It’s not too late to make this super festive Red Velvet Christmas Tree Cake for the holidays! A little bit of carving, a simple star piping tip, and a handful of magic brings this tree cake to life in no time.
Walking down the hall of our apartment building, and I am instantly transported back to my childhood home by the scent of faux pine. I loved that smell. Christmas as a child was so magical - full of family, love, and cookies. I get nostalgic for the Christmas of my youth all year round, even if the Christmases of my adult life will never be the same.
My parents sold my childhood home the same year that my son was born and my late grandmother became very ill. Those big family Christmases were never ever going to be the same for several reasons. And although of course I wish grandma was still around, we are creating new memories each year. Not only are we forced to from new traditions in a new home, we get to celebrate and rediscover the magic of Christmas with a new generation (including 4 month old Amara this year!).
Hopefully this new Christmas Tree Cake tradition will live on as long a Grandma’s Crinkle Cookie recipe.
Even though I promised I would not overbook myself or work too hard this season (with the new baby in the house and all), of course I took on a few too many extra projects as always… As we got deeper into the holiday season, weeknights were spent in front of the computer while weekends were spent behind the camera instead of with my kids…
Everett is pretty accustomed to mommy’s strange job where there are cakes and cookies constantly being baked but not enjoyed. For an almost 4 year old, he amazes me daily with his restraint and understanding. I mean, how many other preschoolers out there see cake in the fridge on the daily and don’t cry or complain when they don’t get a slice?
Anyways, our time in Vancouver was wrapping up before heading back to California when I decided to cancel all my other plans (those that I could, anyways) and make my darling boy a magical cake of his own. I saw this Christmas Tree Cake on Instagram instantly has to make my own. Using the Red Velvet Cake recipe from my first cookbook, Layered, I quickly baked up the cake and transformed it into this buttercream Christmas tree.
If you saw on my Instagram stories, then you know I carved and decorated this cake with baby Amara asleep in the carrier while Everett was at school. We waited until he came home from school for the big reveal. Boy was he surprised!!!
The pictures pretty much say it all. That smile!! But my favorite part? The look on his face when our towering slice toppled over.
How to Make A Christmas Tree Cake
The Red Velvet Cake was baked in three 6-inch cake pans and two 4-inch cake pans. I carved one of the larger layers down to 5-inches in diameter and trimmed one of the smaller cakes to have a slight dome on top. After layering the cakes with a vanilla-almond whipped buttercream, I carved them down into a tall tree shape. With the cake scraps and some leftover icing, I formed a cake cone for the top of the tree.
Decorating the cake was super simple. I divided the remaining buttercream into three different shades of green buttercream, (this adds a little more texture and dimension). For the tree, simply fill a piping bag fitted with a star tip (I used Wilton 4B) and pipe shells around the tree. Start at the bottom and work your way around and up the tree. Add the various colors of buttercream to the piping bag at random for the free-flowing effect. Be sure to add the sprinkles as you go so that they stick to the buttercream before it begins to crust. And if all else fails, literally throw the sprinkles to the side of the cake (instead of from the top where they can sometimes bounce off everywhere). A simple fondant star made with a cookie cutter and some gold luster dust mixed with vanilla extra adorns the top.
For the Red Velvet Cake
2 ¼ cup cake flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 ½ sticks)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
red food coloring (optional)
¾ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 4-inch round cake pans and three 6-inch round cakes pans and set aside.
Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add in the cocoa, vanilla, red coloring, and eggs – one at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.
With the mixer on low, add in half of the dry ingredients followed by the buttermilk and vinegar. Add the second half of the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 23 to 28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.
For the Whipped Vanilla-Almond Buttercream
2 cups unsalted butter, softened
5 to 6 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 to 4 tablespoons milk
Beat butter at medium-low speed of electric mixer until smooth and creamy (1 to 3 minutes.)
Gradually add 4 ½ cups powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste, and almond extract with mixer at low speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Mix until blended.
Beat at medium-high speed 3 to 5 minutes, until buttercream is light and airy and nearly white. If needed, add the additional powered sugar or milk until desired consistency. Divide and tint with green gel food coloring.
See post above for assembly instructions.