Five Top Tips for Working with Fondant

11 Oct

Imagine this: you’re planning for a big event, let’s say an anniversary or birthday, and you contact a restaurant.  Normal, right?  But, to make a grand statement, you want to order an expensive edible centerpiece.  Perhaps a three-tiered steak, festooned with edible decorations – maybe ribbons or hearts – maybe stacked all topsy-turvy, “Alice in Wonderland” style.  Or maybe a huge pizza, with pepperoni spelling out the names of the honorees, topped with green peppers, olives, onions & tomatoes organized to look like Super Mario or the DJ from Yo Gabba Gabba.  Or how about a huge quesadilla with edible flags from different countries fashioned out of sauces, to celebrate your sister’s Master’s degree in International Relations.


Quesadilla with Edward from Twilight...


Sounds ridiculous, of course, but that’s basically the norm in the world of cake.  Edible decorations, covering a delicious food item, to symbolize eternal wedded bliss, or celebrating turning another year older.  With savory items, this type of centerpiece is very rare – although I did hear about an artist at a local Chinese restaurant in the 70’s that would arrange slices of BBQ pork on a plate into a scene or animal.  With all of the outrageous cakes featured on Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss & shows of that ilk, the culture has come to accept the over-the-top fondant covered cake as a given for any social celebration.

Having taught myself through trial-and-error (most effective, at least in terms of remembering the “don’ts”) and guided lots of other eager souls at classes here through the basics of dealing with fondant, I thought it was time to give you my top five tips.  So here we go:


No Showers for Me...


1. Fondant doesn’t like water. Think of it as the Wicked Witch that melts when Dorothy throws water on her.  Since it’s made of sugar, if a drop of water lands on a fondant surface, a hole can form.  If the fondant becomes too dry when you are kneading it and rolling it out, you have 3 options.

One, add more food coloring (if you need to change the color).  Two, add some simple syrup and let the fondant rest, wrapped in plastic, for a few minutes.  Or three, knead some buttercream into the fondant.  The only drawback with the buttercream is that buttercream has a shorter shelf-life at room temperature than fondant, so don’t mix your BC-added fondant in with the rest.  Use it up quickly.


Crumb Coat Completed


2. You still need to apply buttercream to the cake well. Of all the basic cake-decorating processes, putting BC on a cake is the one that seems the easiest when you see someone else do it, but is actually the most challenging.  Trust me.  Getting  a smooth layer of buttercream on a cake takes lots of practice.  Don’t be discouraged.  In culinary school, I spent 1 hour on a half-sheet cake for a practical, just getting a good BC coat on.  The key is to have a crumb coat on the cake first.  Which leads us to three.


We Use This


3. Always chill your cake before decorating. This actually would apply to buttercream, ganache or fondant cakes.  Bake and assemble your cake the day before you decorate, so that way, you can chill the cake overnight, well-wrapped in plastic.  Then, once chilled, you can apply a thin layer of BC – “the crumb coat” – which will trap all of the cake crumbs.  Chill again, then apply your final BC coat.  Even for any fondant-enrobed cakes, you need to do this.  If the surface of the cake is not smooth, the fondant will not hide that fact.  Get the cake smooth first.


Rollin' rollin' rollin'...


4. Roll out the fondant 1/4″ or thinner. As much as fondant is a great decorating material, able to be colored any shade & fashioned into most any shape, it’s still quite sweet and not the most exciting thing to eat, flavor-wise.  Lots of people don’t eat it at all, and just peel it off the cake and leave it on their plate like a discarded cupcake wrapper.  Plus, the fondant tends to crack more and develop “elephant skin” wrinkles if it is rolled too thick.  This happens because the outermost layer dries out, leaving the portion below still gooey.  Not a good combination.

If you want to sculpt a dimensional shape out of it, either get gumpaste, which dries better, or use something in the interior (like a marshmallow or chunk of cake) so that the shape is not just solid fondant.  Fondant does work well for flat decor pieces, dried out for 1 to 2 days on a rack.  But in general, remember to roll quickly and have your cake ready so that once the fondant is rolled, it will go right on the cake.  No taking a phone call first or rolling then applying the buttecream your cake.  Quicker is better, in this case.  And, finally…




5. Roll the fondant out with cornstarch. In culinary school, the chef taught us to use equal parts cornstarch and powdered sugar (t.p.t), but powdered sugar has a larger particle size than cornstarch and is harder to dust off of the finished surface.  Cornstarch works great, and you don’t have to use much of it at all.  The key to making sure the fondant doesn’t stick when you’re rolling it is to roll relatively gently and rotate the piece of fondant 90 degrees every 1 – 3 rolls.  If you’re overzealous about rolling and don’t turn your piece, you may get the right thickness but it easily could be glued down to the table.  Then you are back to square one.

So, hopefully this helps a bit.  I would encourage any home-baker to play around with making a fondant-decorated cake.  Just give yourself extra time because you will invariable need whatever extra you allotted, and more.  The key is to let yourself play, don’t be so self-critical and get creative.  Simple designs are actually more difficult than busy ones, because there’s less margin for error.  Good luck out there!


2 Responses to “Five Top Tips for Working with Fondant”

  1. Sara November 4, 2010 at 3:28 am #

    this is great! so, do you let your cakes come to room temp before applying fondant? I found that mine grew a little weepy when I applied it to the cake cold. And, do you have to use gel based food coloring too?

  2. blackmarketbakery November 4, 2010 at 7:22 pm #

    Sara – the weeping seems negligible given that if the cake isn’t cold it tends to get dinged. Especially with tiered cakes! How does it work when the cake is warmer for you?

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