Decorating with fondant is something I've been wanting to try for a while, but I was kind of intimidated. I didn't know where to begin.
Have you ever felt like that with something? Like just it seemed too overwhelming, so you didn't bother?
Well I got one of those 'daily deal' type of things that we were talking about last week for a 3-hour fondant class at a local bakery, and I knew this was the perfect opportunity to give it a shot.
I took the class with my friend Danielle from work, and we learned all sorts of interesting things about this decorative technique from the owner of the bakery, Francesca.
The best part was that we got to try it ourselves, and then take our mini-cake home with us.
Even Mr. Vittles (who knows and cares little about food) was pretty impressed with the final product.
So this is more an informational post than a recipe. I would like to share with you the basics I learned, especially if you are like me and find the whole idea of fondant to be both intriguing and mystifying.
(If you are an old pro at this, stop here. This is my first go-around with fondant so everything seemed interesting to me - but I doubt it will to you.)
When we got to the class, we each had a work station set up with two 7" layers of vanilla cake and a scoop of chocolate buttercream. We also had a toolkit with an offset spatula, a plastic fondant rolling pin, a small round cookie cutter, a small cup of shortening, a pastry wheel-cutter, and a 'puff' made of cheesecloth with cornstarch in it, secured with a rubber band.
Francesca wanted us to use the buttercream (homemade by the bakery) as the filling of the cake, so we spread it on the bottom layer and placed the other layer on top. Then she gave us white buttercream to lightly ice the entire outside of the cake - fondant cannot stick to a dry cake, it needs the layer of buttercream to stay in place.
Once the entire cake was iced (in a very thin, even layer) we got to work on softening the fondant. And here's where everything became foreign to me.
First of all, I always thought people made the fondant before they assembled the cake. And though I'm sure plenty of people do, Francesca actually recommended we purchase the fondant ready-made. As she put it "For your first cake at home, you may want to try to make your own fondant - and then I'm fairly certain you will never make it again."
Hmm. This lady seemed to know her stuff, so fair enough. 'No making of the fondant.' Got it.
She recommended the brand Ballina, which is from somewhere in South America, because she said it is a good consistency for beginners. Not too hard and not too soft. According to her, the South Americans are masters at fondant?
However I was having trouble finding this brand for purchase online, or at least in small quantities. But I believe she said Satin Ice was also good.
In her opinion, the most popular (or at least the most readily-available) brand, Wilton, is not too tasty and also tough to work with (a couple of fondant veterans in the class attested to that as well). So I guess I'll try to stay clear of that.
Anyway, she gave us each a package of white fondant and we had to break the 'brick' in two pieces to make it easier to soften. Unless you're a masseuse or something, this process is pretty tough on your hands. You have to grease up your digits with some vegetable shortening, then knead it into the fondant until it's soft & easy to work with. (If you get a little too shortening-happy, you can always fix a sticky fondant with some cornstarch or confectioners sugar, so no worries).
Once you get your fondant nice & soft, you can color it if you want. (FYI - you may want to wear gloves when working with the gel food coloring. And make sure you grease up the gloves with shortening as well). First we tried for a marble look, where you put little dots of coloring all over the piece you want to color, then twist it & smush it together until the color swirls throughout the fondant.
You can also just keep working the fondant until it becomes a solid color.
Or, if you don't want to bother coloring the fondant yourself, many companies sell it already colored. And if you want a bold color like black or red, Francesca said it's a must to buy the fondant pre-colored. Otherwise you will have to use so much of the gel coloring that it actually degrades the structure of the fondant.
Once we got our fondant colored, it was time to roll it. We dusted our surface area with plenty of cornstarch and placed the fondant in the middle.
Now if you're a baker your first instinct here will be to roll back & forth like you would cookie dough or pie crust.
This is bad. It weakens your fondant and makes it tear. So you want to place your fondant rolling pin in the middle of the fondant and roll outward - one stroke at a time.
Roll out from the middle, then return to the middle and roll into another direction. Gently and evenly, so the thickness is the same throughout. And if your cake is a circle, you want to roll the fondant into a circular shape that's a little bigger than the diameter of the cake plus twice the height.
(For example, our cakes were 7" in diameter and 3" in height. So we rolled our circles to about 15").
Once we got it rolled, the tricky part was getting it onto the cake. Unfortunately it seemed there is really no good way to do this. Since our cakes were small, I just picked it up and plopped it on the top, which seemed to work fine at that size. But if you have a big sheet of fondant, I would guess you need to roll it loosely around the rolling pin and then unroll it onto the cake.
For any of us whose piece was much bigger than the cake we then had to trim the excess from the bottom - otherwise the fondant will start to get weighed down & tear.
Then we had to smooth it to the top & sides of the cake. Francesca's advice was to get it smoothed on the top, then work around the side by pulling the fondant up & away from the side of the cake (to avoid pleating) and then smoothing it down. (As you work your way around you will get to a point where you have so much extra that you feel like there's no way you can get it to smooth. But you can. Just do it.)
Once the sides were smooth, there was still excess fondant at the bottom, so then we had to take our wheel cutters around the bottom edge to clean things up. You want it to be tight against the cake.
After that, we smoothed the cake more using fondant smoothers. You need two - one to hold the cake in place (on the top), and the other to smooth around the sides. Otherwise you will end up touching the cake with your hands and leaving fingerprints on it! The smoothers are pretty simple, just glide back & forth across the surface. This should smooth out any dings or bumps in the fondant, but for those of us that had serious difficulties we took a little shortening on one fingertip to try & smooth the imperfections out.
Then came the fun part - decorations.
We got to use our leftover pieces of fondant to roll & cut out shapes or sculpt flowers. I decided to make mine simple, with three roses on top, a couple leaves, and some dainty tendrils.
Since I was making flowers that needed hold their shape, I had to turn the fondant into gum paste by kneading in a powder called Gum Tragacanth (sold as CAI Tylose Powder). This made the piece of fondant stiffer and drier.
To attach my shapes to the cake, I used a dab or two of water but Francesca actually recommended using a little vodka - it attaches the fondant to itself well, but evaporates quickly due to the alcohol. (And by hour 2 of working with fondant you may need to take a shot of it as well? Just saying).
Once we got the top and/or sides decorated, we had to finish the bottom edge where we cut the fondant. She suggested either placing small beads or balls at the base (like I did) or rolling pieces of fondant into ropes & braiding them together.
And then... we were done! We placed the cakes in our boxes and headed home to marvel at our creations.
And eat them, of course.
A few tips for fondant storage- if you have any unused fondant left over, you can coat it in a layer of shortening, then wrap it well in plastic wrap and stick it in a ziploc bag. Francesca said it will keep for months like this without drying out.
Also, for the cake itself, when you are choosing your flavor for filling make sure it's not something that needs to be refrigerated (like chocolate mousse, whipped cream, or pudding). Fondant cannot be refrigerated because water is it's worst enemy - you don't want condensation ruining your beautiful masterpiece, now do you?
By the way - if I have any occasions in the near future to make a fondant cake, I will try to add some photos of the process. I didn't take pictures until I got home, so all I can show you is the finished product.
But tell me ... have any of you worked with fondant in the past? What do you think?
So much fun, or too much work?
I'm really glad I tried it, and I had a great time. But I also don't think I'll be quitting my day job to start making fondant cakes any time soon. Special occasions only!