let her be a part of the kitchen festivities that occupy so much of our time during the holidays. It gave her a sense of pride when the cake was placed front and center on the table, receiving all the praise from those gathered. She placed candles on her creation, we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus and had a wonderful dessert.

French Vanilla Christmas Cake with Buttercream Frosting
Ingredients – Cake
2 Boxes French Vanilla White Cake Mix
6 Eggs
½ Cup Vegetable Oil
½ Cup Butter, melted
2 Cups Water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare 13×15 baking pan with Wilton’s Cake Release. Set aside until ready to use.

In a mixing bowl, beat vegetable oil, butter and water until blended. Add eggs, one at a time and incorporate into liquid.

Add cake mix, beat 30 seconds on low, then slowly increase speed and beat 2 minutes on medium, until well blended.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Tap lightly on the counter to release any air bubbles that may have gathered in the batter.

Place cake in oven and bake until just done, about 30-40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes and continue to cook until cake is just cooked, checking often to avoid over-cooking.

Remove cake from oven, cool in pan 10 minutes.

Remove cake from pan, invert onto large cutting board, then invert again onto cake board so that cake is right-side up.

Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Ingredients – Buttercream Frosting
½ Cup Solid Butter-Flavored Vegetable Shortening
1 ½ Cup Butter, softened
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
8 Cups Sifted Powdered Sugar
6 Tablespoons Heavy Cream (approximately)

Cream vegetable shortening and butter in a mixing bowl. Add Vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, sift powdered sugar. Add sugar to creamed butter mixture 1 cup at a time.

Whip, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary, until all the sugar has been added. Frosting will appear dry and stiff.

Add cream, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

Frost top of cake, then continue down the sides. If desired, pipe a border around the bottom of the cake.

Using food-safe decorations from a craft or bakery store, decorate as desired. See the cake as a wonderful, blank canvas and get creative. (Great project for kids – let them express themselves).

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