Everyone knows that buttercream is a cake decorating classic, but it’s moved over in recent years to make way for a more modern cake design approach: fondant. If you’ve seen what’s "out there" when it comes to fondant cakes, you’ve likely been impressed -- and if you are a cake decorating novice, you might have even felt a bit overwhelmed!
If you’ve wanted to jump on the fondant bandwagon, but didn’t know how or where to start, here are some "basic training" pointers on how to work with fondant.
Photo via Craftsy member Jackyz
There are dozens of brands of pre-made fondant and they are available in a variety of colors, flavors, textures and elasticity. Not only do different brands taste different and feel different, but different brands actually work better for different specific tasks. To learn more about some of the different brands of pre-made fondant that are available and which ones work best for different projects, check out "The Good, the Bad and the Tasty: A Comparison of Fondant Brands." But remember, the best way to discover what will work best for you is to sample a few by getting your own hands on them.
An alternative to pre-made fondant is homemade fondant. Though making homemade fondant requires just a bit more labor than tearing open a package, the homemade version is actually quite simple and inexpensive to make. Homemade fondants are typically made with very few ingredients and often have a light, pleasant “cotton candy” taste.
Photo via Buns In The Oven Cupcakery
Once you’ve selected your fondant of choice, prepare a clean working area. Stainless steel makes a perfect work surface for fondant, but virtually any hard, flat surface will work with the aid of a fondant mat, a self-healing mat or even a simple Silpat mat placed atop it. Use a small ball of fondant (waste, which you'll dispose of) and rub your work station down with it to eliminate any lint or dust particles. Grease your hands generously with vegetable shortening (or similar) and knead your fondant until it’s warm, soft and pliable. You should be able to pinch a bit and roll it into a ball using your palms without seeing any cracks. You only want to work with the fondant you need for a particular task. Keep the rest bagged or in an air-tight container to prevent it from drying out.
The thickness you should use to cover a cake is a much debated issue. Most people use between 1/4” – 1/8” of rolled fondant, but typically you want to go as thin as possible without sacrificing elasticity. Though you don’t want a thick layer of fondant covering your cake, you also don’t want your fondant to tear as you’re working it. Practice makes perfect when it comes to covering cakes with fondant. A great resource for learning how to perfectly cover a cake is the Craftsy class Clean & Simple Cake Design with Jessica Harris.
Even when using fondant for accent pieces, thickness is still a main consideration. If you’re making cut-out designs for a cake (such as flowers, stripes, polka dots, etc.), you typically want your fondant to be no more than 1/8” in thickness. Some specific designs might call for a thicker piece of fondant, but 1/8” (or thinner) is standard and will prevent your finished cake from looking bulky.
If you want to add strength to your fondant so that it will dry hard when making characters, letters or accent pieces, add Tylose powder (a food-safe hardening agent) while your fondant is soft and warm. Knead about ¼ teaspoon into a golf-ball sized ball of fondant and continue working. Items laid to dry will begin to harden within a few hours and will be completely hard in a few days. Don’t add Tylose to your fondant too soon, though, or it will become difficult to work with as it hardens and dries out.
When cutting fondant with cutters, it’s important that you consider the edges. When cutting against your work surface, push hard and slide the cutter just a bit from side to side (be careful not to move the fondant). If the fondant sticks to the cutter, rub your finger around the edge to ensure clean lines. If the cut fondant piece remains on your working surface after you cut it, pick it up and give the edges a gentle pat. Scraggly edges can prevent your end product from having a neat, clean finish.
This quick overview of some basic fondant techniques should be helpful in getting you started working with fondant. Most hobby stores sell pre-made fondant, and small boxes can be priced as little as around $10. Grab a box next time you’re there and make a plan to just sit down and play. Many successful cake decorators today are self-taught and learned by doing just this. And once you've taken your first steps with fondant, a great baby-step forward would be to venture into some light modeling. Check out Cake Topper Techniques: Fondant Animals to learn just how easy this can be. What are you waiting for? You could be the next fondant Michelangelo!