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It's that time of year again, where Christmas fruit cake have been baked and are being topped up with your favourite dark spirit. My favourite (and most successful) recipe suggested topping up with brandy weekly (without getting the cake too moist).

However, no suggestions were provided as to when is the right time to stop adding your spirits, and therefore to ice the cake.

I usually marzipan and ice the cake a few days before I want to gift it (and/or eat it), but I was wondering if there is an optimal time in this process to do so, and if so, why?

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It's not unknown for me to keep a slice until April (well wrapped so it doesn't dry out). All that happens is that the icing gets a bit hard. I use fondant icing, and it takes at least a couple of months to get as hard as royal icing does almost immediately. This is with bought marzipan; if you make your own I don't know how well it would keep.

From this I'd say there's no such thing as too late except setting time, and too early would have to be over a month in advance. I also allow a day between marzipan and icing. This is mainly as a drier marzipan surface is easier to ice onto than when it's freshly applied.

Some of the early feeds (I use sherry) can be from the top if it's not iced. You take away this possibility by icing early. You probably shouldn't feed it from the top just before covering as it may still be damp. You can still feed from underneath after icing.

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