Let’s assume for a moment that you’re not the type of person who typically reads articles on baking. You haven’t watched every single episode of The Great British Bake Off, and you don’t fall asleep fantasizing about your next cupcake decoration. You also don’t caramelize sugar in your spare time… and you definitely don’t know how to make fondant.
Instead, you’re at a birthday party for your 6-year-old kid’s BFF. It seems like a fairly normal birthday party, when suddenly, out of nowhere, it appears.
Gasps all around the room.
The birthday cake. And it isn’t just impressive.
Beautiful, colorful, and covered with a level of detail that puts professional bakers to shame. Where did the parents buy this thing?
And yet, when you cautiously try to get them to spill the secret on how much they shelled out for this masterpiece, what’s the answer you get?
“Oh, we made that here! Wanted to make sure we got it just right.”
So these parents didn’t take out a second mortgage or blow their child’s college fund for one cake. That’s comforting to know. But now a second question has taken root in your mind…
How does an average family just “whip up” a cake that looks like it cost more than your very first car?
Answer? The fondant.
If you’ve ever watched Cake Boss (or alternatively, “Nailed It!”), you know how a truly excellent job of decoration can make or break a cake.
And fondant? That’s so often the magic component that makes the difference here. In baking shows, a contestant who has mastered how to make fondant (and can apply it well) can often walk away with the first prize.
They didn’t have this stuff when we were turning ten years old, that’s for sure…
The reason for fondant’s recent popularity can at least partly be attributed to the rise of apps like Instagram and Pinterest. There’s a huge surge in fascination because everyone wants to make a cake that doesn’t just taste good but looks spectacular.
One that’s not just scrumptious, but share-worthy.
And now, as you’re watching the birthday kid blow out the candles and carve up this artistic tour-de-force, a third thought has taken root in your mind…
How do I make one even better?
Recommended Read: Easter Cake Ideas
Your Quick Introduction To Fondant
So first, the quick-and-easy basics.
Fondant is a type of icing.
It’s unusual among icings, though, because it has a very flexible texture that basically makes it operate like modeling clay. And that’s just how it gets used by bakers: to make fantastic designs that won’t crumble, melt easily, or cause a panic if they get eaten.
Because it is also edible, it can be added to tasty treats without worry.
Fondant has a few different varieties.
Rolled fondant is the most common type. It’s almost always what people think of first when they think “fondant.” And for most of this article, rolled is the type we’ll talk about most.
Basically, it looks like dough that’s been rolled out flat for making pastries. But instead of being dough, it’s a solid icing that’s great for decorating. It can be shaped to make figures, or it can cover the top and sides of cake to give it that “flawless” look — a clean, smooth surface.
It can also be spray-painted easily (with edible paint of course) so that the baker or decorator can produce any number of patterns or designs.
Rolled fondant can be made out of sugar, water, oil, and corn syrup. Glycerine and gelatin (or some vegetarian varieties, agar or some kind of gum) are often added in order to make it better for shaping.
Recommended Read: 10 Best Wedding Cake Ideas
Once you learn how to make it, you can also whip up a bunch at home out of marshmallows. Or if you want to save time, you can buy a pre-made commercial version at the store.
Fondant doesn’t spoil easily and will last a long time even at room temperature, meaning that if you make a cake and then need to store it for a bit, it will hold its shape better than many other icings or frostings might. This makes it ideal for projects that might be done a few days in advance and then transported somewhere (like in the case of a wedding cake.)
Marzipan and “royal icing” are often used for this purpose too. But fondant has a distinct advantage over these two in that it doesn’t rely on eggs (royal icing) or on almonds (marzipan). That means that if you are looking to create a party cake that will be consumed by many people who may have different dietary restrictions, this type of icing can help avoid the headache of figuring out who has the nut allergy and who is vegan and won’t eat eggs.
So. Rolled fondant. That’s what we’ll be using to decorate, and that’s the style most similar to what we’ll be learning how to make.
Just a quick peek at the other “types” of fondant.
Poured fondant, as you may guess from the name, is pourable. It’s a liquid and is often used for fillings. In fact, it’s essentially what you find inside a Cadbury egg. Syrupy, good for giving a cake or candy a liquid center, but not so helpful for decorating.
It is basically sugar and water that also has some sort of stabilizer added (like gelatin). “Cooked poured” takes a little longer to make and store for a few days ahead of use. Another type, “quick poured” often uses powdered sugar and can be whipped up very quickly.
Gum paste is a good one to know about because it can do some of the detail work that rolled fondant can’t. It typically uses confectioner’s sugar, and it winds up changing its consistency once it dries.
It’s like rolled fondant, but it continues to get even harder as it dries out. So gum paste winds up being almost like a hard candy by the end of the process.
This makes it ideal to be used to create decorations like tiny figurines, bows, or flowers on a wedding cake. (The fact that it’s like hard candy is what makes it best for this sort of decoration. Using gum paste will keep flower petals from drooping or bows from flopping over.)
While we don’t have time to do a full exploration of gum paste in this article, you can find more about making it here:
Gum paste isn’t hard to use, and if you’re planning on making a cake that has any of these specific elements, we recommend giving it a try. Just don’t use it entirely in place of fondant. It would not be a good way to cover the entire cake, unless you want to try to eat your cake with an ice pick!
Sculpting fondant is sort of halfway between rolled fondant and gum paste. It’s firmer than rolled, but unlike gum paste, it doesn’t harden completely when it dries. Usually, though, people will do most of their work with rolled and then do the detailed stuff with gum paste.
Fondant vs. Icing
People will sometimes draw the distinction between fondant and icing. While fondant is often considered a type of icing, people usually mean something different when they use the terms icing and fondant in the same sentence.
Typical icing means that it starts out as a sugary liquid, drizzled over cakes, muffins, cupcakes, or any baked good that needs a little extra kick of sweetness.
The thing about this icing is that it’s often applied as a liquid. Then, after it’s on the cake, it will harden. This makes it a very simple, no-mess way of getting icing on the cake, but it doesn’t lend itself to detailed decorative work.
Rolled fondant, on the other hand, is already in solid form when it’s put on the cake. It’s malleable and versatile. It can give a cake a beautiful, colored, smooth surface. Or it can be shaped into spectacular designs.
For the purpose of the rest of this article, we’re going to talk primarily about rolled fondant and sculpting fondant. That’s the stuff that you use to get the really snazzy showstoppers.
Sounds incredibly complicated, right? It’s easy, trust us. You don’t have to have a baking degree to learn how to make it right in your own home.
How to Make Fondant in Your Home Kitchen
For this exercise, we’re going to cheat (a little bit). This method is a common “make your own at home” method that involves using marshmallows as the key ingredient. We’re going to melt the marshmallows down, add water, confectioners sugar, and vegetable shortening (we need to get the oil in there).
Then we’re going to learn how to store it until you want to use it, at which point you’ll roll it out and start decorating to your heart’s content!
1 lb package of marshmallows
2 lbs confectioner’s sugar (sifted, not packed. Should be 7-8 cups)
3-4 tbsp water
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
Put two tbsp (tablespoons) water and all the marshmallows in a microwavable bowl. Microwave them on high for 30 seconds, then stir. Microwave again for 30 seconds, and stir again… repeat this for four or five times (or until the mixture is melted). You should have a bowl of melted marshmallows that has a fairly even consistency.
Step Two (optional)
If you want to add flavoring or coloring to the mixture, do that now. Vanilla or almond extract, if you are going for those flavors. For color, a good option is any of the Wilson Icing Colors.
Put 3/4 of the confectioner’s sugar into the bowl, and start folding it into the mixture. Take the vegetable shortening and grease your hands and kneading counter/board so that the mixture won’t stick.
Start kneading the mixture as if it were dough. You can continue to add confectioners’ sugar and re-grease your hands as you go. If the fondant tears, add water as this indicates it’s too dry. Continue kneading until you have a ball that has an even consistency and is smooth; this should happen after about 8-10 minutes.
Put a thin covering of vegetable shortening around the finished fondant. This will prevent it from drying out. Wrap the fondant tightly in plastic wrap and then place it in a sealed bag, and refrigerate overnight. The fondant can keep this way for several weeks.
When it comes time to use the fondant, roll it out like dough on a board, until it is 1/8 inch thick. Put any leftovers back in the refrigerator and again wrap as tightly as possible.
And there you have it! You can repeat this process and tweak it as you go for flavoring. The one thing you want to make sure to do is to use good quality marshmallows.
If you want to try a more complicated way how to make fondant, you can skip the marshmallows and graduate to the big leagues. Check out this approach from allrecipes.com, which requires a few more ingredients, but is still pretty painless (and quick!)
(Or Get it Pre-Made)
Sometimes people wonder if there is a faster method, such as a spray-on option.
Although it’s not possible to get a type you can just spray directly on the cake, but you can buy pre-made rolled fondant in a number of varieties.
If you’re in a pinch for time, pick up a pre-made fondant (it usually comes in tubs) that is whatever color you want, take it home, and start applying it to your creation.
Pick Your Tools
Now that you know how to make fondant, the hard part is done. The mixture can be sculpted to whatever color scheme or theme your cake needs. But in order to get the most out of your new fondant, you will want a few basic tools.
The smoother is one of the basic tools of working with fondant. It helps to make sure that your surface has a nice easy finish. No wrinkles here! You can get one from Wilton, which makes a variety of fondant-related products.
Some people like to carry multiple sizes depending on how much fondant they’re rolling out. You don’t need a special “fondant” rolling pin; your normal one will do just fine! If you don’t have one already, this should be part of your baking kit anyway.
A set of cutters will give you so many options, just as owning a set of cookie cutters can be a shortcut to making tons of quick and easy designs for cookies around the holidays. Check out a set like this one which also gives you a number of shaping tools to push and sculpt your fondant into shape.
A Flower Set
This is for working with gum paste. If you want to make beautiful and durable floral designs, check out these sets that are designed specifically for this purpose.
And now, a very quick word about buttercream…
Best of Both Worlds
You know how to make fondant. But what about buttercream?
You probably actually already know what buttercream is. It’s the frosting that one often sees on cupcakes. It’s spreadable, creamy, and sweet.
Although fondant has seen a recent rise in popularity, many people prefer buttercream frosting. Buttercream gives a nice, rich, decadent flavor to the cake. But buttercream isn’t easy to sculpt.
So here’s your secret weapon: the best approach is to use the best of both worlds, and use fondant and buttercream at the same time.
How do you do this?
After you’ve baked the cake, add a layer of buttercream to the top and outside of your cake. If you have a layer cake, you may also want to put a nice coat of buttercream between the layers (this will vary the texture and lend buttery goodness to the middle of your cake.)
Once you have coated the cake in buttercream, then start attaching the layer of fondant. The buttercream will help keep the fondant in place. It’s like a glue for the otherwise dry fondant, and it makes the whole thing easier to handle (as well as delicious!)
Roll Out! Putting Your Fondant to Use
Once you have put the buttercream on the outside of the cake, you simply layer your flat roll of fondant and cover the cake with it. Then smooth it, and add whatever patterns and figures you want.
There is so much you can do here, but we recommend starting by covering the cake completely with one type of fondant (for your first project, anyway). Then sculpt pieces to go on top.
But what kind of cake do you use? Can you use fondant with just anything?
Have Your Cake (and Eat It)
The answer? You have to deal with it on a “cake-by-cake” basis.
Because of fondant’s texture, it can become rather heavy, especially when there is a lot of it. As such, the best cakes to use are the ones that have a firmer consistency.
Nice Day For a White Wedding (Cake)
This is perhaps the best-known use for fondant. Fondant makes cakes look like immaculate porcelain. Perfect for weddings, and for molding figures of a bride and groom or flowers (this may also be where gum paste comes into play. But the main covering of the cake itself will be fondant).
I Don’t Carrot All
One popular use of fondant (especially for those just getting started) is to use it to decorate a carrot cake. Carrot cake is typically firmer than your average cake, which is ideal for fondant, as it means that it will hold up well when a cake with a more frail consistency would fall apart.
In addition, carrot cake lends itself to a couple of readily available decoration ideas. The most common is to make a cake in the shape of a carrot, and then to use bright orange fondant covering to make it look like a giant version of the real thing.
If you’re going with sculpting fondant or gum paste, you can make tiny carrots or other vegetables. Or you can get extra fancy and make your very own Peter Rabbit scene.
The Perfect Chocolate Cake
Is there anything better than chocolate cake for dessert? Fondant is a great way to cover a tradition chocolate layer cake. It also provides a structure that makes the cake easy to garnish.
If you want to add raspberries, fondant figures, or a chocolate candy garnish, you can provide a stable structure by using a fondant. Cover the cake in Grenache or buttercream first, and then apply the fondant.
Red Velvety Goodness
Red velvet has its own dedicated legion of fans. Both with cupcakes and with regular cakes, this remains popular for its unique flavor.
One thing to watch out for is that red velvet cake can be on the softer side, depending on the recipe. And as a general rule, this is something you want to be aware of. The softer or more fragile a cake is, the harder it will be to apply fondant successfully.
To help you pick the best cakes for your fondant, we’ve created this handy reference:
WHITE WEDDING CAKE
Classic choice for weddings
Good with fondant. If it’s for an actual wedding, consider the size of the cake, and remember the buttercream.
Rich, can be soft or firm
Lean toward a firmer recipe if applying fondant. Attach the fondant with a ganache. Excellent choice.
Dense and filling.
Cake’s structure will typically hold up to a fondant very well.
A solid and sturdy cake, sometimes dry, but firm.
Good choice for fondant. If using cream cheese, substitute buttercream on the outside parts to attach to fondant.
RED VELVET CAKE
Moist cake with a complex flavor
Can sometimes work with fondant. Make sure it’s firm and not under-baked, as red velvet can be very soft.
Usually light and very soft
Possible if the particular cake recipe is firmer. Victorian sponge cake is best. Otherwise risky.
ANGEL FOOD CAKE
Very light, dry, and delicate
Because of this cake’s consistency, fondant is not recommended.
ICE CREAM CAKE
Body is made out of ice cream
It’s a trap! Trying to fondant an ice cream cake will create a soupy mess. Not recommended at all.
Achievement Unlocked: Fondant Mastery
Congrats! Now you know how to make fondant. You can go the marshmallow route or try the more advanced version. The possibilities are endless!
And by the time your kid’s next birthday rolls around, you’ll be more than ready.