Whether you’re a bride, a cake-curious baker, or a cake design professional, there is a lot to know about fondant. There are many things I wish someone had told me when I first started so that I didn’t have to learn the hard way, and apparently, I’m not the only one. Here are my top ten.
1. Fondant can be refrigerated. I had one of those I’m-never-making-another-cake-again cakes several years ago on a blazing hot day in Malibu, CA. After that, I started refrigerating my cakes. You can read more about it here (it’s tip #4). I’ve heard that some cake artists use humidity-controlled fridges, but I’ve yet to find any. I try to keep my cake fridge at the warmest setting to minimize the difference between the fridge temp and the air temp, thereby limiting the amount of condensation (or “sweating”) that forms when the cake comes out of the fridge. Sweet Cakes by Rebecca notes that condensation can be minimized by boxing the cake and wrapping the box in plastic wrap. I usually mine in a cardboard box. I find the cardboard absorbs excess moisture in the fridge.
2. Keep colored fondant out of direct light. Any light. Even electric light can fade your fondant. Coloring fondant lavender is tricky. If you put it in the sun at all, it will turn blue. Keep your cake and decorations in the dark place or covered it if there is any lavender or purple. When the cake is out at the reception, keep it out of the sun. Using pre-colored fondant is better than using gel when it comes to purple. Excellent advice. I would add pinks to the list too.
3. Fondant won’t make an imperfect cake look perfect. They say that to understand digital photography truly, and you have first to understand the film. The same is true of cake: to truly understand fondant, you must have a basic understanding of buttercream cakes. Skillfully covered fondant cakes are deceptive: the fondant looks so impeccably smooth, many people assume that (1) it’s easy and (2) fondant is all that’s needed to get that perfect finish. But fondant won’t make a bumpy, lumpy, lopsided cake look any better (and might even make it look worse). It is absolutely critical to have a smoothly iced cake with a level top and plumb (straight up and down) sides underneath the fondant. Take the time to learn this skill if you haven’t already, and your fondant cakes will look a lot better.
4. Fondant is not ideal for all designs. Fondant’s gummy property makes it great as icing but terrible for certain design work. Because it won’t hold its shape, vertical or horizontal lines, sugar flowers, and the like are very difficult to execute with fondant. At the shop, we use three methods. We either add tylose to fondant to stiffen it, make a 50/50 mixture of fondant and gum paste, or ditch the fondant altogether and use gum paste.
5. Fondant tastes better than you might think. Many of my brides who say they’ve heard fondant tastes horrible are usually pleasantly surprised by the taste. I always share with them that my objection to fondant is not necessarily the taste, but rather the gummy texture of the fondant with the crumb of the cake. However, since fondant firms up a bit, it is easy for guests who really don’t like it to peel it off, and for me, you can’t beat that perfectly smooth look of fondant, so it’s a trade-off that’s well worth it.
6. It’s (sometimes) easier to cover a large cake than a smaller one. Many people are intimidated by larger cakes, but when the sides of the cake are smaller in proportion to the diameter of the cake, it’s actually easier. Think about spreading a flat sheet on a mattress. The sheet lies flat, and a little hang smoothly over the sides. Now imagine taking that same bedsheet and trying to cover a broomstick smoothly. It would be virtually impossible due to all the draping. In this analogy, the bedsheet, with its large surface area and relatively short sides, is the larger cake while the broomstick, with its very tall sides and relatively small surface area, is the smaller cake. Basically, a taller cake than it is wide is more challenging to cover than a wider cake than it is tall.
7. Fondant will be affected by temperature and humidity. When fondant is cold, it tends to stiffen. When it’s warm, it gets soft and droopy, when it’s humid, sticky. The best way to combat the changes? A temperature-controlled room definitely helps, and shortening or cornstarch can decrease the stickiness, but a lot of it comes with practice. Unfortunately, with this one, there’s no easy way of avoiding it. Just remember that if your normally cooperative fondant turns to into a big droopy mess, it’s probably the weather and not you. Try not to get too frustrated, take breaks if needed, and remember that it’s all part of the process.
8. Water and fondant don’t mix. You must be absolutely vigilant when working with fondant not to get any water on it. Water droplets will dissolve the fondant’s sugar, leaving small pockmarks on an otherwise perfectly smooth surface. I always box my cakes for transport, just in case, and I always instruct brides to get fresh flowers on their cake to communicate to their florist that the flowers must be absolutely dry before being place on the cake.
9. It’s expensive, and you get what you pay for. Do yourself a favor and stay away from the cheaper, more commercially available fondant. It’s harder to work with, is more elastic (in the worst way), and has a shorter working time because it dries so quickly. Satin Ice is the industry standard, but other brands are excellent. Kristin Sabol Kirkpatrick shared on Facebook that “not all fondants are created equal! Just because someone swears by a certain brand doesn’t mean it is the best choice for you!” Some fondants (like Carma Massa Ticino Tropic) are actually formulated for humid climates. The specialty fondants are definitely pricier, but if you calculate all the sleep you’ll lose over fondant that sweats, cracks, or bulges, it’s well worth the investment.
10. I really like this tip from Oven Couture ~ Smallish Confection Perfection: Buy pre-colored fondant! You can spend a long time (and risk drying out) trying to get white fondant black, or you can spend a little more and buy it. I vote to buy it.
And of course, a cake! A ruffled heart cake inspired by Valentine’s Day.
I hope these tips are helpful to you. Feel free to share any I’ve left out! We always love to hear from you. Best of luck!