Many cakes seen in bridal magazines and on TV feature fondant for a smooth, flawless exterior. This is a type of sugar dough that is rolled out and used to cover a cake. The upside is that it can have a very pretty, pristine look. The downside for many is that it adds a lot of sweetness to a cake and an odd, chewy layer, neither of which really enhance the taste or experience of the cake. With good technique, you can use Italian meringue buttercream frosting for the outside of your cake and still achieve that fondant-smooth look. As a bonus, IMBC (as we call it at Bakepedia) can also be used as a filling and can be flavored in many ways, from fruit flavors like lemon and raspberry to chocolate or your favorite liqueur.
In order to create a smooth, fondant-like covering, we apply a first coat, also known as a crumb coat. You can use a pastry bag with a large icing tip if that makes it easier for you to get the initial coat onto the cake, or use your favorite icing spatula. Make sure to cover the entire cake, top and sides, which will keep crumbs sealed in and provide you with a smooth surface for your final coat. You can use whatever icing spatula you like, or even a bench scraper. At this point, you must refrigerate the cake until the buttercream hardens. (The crumb coat does not have to be perfectly smooth since it’s only the base coat, but do your best.)
Since IMBC contains a lot of butter, it firms up tremendously when chilled. Think about how hard a chilled stick of butter is. You should be able to touch the cake and not make a mark or indent with your finger. This will take a couple of hours or so, depending on the size of the cake and the temperature of your refrigerator.
Now you can apply a second coat; it will apply much more easily than the crumb coat since you’re now working with a sturdier surface. Make sure the IMBC you’re applying at this stage is nice and soft, and apply it to the top and sides of the cake. Smooth the fresh buttercream into/onto the hard crumb-coat buttercream, almost as if you’re spackling cement. This will allow the soft buttercream to get into any cracks or dents from the first layer. I like to use a bench scraper to do this, but use whatever icing spatula you like and is comfortable. Place the cake back in the fridge and once it hardens again, apply another layer. This can take up to 6 or 7 times back and forth to the refrigerator. This is the key. Be patient, make sure your IMBC is soft (and that you have plenty of it) and keep applying smoothly, chilling and applying again.
The result of this technique is quite rewarding. It is extremely difficult to create as smooth an exterior as fondant with any short cuts. If you cannot get the IMBC as smooth as you wish, don’t fret. You can always cover up a dent or crack with a flower or decoration anyway! No matter how frustrating it is to make a cake completely smooth on the outside, at the end of the day. you still made someone smile with your delicious dessert.
This article is part of a week-long series by Culinary Institute of America student Stephanie Zauderer on wedding cakes, from the beginning stages through delivery to the event. Check back for more every day this week.
Image: Dédé Wilson; cake from Wedding Cakes You Can Make: Designing, Baking, and Decorating the Perfect Wedding Cake