Covering a cake in fondant is one of the most anxiety inducing cake decorating techniques. My friends can attest that I have called them panicked in fearful anticipation of such an attempt. So it was only for a very special friend’s very special black and white 21st birthday party that I would attempt an 8 layer, 2 tiered, fondant covered, exclusively black and white birthday cake (I’m anxious even writing that sentence).
The cake itself was relatively straightforward; it just took a lot of baking, levelling, icing, and stacking. I will write a proper blog about how to make many layered, tiered cakes when uni stops kicking my ass, but I thought this was a good opportunity to talk about the best way to cover a cake in fondant.
Rolled fondant is an edible icing that has a play-dough like consistency. It is mouldable but dries firm. I use it to mould figures, make borders, or cover entire cakes. You buy fondant at cake stores, or increasingly at super markets. It usually comes in a 1kg slab. This is the brand I get:
When covering a cake I use this website to guess-timate how much I am going to need. Once you’ve got your suitable size blob you need to knead it. Sprinkle a substantial amount of corn flour (or icing sugar) on a clean work surface and knead it as you would any other dough. If you want coloured fondant add the food colouring here. You want to knead it until it is no longer sticky to the touch. If the fondant is too sticky it will stick to the bench and the rolling pin and tear. However, you also don’t want to knead in too much corn flour; if the fondant is too dry it will fall apart and crack as it dries. Fondant dries out very quickly, so if you are not using it you need to keep it covered in glad wrap and in a snap lock bag.
Measure out your cake so you know how big the fondant needs to be to cover the cake. I tend to draw out a circle that is the size of the cake diameter plus the height of the cake sides on a piece of baking paper. Shape your fondant into a ball shape (assuming your cake is round, if not shape the fondant into the general shape of the cake). Use a large rolling pin, liberally covered in corn flour, and begin to roll the fondant out into a large circle. You want the resulting circle to be about 1/8 inch thick. The important thing in rolling is to make sure you have uniform thickness throughout the fondant – you don’t want one bit of the cake covered in 1/2 inch of fondant and another bit covered in 1/16 inch, it will be lumpy and ugly. Once you have your shape check it is big enough using your baking paper stencil.
Now you need to prep your cake. First the whole cake needs to be covered in some kind of icing that is set and relatively dry. It is important that this icing is not lumpy or uneven – much like Gok Wan keeps telling me about my knickers, if you don’t have a smooth base you won’t have a smooth ass cake. The icing has to be flat on the top of your cake, especially if it is a bottom tier, otherwise you will have a wonky cake- this is crucial, even if it means being yelled at for getting icing on the spirit level. Right before you fondant your cake you need to brush the cake with a very thin layer of sugar syrup.
Ok back to the fondant. I’ve always been told that you want to roll the fondant onto a rolling pin to transfer it to the cake, but this has never worked for me and it always end up stretching or splitting. So I tend to just very carefully lift it by easing my two corn flour covered hands (if it is a very big cake, using my friends hands as well) under the fondant and carefully lift it up off the bench and then ease it onto the cake. This works for me mainly just because I have practiced it a lot- you should use whatever method allows you to get the fondant onto the cake in one piece without having a mental breakdown.
Once your fondant is on the cake you need to smooth it using a fondant smoother. These are not particularly expensive and I would definitely recommend getting one if you want a really professional finish. First smooth the top of the cake, smoothing out from the middle toward the edges. The fondant will ruffle around the side of the cake- you want to smooth from the top of the cake down to the bottom, lifting and straightening out the ruffles so you don’t have creases in the sides. If you get any air bubbles, like Arya Stark, stick them with the pointy end of a needle and then smooth out the air using your fingers. Using a pizza cutter, cut the excess fondant away from the bottom of the cake, and tuck any extra under the cake. Leave the cake to dry in the coolest room in your house for about a day (longer if it is humid).
Now have a drink because that was a fricken ordeal.
The 10 fon-DOs and fon-DONT’s of fon-dant
- Do watch YouTube videos. This is a particularly good one, but a search of “how to cover a cake in fondant” will give plenty of instructional videos.
- Don’t add too much food colouring. The food colouring will make the fondant overly sticky and it will taste kind of chemical-ly. Add the colour gradually by dipping a tooth pick into the gel colouring, wiping it on the fondant, and then kneading it in- you can always repeat this if you want a more intense colour.
- Do practice on cake tins. You don’t need to make a whole cake to practice; you can roll out the fondant and practice laying it over the cake tin.
- Don’t use corn flour when you roll out black fondant as it will leave white marks on the fondant. Cut a piece of baking paper big enough to roll out the fondant to size and have a friend help you pick it up and lay it on the cake.
- Do get a friend to help you position the fondant over the cake so you make sure it is over the middle.
- Don’t roll the fondant too thinly. If it is too thin it will crack and split and you will have to scrape it off the cake and throw it out. Start with more fondant than you think you need, you can always keep what you don’t use
- Do take your time. If you rush the steps you will accidentally tear it.
- Don’t put a fondant-covered cake in the fridge. I don’t know why (maybe just to make my life harder) but every time I put fondant in the fridge it becomes super sticky and starts to weep. If the cake is covered completely it will be airtight and will keep well in a cold room like the cellar or the laundry for at least a couple of days
- Do invest in the proper equipment – using the right stuff will make your life so much easier and the cake so much better. As a start, along with a fondant smoother, I would recommend a fondant roller with plastic rings for measuring thickness. When you start getting more confident you can buy things like fondant moulds and embossing sheets.
- Don’t be scared. I mean it is pretty hard, and you will probably fail the first couple of time, and you will waste good ingredients, and you will discover that lots of people just pick off the fondant anyway…actually do be scared.
The biggest thing I can say with fondant is practice. Don’t expect your first attempt to look like that amazing wedding cake you scoffed for your great-uncle’s 8th marriage- mine looked like a lumpy, cracked, misshapen mess. But once you add fondant to your cakes they will look so much more professional and you have so many more decorating options. Basically it takes you to the level where your grandma says “oh yes, my grand daughter makes cakes just like the ones in the bakery “.
The beautiful birthday girl’s cake turned out ace by the way, as did the party (even if I did spend a large majority of the night getting everyone to look how level the top of the cake was).