What is fondant? Great question! Most people who ask this are probably referencing rolled fondant, as seen above, and even though they might be fuzzy on the term, it’s one of those things you just know when you see it. Rolled fondant is what is typically used on TV shows like Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes, as well as many bridal magazine wedding cakes – you know, the ones that look so smooth and pristine that they almost look unreal.
There are two kinds of fondant – rolled and poured. Rolled fondant has a dough-like consistency and can be rolled out and draped over a cake. You can color, flavor and smooth it over any shape, and can also use it to make roses, drapes, swags and other decorations. Pre-made versions are available, but bakers can make their own using confectioners’ sugar, shortening, gelatin, water and typically glycerin or corn syrup. Sometimes cornstarch is used as well as a flavoring, like clear vanilla. There are also recipes available that begin with melting marshmallows, but purists wouldn’t approve.
Poured fondant is perhaps more popular in professional kitchens and is not something usually made at home. It is what covers petits fours, seen above, and is also used on top of classic Napoleon and Black & White Cookies. It is used inside of candies like chocolate-covered cherries as well. The creamy, liquid and opaque sugar mixture requires a candy thermometer to prepare, as you must bring the sugar and water mixture to a precise temperature. This type of fondant is a supersaturated solution, meaning the mixture is very heavy on the sugar proportion. If precise conditions are not met during preparation, it crystallizes and you don’t get that nice smooth effect, which is why most commercial kitchens purchase it ready-made. It isn’t expensive and is shelf-stable, which means they can have it on hand, ready for glazing their treats. We’ve had good luck with Global Sugar Arts, which has a shelf life of six months. All you do is mix it up with water, corn syrup and some optional butter and it is ready to use.
What rolled fondant has in its favor is its pristine, almost porcelain look. Its malleable texture allows you to emboss patterns and roll, twist, pat, form and cajole it into almost limitless shapes. Detractors say it pales in comparison to true buttercream flavor and adds an unwanted texture, but the fact is that it provides the cake decorator with options and we are all about variety.
In terms of what kind to buy, there are many different brands out there, but they all require tinkering to some degree. Some cake decorators like to add a little more shortening and/or glycerin to increase malleability, while others prefer to dust their work surface with cornstarch or confectioners’ sugar. While working with chocolate-colored or -flavored fondant, some decorators use cocoa powder to facilitate rolling. Like so many things with baking, this requires some experimentation on your part. You might knead it and think it is too stiff and add some glycerin, only to find out upon rolling and draping over your cake that it is now too soft. This is the type of thing that will come with experience. Make sure to check manufacturer’s suggestions as to what to add or what not to add as well, as they differ in recommendations for their specific formulas. Wilton is easy to find in many craft stores. Other brands might have to be mail-ordered.
If you’re worried about messing up your dessert, try practicing with a cake dummy, which are Styrofoam rounds (or other shapes) that, truth be told, are often used in magazine spreads! The advantage is that you don’t have to bake and frost a cake in order to practice with your fondant. You can roll and drape and move the fondant around and re-use it as you become more familiar with it. These dummies are specialty items, but can be ordered online from Beryl’s, Amazon or other sources.
Fondarific is a relatively new brand that has made a splash in the decorating world for their large variety of flavored fondant. One common complaint of fondant is that it is tasteless or just “sweet” and that it doesn’t add anything to a cake in terms of taste. This company features 16 flavors in all, including Lemon, Coffee, Buttercream and Cinnamon Bun. We find them very easy to work with, which is important for beginners and pros alike. In fact, we roll it out on our butcher block work surface without needing to add anything to it at all.
Now that you know all about the decorative ingredient, it’s time to learn some tips on working with fondant!
That covers it! Got any other fondant questions? Let us know in the comments below.