Fondant is a sugar dough that can be purchased in different colors. Because you usually see it only on professionally decorated cakes, most people assume that it is difficult to work with, but the truth is that for many home bakers and decorators, I dare say it will be easier to manipulate than frosting and buttercream.
There’s a lot to recommend fondant: You don’t have to mix it yourself, it can be held at room temperature, and you can simply cut shapes from it to make designs an infinitely easier process than developing that elusive Hand of the Bag.
If you have kids, fondant is also a great way to involve them in decorating because they can cut shapes, even using cookie cutters, which give them a greater chance for success.
There’s almost no end to the tools you can use to make fondant cakes, and a number of the cakes that follow call for specific cutters and implements. But a good basic set of tools for working with fondant includes the following.
• Water pen: This professional tool allows you to apply dabs of water that act as glue with fondant. (If you don’t have one, in most cases except when working with very small pieces you can use a pastry brush to apply water.)
• Pizza cutter: or sharp, thin-bladed knife, such as an X-Acto or paring knife: For trimming fondant and cutting shapes.
• Strip cutter set: Essential for cutting strips of various sizes from fondant.
• Smoother: This iron-shaped device is used to smooth the top of fondant-draped cakes.
• Ruler: For precision.
• Paint brush: For applying petal dust.
• Steamer: To finish any fondant design, you can steam the fondant in order to evaporate the cornstarch (or powdered sugar) and give it a smooth, shiny look. You can do this with a fabric steamer, or even an inexpensive travel iron. Pass the steamer 1 or 2 inches over the cake, gently waving it to distribute the steam, until the fondant glistens slightly with moisture. Let the fondant air-dry; this should take only a few seconds. Be careful not to let the steamer spit or spray water onto the cake.
Keep fondant in the airtight container it comes in, at room temperature, until you use it. After removing the portion you plan to work with, store the remaining fondant, if any, in an airtight plastic bag in the tub at room temperature.
WORKING WITH FONDANT
Working with fondant is easier than it might seem. Once you get over the initial “Newness” of the medium, you might even find it easier than working with buttercream. Here are the basics of getting started with fondant.
• Wash your work surface. Fondant is a magnet for anything and everything crumbs, debris, or anything else on your work surface will become embedded in the fondant. Even if you manage to get these particles out, they will leave little divots in the surface that cannot be patched over cleanly. So before beginning, brush your surface, wipe it down with a damp cloth, then dry it thoroughly.
• Before working with fondant, knead it for 1 minute to loosen it and activate the gums.
COATING A CAKE WITH FONDANT
This is the step that all fondant cakes have in common, and it’s actually a series of small steps.
DIRTY-ICE THE CAKE
The first step that must be taken is to “dirty-ice” the cake, readying it to receive the fondant. Dirty-icing “for what most bakers call a “crumb coat.” It refers to a thin layer of Decorator’s Buttercream that’s laid down as a frosting to help fondant “stick” to the cake. (It might be helpful to think of it as a primer coat of paint.) The proper name, “crumb coat,” refers to the fact that you can see crumbs through the icing. It’s not important that your dirty-icing be perfect, just that it be thin and cover the entire cake.
To dirty-ice a cake, first ice it as you usually would; see “Icing (Frosting) Cakes,”. Then use a piece of poster board to finish the job (see “Icing with Cardboard,”), getting as close to the cake as possible.
After dirty-icing a cake, refrigerate it until the buttercream stiffens, 30 to 60 minutes.”
ICING WITH CARDBOARD
If you don’t have a cake icing spatula on hand, you can do a very clean job using a piece of poster board. In fact, when you dirty-ice a cake prior to working with fondant, finishing the job with a piece of poster board is essential.
To do this, cut a 4 by 3-inch piece of poster board with very sharp scissors. As you rotate the turntable, hold the edge of the cardboard flush against the edge of the cake. Then turn your attention to the top of the cake, combing in with brushstrokes from the edge of the cake, only halfway across at first, then all the way across. Professional decorators actually prefer this technique because it puts your hands in closer contact with the cake itself, giving you greater control than with a spatula, although less seasoned decorators will probably have greater success icing their cakes in two steps first using a cake icing spatula, then finishing with the poster board.
ROLL OUT THE FONDANT
This is one of the most important steps in working with fondant. As proud as we are of our rolling skills, at Our bakery we use a sheeter to roll out our fondant. At home, you can get a good result working by hand, but it takes some practice and focus.
1. Dust your work surface with cornstarch or powdered sugar. Some people use flour, which is a fine alternative, but cornstarch is smoother and lighter, and easier to brush or steam off when you’re finished.
2. Remove the fondant required from its storage bag or tub. To coat a two-layer, 9-inch cake which is what most of the cakes in this chapter are begin with a 3-pound piece. This will be more than you need, but the excess can be returned to the storage bag.
3. Knead the fondant for about 1 minute to activate the gums and make it pliable. If you’re working in cold weather, wash your hands in warm water before beginning; warm hands make this job go faster. Just be sure to dry them thoroughly before starting to knead.
4. Dust your work surface with more cornstarch; do this as often as necessary when you work to keep the fondant from pulling or sticking.
5. Flatten out the ball of fondant with the palm of your hand. Begin rolling it, preferably with a polyurethane rolling pin (second choice would be a sturdy, ball-bearing rolling pin), really putting your forearms and weight into the rolling motion.
The trick here is to lift the fondant up off the work surface frequently to keep it from sticking; cornstarch helps here, but you need to strike a delicate balance: too much cornstarch will cause the fondant to dry out by drawing out its moisture. The heat from your hands helps with this. Get into the habit of rubbing the fondant constantly to keep it from drying out.
6. Once you have rolled the fondant out to a length of 18 inches, turn the piece horizontally and fluff it, moving it around to pick up excess cornstarch from the work surface on the bottom. Then roll the other way. As the fondant begins to take on a circular shape, vary the angle of your rolling, first in one direction, then the other. Continue in this fashion until you have rolled a near-perfect circle, 20 to 22 inches in diameter and ⅛ inch thick, or thinner if you’re able. The more you turn the fondant, the thinner and more uniform the result will be.
7. Check the fondant for air pockets (bubbles), poking with a needle tool, or a toothpick. After doing this, smooth out the fondant by hand or with a smoother.
APPLY THE FONDANT TO THE CAKE
1. Set the rolling pin at the far edge of the fondant circle and roll it back toward you, spooling the fondant up onto the pin and gently knocking off any excess cornstarch.
2. Bring the pin over the cake, unspooling the fondant and lowering it over the other side, letting it drape over the sides and onto your work surface Smooth the top with a smoother, then pull and press down gently on the sides to make the fondant taut all around.
3. Caress the fondant with your hands to smooth it against the cake, stretching and pulling it tautly over the top and down the sides, turning the cake and using your fingers to be sure it’s smooth all over “sides, turning the cake and using your fingers to be sure it’s smooth all over.
4. Use a pizza cutter or sharp, thin-bladed knife such as a paring knife, to cut around the base and remove any excess fondant. Lift the excess ring up and over the cake. Ball up the excess fondant and return it to its storage bag; it can be reused.
5. Put the cake on a turntable. Use a smoother to smooth out the fondant on the top and sides. Inspect the cake; if you find any dry spots (they will appear arid and veined), rub a little vegetable shortening over them, then smooth with the smoother.
“You are now ready to decorate your cake!”
Note: If designing your own cakes, you can select your own border type, or cut a strip of fondant in another color and make a band. Pipe a thin line of buttercream around the bottom of the cake and wrap the band around it; the cream will cause the fondant to adhere to the cake.