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Fun-dant

October 5, 2011

As I promised before in my cake decorating post, I’ve finally had the chance to tweak around with rolled fondant, take some pictures and draw a few conclusions on my previous mistakes.  So here it is – how to make fondant and have fun with it.

My first problem with fondant was the price.  A 24-ounce package is $7-10, and that only covers an 8-inch cake.  For something bigger, like a multi-tier wedding cake, you’d be spending quite some dough.  So came the obvious answer – why can’t I just make some?

Enter problem #2 – find a reliable and good recipe.  My first try was a reliable-looking recipe that included almond extract and glycerine.  The latter was quite a difficult find, and the recipe turned out to be far from perfect.  I found this one at a Hungarian website, and while I had to change the proportions a bit, it ended up being just perfect!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tablespoon unflavored gelatin (like Knox Gelatin)
  • 3 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 tablespoon shortening
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Powdered sugar.  A lot of it – right around 2 pounds
As a first try, I only made a half batch; this provided me with more than enough fondant for the decorations on a Yule Log cake I entered to the Fresno Fair.
First, sift all the sugar with a very fine sieve.  Tea strainers work best, but a flour sifter cup will do just fine, too.  Place about half of the sugar in a large bowl.  Put just about an inch of water into a small pot, and put heat-safe bowl on top of it.  Make sure the bowl fits snugly, and that the bottom of it doesn’t reach into the water.  Heat the water over medium-low to medium heat to prepare a steam bath for your ingredients.
Gelatin, water, shortening

Gelatin, water, shortening

First, combine the gelatin and the water in the bowl, and keep stirring them until the gelatin fully dissolves.  Then add the shortening and the honey, and again, just keep mixing until the shortening melts and everything is completely combined.  Now, pour this mixture to your sugar, and start beating it together, first with a spoon:
Mix with the sugar

Mix with the sugar

Once it’s mostly combined, you can start working it by hand, adding more sugar, little by little, until it forms a firm, but still a bit sticky dough.  You may color the fondant right now, or after it rests:  I did mine before resting it.  I used regular liquid food coloring for it; gel-based or powdered coloring is better, because it doesn’t soften up the dough as badly, however, this can be countered by adding even more powdered sugar as you go.  There are also natural alternatives, like beetroot juice for red/pink shades, mate tea for green, or instant coffee for brown: this latter one is especially good for making skin-color tones.  Always add just a drop or two of coloring at a time, working it into the dough completely before adding more – this way you won’t overshoot the shade you’re going for.

Coloring the fondant

Add some color!

To work in the coloring, form an indentation in the dough ball, and add the coloring here.  Knead it together a little, then start rolling it out into long “snakes”, then folding these sticks up into a ball again, kneading it, rolling out and so on, until the color is even; then add coloring again if needed, and keep going.

Wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it stand a few hours on room temperature, or overnight in the fridge.  During this time, the gelatin will bind the sugar and the dough will have a nice elasticity to it – perfect for rolling and shaping.

Rolling the fondant

Roll, roll, roll your... fondant

After the rest, it’s time to roll the fondant!  If you opted for the refrigeration, you may need to recondition the dough, as it may be a little too stiff for rolling.  The gentlest way of it is to knead and warm it in your hands until it becomes pliable enough, rubbing in some more shortening if the dough dried out.  A faster method is to pop it in the microwave for a few seconds.  The part “few seconds” is imperative here:  especially with small batches, if you overheat the fondant, it will become sticky and runny, and you will need to cool it again until it’s usable.  Don’t add more sugar – in that case, the fondant will just become brittle and will crack and dry out on the cake.  When rolling, always work on a smooth surface covered in
And now it’s time to cut!  For covering cakes, use this formula:  diameter of cake + twice the height + 2 inches slack.  So for a 10-inch cake that’s 4 inches tall, you’ll need a 10 + (2 x 4) + 2 = 20-inch diameter circle.  The same formula basically applies to any shape, but you’d do rectangles for box-shaped cakes, and circles or ovals for novelty shapes.
For decorations, you can use cookie cutters, paper or posterboard cutouts, or trace items in your kitchen.  For a Christmas ornament shape, I traced a pinch bowl:
Tracing shapes

Trace a shape

You can also mold and sculpt figurines out of fondant, just like if you were working with Play-Dough (children at heart in, here’s your chance).  YouTube has some really useful video tutorials on some shapes, but in my opinion, the best way is to just make a batch of uncolored fondant, and keep practicing.
For most decorations, it’s best to let them dry overnight, so they will maintain their shape better on the cake.  I made some holly leaves that I wanted to dry into a curved shape.  To achieve that, I left them to dry on the side of my rolling pin:
Drying leaves

Keeping the curve

You can even use the fondant sheet or a cut-out ornament as a canvas, painting your design on it.  You need to use a gel-based color for it – which can also be home-made from regular (liquid) food coloring by adding a pinch of powdered sugar and a little gelatin, then microwaving the whole thing for 2-5 seconds, so the gelatin can dissolve.  I don’t have really exact measurements for it – the consistency has to resemble egg whites.  As always, it’s best to start out with less gelatin, and adding more than adding too much and ending up with a pinch bowl of brightly colored jelly.  Use a clean paintbrush or a cotton swab to spread the paint; make sure to wait for each color to dry before adding a new one next to it to avoid bleeding.
Painting

Painting

A marbled coloring can earn you a lot of ooh’s and aah’s on a cake coating, and it’s actually quite simple.  For the best results, use only 2-3 colors that are starkly different; using shades of the same color will just blend together, looking like uneven coloring.  To marble your colors, roll them each out into a long stick, then twist them together candy cane style.
Marbling

Roll the colors together

Then fold this combined stick into thirds, and rolling between your palms, roll it out again into a long stick; keep folding and rolling until it’s just as marbled as you want it to be.  Be careful at this: after a while, the colors will just blend together, making a brown/black mixture instead of a marble pattern.  Once the marbling is ready, roll it into a ball like yarn, knead it slightly, then roll it out and it’s ready to go!
Balled up

Balled up

Marbled fondant

Marbled fondant

Another idea to shake up a whole cake covering sheet is to texturize it.  Most craft stores carry texture sheets, or you can use fun foam cutouts, or even clean rubber stamps for this.  Texture sheets and foam cutouts have to be pressed into the rolled-out sheet with the rolling pin; stamps can be just pressed on as desired.

More to come on cake covering and decorating, and perhaps on molding and sculpting figurines as well!

Enjoy your meal!  (And the tasty playtime with fondant!)

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