Have you ever watched Cake Boss? I sure hope I'm not the only one! If you've ever seen any of those baking reality shows, you've probably heard the term fondant thrown around a time or two, but you may not be totally sure what it is. If you are getting into cake decorating, then this post is the right place for you. If you're just curious or want to play around with some new techniques, then we can help you with that too. We're going to cover all the bases when it comes to what fondant is, how to use it, and for the (literal) icing on the cake, we will give you some ideas for making your own fondant right at home!
What Is Fondant?
Fondant is technically a type of icing, and Wikipedia reminds us not to confuse it with fondue, even though the word origins are the same, from the French word for melting. Just stick with icing and don't accidentally pour melted cheese onto your cakes, please! Fondant is most commonly used to sculpt or decorate cakes, cupcakes, or pastries. The texture of fondant is very different than most icings, however, which is what really makes it unique.
Fondant comes in a couple different forms: rolled or poured, usually. Rolled fondant has the same texture of clay that is a little stiffer than you are used to, and poured fondant is a very gelatinous, thick liquid. We will not touch too much on poured fondant, as it is less common, but it is used for fillings or covering cakes. Cadbury Creme Eggs are filled with a version of poured fondant, to help you picture it a little better. Rolled fondant is more along the lines of what Buddy the Cake Boss is always yelling about: it is used almost exclusively as a decorative touch on the outside of baked goods.
What Is Fondant Made Of?
You may think of typical cake icing as a creamy, delicious spread that you apply from a tube or with a knife (or maybe you just eat it straight out of the bowl, no judgment here). However, fondant is a completely different thing. First, the surface of a fondant cake is very different than one iced with “regular” icing. Luxury cakes, like those at weddings or bat mitzvahs, require a more versatile type of decorating tool in order to get those elaborate and creative designs. Think about trying to make a 3D bow shaped out of regular icing--not gonna happen, no matter how talented you are. A variation of rolled fondant known as sculpting fondant is often used as well, but we will group them into one for our purposes, as they are so similar.
Rolled fondant is made of sugar, water, and corn syrup. For sculpting and shaping, gelatin or glycerin is added. Elaborate decorations on wedding cakes used to be created from marzipan or royal icing, but fondant is a more popular substitute these days, as both of those contain almond meal and raw egg whites, respectively, which is tough when baking for large crowds due to allergies. Interestingly, fondant can also be made using powdered sugar and melted marshmallows, but that method is definitely less common. Rolled fondant is, well, rolled after it is made, typically into flat sheets that are then draped over cakes or used to cut shapes out of for decoration purposes. You can buy pre-rolled fondant in sheets at some specialty stores, or you can buy it in a dough form and roll it yourself. Think of it like cake decorating with Play-doh®, almost, just much more fun to eat! No matter which form is best, fondant will absolutely up your cake decorating game in no time!
Is Fondant Edible?
Fondant is an edible icing made of 100% edible ingredients (which makes us question who uses inedible icing). Although the icing is edible, you might see people take the fondant off cakes when they are eating cake because people tend to not like the texture or flavor of fondant. Don’t be shy to eat the icing!
Why Use Fondant: Fondant vs. Buttercream
With the rise of fondant, marzipan and royal icing have fallen out of popularity, but there is still one big competitor to fondant in the cake world: buttercream. Buttercream frosting is basically a dream to work with, and it is creamy and delicious. I could go on, but that is not the purpose of this post! While buttercream is delicious and creamy, it has a lot of limitations as well, and that is where fondant comes into play. Buttercream frosting pretty much has one look to it. It can be colored easily, and it can be swirled on or spread more smoothly, but as far as decor goes, there is not a lot of versatility outside of those options. Buttercream also melts very easily but gets hard when too cold, so it must be served at the exact right temperature for best results. For instance, if your wedding is in Georgia in July, you pretty much have to serve the cake right after it is delivered for fear of melting into a delicious sugary puddle. In that same vein, cakes with buttercream tend to go bad more quickly, so you need to bake the cakes and prepare them closer to when you are actually consuming them. However, some of the positives of buttercream are that it is very delicious on its own and can be lightly flavored for amazing results. Some bakers prefer buttercream as errors or mishaps can be more easily fixed than with fondant!
On the other hand, fondant is basically the opposite of buttercream in most ways. While fondant can also be colored, that is about where the similarities end. Fondant protects cakes from going bad, as it “seals” off the outside surface of the cake. You can prepare the cakes in advance and keep them refrigerated, and they will still taste yummy and fresh a few days later! Fondant does get hard when it is cold, like buttercream, so is typically served best at room temperature, but you have more flexibility temperature-wise than with buttercream, as fondant does not melt as easily. The decorating possibilities with fondant are pretty much limitless! Going back to the Cake Boss example, he has made giant theme parks, cars, and all kinds of different shapes primarily out of fondant. If your number one focus is decorative possibilities, then fondant is the obvious choice. One issue with fondant that you do not have with buttercream is that it shows errors more noticeably. Fingerprints are extremely obvious on the surface of fondant, and tough to fix without completely re-making the entire surface piece. So while fondant is a creative’s dream, it may be a clumsy baker’s nightmare! Many people also claim that they prefer the taste and texture of buttercream frosting over fondant. Both types of cake frosting have their pros and cons, and your personal preference will be based on what you want most in your cake!
If you happen to like certain characteristics of both buttercream and fondant, then you are in luck! Many bakers use buttercream to smooth out the surface of the cake and help the fondant to adhere. Therefore, you can have the taste and creaminess of the buttercream without sacrificing the decorative potential of the fondant surface!
How to Make Your Own Fondant
Okay, as we promised, we will teach you how to make your own fondant! The process is not too difficult, but there are quite a few different varieties, so you can play with the recipe and find what works best for your needs! You will need some gelatin, corn syrup, glycerin, shortening, and confectioners sugar! We are going off this recipe from Bigger Bolder Baking.
Mix gelatin and cold water, and heat it in a double boiler until dissolved. Add the corn syrup and mix it well, then add the shortening. Mix this mixture into a bowl of sugar, and keep kneading the dough until it forms the right texture. If you are vegan, then agar is a great substitute for the gelatin (which is not vegan). You can store the fondant in the freezer, but outside of the freezer it may harden in a few days and be unusable.
No matter if you are starting out as the Cake Boss or the Cake Janitor, you will definitely come across fondant during your time as a cake baker or decorator! The possibilities of fondant are literally endless, and you can create as many colors (and even flavors) as you can dream of! We dare you to try your hand at decorating with fondant and send us some pictures of your creations!
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