Our Christmas Shortbread Wreath Cake is definitely a dessert with wow-factor! Three buttery vanilla shortbread biscuits with layers of brandy-spiked pastry cream and fresh raspberries in between (though the brandy is optional) then topped with Chantilly whipped cream and adorned with a crown of plump berries, delicate macarons, chocolate truffles, and anything else you fancy!
Should be started early in the day, or, the pastry cream and shortbread can be made the day before only leaving the whipping of cream and assembling on the day. If you have the time you can use the leftover egg whites to make your own macarons, otherwise, store-bought will definitely save you some time. You can also use some of the egg whites to make sugared mint leaves for decoration (see the end for instructions).
Finally, this recipe may look very long and intimidating, but it really is as simple as baking shortbread, making custard, whipping some cream and decorating, we promise!
For the pastry cream:
- 250ml fresh cream
- 220ml full fat milk (250ml if not adding brandy or Cognac)
- 1 used vanilla pod (*seeds scraped out & kept for shortbread & whipped cream)
- 100g caster sugar
- 75g plain flour
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 tbsp brandy or Cognac (if using)
- 50g unsalted butter, softened
For the shortbread:
- 300g unsalted butter, softened
- 175g icing sugar
- 375g plain flour
- 3 egg yolks
- ¼ tsp salt
- Seeds from 2/3 vanilla pod*
For the Chantilly cream:
- 125ml double cream
- 1 generous tbsp icing sugar
- Seeds from 1/3 vanilla pod*
To fill & decorate:
- 2 punnets raspberries
- Other berries of choice
- Chocolate truffles
- Fresh or sugared mint leaves
- For the pastry cream, pour cream and milk into a medium sized saucepan and add the scraped vanilla pod. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- While liquid is heating, whisk together sugar, flour and eggs in a medium sized bowl to form a smooth paste with no lumps.
- As soon as liquid starts to bubble, remove from heat and remove the vanilla pod. Pour about 1/3 of the hot liquid into the egg mixture and whisk together.
- Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining liquid and whisk well to combine.
- Return saucepan to stove and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until custard is very thick. Tip: It’s better to cook it a little longer so ensure it will be firm enough to support the layers.
- Remove from heat and whisk in brandy or Cognac.
- Transfer pastry cream to a clean bowl and cover with clingfilm pressed against the surface of the pastry cream to stop a skin from forming.
- Chill until pastry cream is just warm to the touch, about 30 – 45 minutes in the fridge.
- Add the butter and use a stick blender to incorporate it in, blending until your pastry cream is lovely and smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula then cover again with clingfilm pressed against the surface to stop a skin from forming. Chill in the fridge until completely cold and needed for assembly. (This can be made the day before)
- For the shortbread, cut 4 large pieces of parchment paper, set aside until needed.
- Cream together butter and icing sugar with an electric mixer. Add flour, egg, salt and 2/3 of the reserved vanilla seeds. Mix just until a dough comes together.
- Divide dough equally into 3 pieces. Place one portion on a square of parchment paper then place a second sheet on top. Use a rolling pin to roll out dough in a circular shape at least 5mm thick. (It needs to be large enough to cut a 20cm (8 inch) round circle).
- Peel off the top sheet of parchment paper then place the second portion on dough on the parchment that was removed, place another sheet on top of the dough and repeat. Do the same with the third portion of dough.
- Place each rolled out dough, still on the parchment paper, onto 3 baking trays, then chill in the fridge until firm, at least 30 minutes – 1 hour.
- Once dough has chilled, pre-heat oven to 180°C / 160°C fan assisted. While oven is pre-heating, you can cut out the 3 shortbread rings. Working with one at a time (leaving the others in the fridge) use a bowl roughly 20cm in diameter as a guide. Place the bowl upside down on the dough and use a sharp knife to cut around it. Tip: We found the silver serving bowls from Ikea are the perfect size and have a sharp enough lip to use as a really large cookie cutter!
- Next, use a smaller bowl about 10cm in diameter (this is also the size of the largest round cutter in most pastry cutter sets) to cut out the centre of the ring. Tip: The centres need to line up as much as possible so it helps to use a ruler, scoring the top of the dough as needed, to find the centre so you can be as accurate as possible when cutting out the centre.
- Remove the centre pieces of dough and any excess dough around the outside of the ring. Tip: You can use small star or Christmas tree cookie cutters to cut shapes out of the extra dough then either keep these small biscuits for enjoying later, or to add to the decoration on top of the cake.
- Leaving shortbread rings on the parchment and baking trays, bake until golden around the edges and slightly firm to the touch in the centre, 15-18 minutes, rotating them halfway in the oven if needed. Tip: If also baking cookies from the discarded dough, only bake these for 8-10 minutes as they will bake much quicker due to their size.
- Leave shortbread rings to cool completely on baking tray and on wire racks. (These can be baked the day before. Once completely cool, trim away excess parchment paper and place shortbread into a large airtight biscuit tin or similar, they can be carefully stacked, then they’re ready for decorating the next day but will still keep their crisp texture.)
- To assemble, remove pastry cream from the fridge and spoon into a large piping bag fitted with a large plain round piping tip, set aside.
- For the Chantilly cream, whisk together double cream, icing sugar and remaining reserved vanilla seeds until firm and pipeable. Spoon cream into a large piping bag fitted with a large plain round piping tip, set aside.
- Pipe a few dots of pastry cream on your serving plate to help keep the biscuit from moving or sliding, then carefully peel the parchment off one of the shortbread rings. Place this on the serving plate, gently pressing down so that it’s flat on the plate.
- Starting with piping the outer most ring, place a raspberry near the outside edge then pipe 2 dollops of cream along the outside edge the same height as the raspberry. Place another raspberry next to the pastry cream dollop, then pipe 2 more pastry cream dollops. Continue until you’ve done the entire outside ring.
- Repeat to form another circle of pastry cream and raspberries inside the first ring of filling, then finally, the same inside that which should be up against the edge of the inner edge of shortbread. Tip: It’s helpful to take a bit of time to first sort the raspberries into groups of similar heights so that the filling is level for the next shortbread to sit on.
- Peel parchment off second shortbread ring then carefully place on top. Repeat the process of placing raspberries and piping pastry cream.
- Carefully place the last shortbread biscuit ring on top and gently press down to make sure it’s securely in place.
- Switch to the piping bag with the Chantilly cream. As there will be plenty of berries on top, only have the outer ring a mix of whipped cream and raspberries, the inner two rings only Chantilly cream.
- To decorate, start with the largest items first, so place 5-6 macarons on top then the strawberries. Fill in empty gaps with smaller berries and chocolate truffles. Finally, add a few sugared mint leaves to finish the look of the wreath.
- To maintain the crunchy texture of the shortbread we recommend assembling as near to serving as possible, no more than 1-2 hours, stored in the fridge. Use a sharp bread knife to cut the cake using a sawing motion rather than cutting straight down.
- As the cake sits the biscuit will become more cake-like, which is still just as delicious and might even be preferred.
- For sugared mint leave, make the day before. Whisk egg whites from 1-2 eggs until lightly frothy. Dip rinsed and patted dry mint leaves in the foamy egg white then sprinkle both sides of the leaves with granulated white sugar. Arrange on a piece of parchment and leave to dry at room temperature for about an hour, then transfer leaves to a wire rack and leave to dry until stiff. Store sugared leaves in an airtight container until needed.