What comes to mind when you hear the word "fondant?" You know the stuff — it's a sweet paste you know (and likely hate) that's used to smoothly cover elaborately decorated cakes. AKA, it's sugary play-dough. It usually doesn't add anything pleasant to the eating experience of the otherwise tasty cake hiding underneath it, and in fact is unpleasantly sweet for my taste.
I have used the tip of a fork to gently peel back the layer of fondant just to get to the good stuff at my fair share of weddings. It's an imperfect solution: You're left with a hunk of gunk on your plate that feels both unappreciative of the baker who likely worked incredibly hard to decorate it, but also like totally unnecessary food waste. And no matter how carefully you scraped, delicious frosting was sacrificed in the process. If you, too, cannot abide the loss of even one smear of buttercream, you're probably with me in saying: That fondant is a bit gross.
But hear me out: Even if you're not a fan of this particular substance, you probably don't hate fondant. Seriously! Did you know there are actually three types of fondant? Even with my fairly negative perspective of the hereby deemed purely decorative variety (known as rolled fondant), I never like to hear someone say that they "hate fondant." Regardless of how you feel about the rolled variety, I really think you should know about — and may even love — the other two (I certainly do!). Let's break it down.
Types of fondant
1. Rolled Fondant
In the name of baking knowledge, let's start with the notorious rolled fondant. Not surprisingly, I have a whole bunch of cons, but we can begin with the pros:
- It's malleable, and with practice, fairly easy to manipulate. After applying to a cake, it firms up slightly, but is still very much sliceable.
- It rolls out very smooth, and creates a beautiful appearance on the outside of a cake (not to mention, it's the perfect edible canvas for other decorations).
- It can be cut, molded, and formed in tons of ways to create decorations for cakes.
- It's flavor is mild — basically just sweet. Assuming you don't mind the way it tastes, it generally "goes" with just about any cake flavor you like.
- It is pure white, so it can be dyed to just about any color.
Rolled fondant is made for purchase by a variety of commercial producers. I used to have a lot of difficulty when buying fondant to experiment with, often finding it too firm to easily roll (this is sometimes a symptom of it being dried out). Fondant that's too dry can be difficult to work with, and can cause the surface to crack or have a visible textured appearance when applied. This is just one of its cons, in addition to the below:
- Rolled fondant is fairly shelf-stable due to the high quantity of sugar, but old fondant, or fondant that's been packaged poorly, is prone to drying out. Dry fondant will not appear smooth and may even crack.
- It's finicky: If rolled too thick or too thin, the fondant will be harder to manipulate. And while it's common to add food coloring to dye fondant various hues, adding too much food coloring or using liquid food coloring can alter the consistency of the fondant and make it difficult to work with. Unless it's the perfect consistency, rolled fondant is likely to stick slightly as you work with it — but dusting it with confectioners' sugar risks altering the consistency and can potentially ruin the smooth look.
- Honestly, it doesn't taste good — which always makes me wonder why anyone bothers with it at all!
The good news? There's an easy-to-make homemade version known as marshmallow fondant. It mimics the commercially made stuff using ingredients like marshmallows, confectioners' sugar, shortening, corn syrup, and water. I actually think marshmallow fondant even tastes a little bit better, but it also isn't as shelf stable as commercially made rolled fondant. It can also take a bit of practice to get the right consistency to make it as easy to handle.
2. Confectionary Fondant
Do you like peppermint patties) or buckeyes? Then you like fondant — the filling for these is (you guessed it): confectionary fondant. As a candy-lover, this is actually one of my favorite sweet things to eat. Confectionary fondant can be made by cooking sugar and manipulating it to encourage crystallization, which gives it the signature creamy texture. But there's also an easy-to-make, totally uncooked confectionary fondant that's made by combining fat (like butter or shortening) with a high ratio of confectioners' sugar.
In the wild, you've likely encountered confectionary fondant when you see anything marked "cream" or "buttercream" in your favorite box of chocolates. Also, cordials, chocolate-covered cherries, and other candies with liquid centers are made by coating another filling or piece of fruit in a cooked fondant. At first, it sets firm enough for the candy to be easily dipped. Then, once coated, the fondant breaks down to form a soft, liquid center. In short: confectionary fondant rocks.
Here are the pros:
- It's a universal filling that can be easily flavored in a variety of ways.
- It can be take on multiple different textural results.
- The uncooked method for making is so incredibly easy — if you can make cookie dough, you can make confectionary fondant!
For me, the only real cons have to do with the difficulty of the cooked variety, which definitely takes a little bit of knowledge to pull off. Which is all to say: It's mostly pros, here.
3. Poured Fondant
Poured fondant is a glorious, fairly easy icing everyone should know about. For one, you've likely already eaten it. It's the perfect, just-set icing on top of pastries, cookies, and cakes at your favorite bakeries — perhaps most identified as the all-over glaze atop petit fours. It's fairly simple to make, requiring just confectioner's' sugar, corn syrup, and water. The ingredients are heated over a double boiler until fluid; if the temperature is kept below 100°F, the fondant will set with a lovely shine, though overheating it can make it a bit more dull, but doesn't make it unusable or taste unpleasant in any way.
I like to point out that because this makes a smooth icing that can fully glaze a cake or pastry, it's a much easier alternative to the trendy option of mirror glaze. Mirror glaze contains gelatin that helps it set, and therefore requires a precise monitoring of temperatures throughout the process for both the glaze and the baked good. But when working with poured fondant, the baked goods are placed on a rack over a baking sheet, and the icing is poured over baked goods. Leftover icing can be reheated and reused. It sets beautifully — lightly shiny but dry to the touch and easy to handle.
Here are the pros:
- It's easy to make: Stir the ingredients together and heat over a double boiler.
- It's easy to flavor using extracts, liquors, or other flavorful liquids.
- It sets firm enough to be handled, but soft to easily bite through and melt in your mouth.
- It can be easily tinted any color using any kind of food coloring.
- It's fairly easy to apply, and can be ladled over items.
- After using it once, excess fondant can be reheated, strained if necessary, and reused.
When it comes to negatives of poured fondant, the primary concern is obtaining the correct consistency. When poured fondant is too thin (too warm), the icing will flow too quickly off the baked goods, and may not cling well to them. If this happens, allow the first layer of icing to set, then use the remaining fondant to glaze them again. When poured fondant is too thick (too cool), it won't flow easily, and may even appear clumpy. If this happens, just heat the fondant a little bit to make it more fluid before proceeding. You can use a small offset spatula to smooth any too-thick icing flat against the baked good to remove the excess, and create a crumb-coat-like coating before reglazing.
- It can take a long time to dry, and may not dry well or at all in especially hot or humid environments.
- Obtaining the correct consistency can take a little practice (use my tips above)!
There's so much more to fondant than may meet the eye — it can be a valuable, versatile tool when it comes to making all kinds of pastries. Be sure to check out our Bake it Up a Notch episode on Frostings, Icings, and Glazes for more ideas and recipes to add to your baking repertoire!
Recipes to try: