Monday, 25 April 2011

Cake Decorating 101 - Part 3: Covering With Buttercream or Fondant

The buttercream vs. fondant debate.

Can you tell which of the cakes below are covered with fondant and which ones are covered only in buttercream before they were decorated?

The cakes on the left are covered in fondant and the cakes on the right are covered in buttercream.
How can you tell?  Fondant creates rounded edges and a perfectly flat surface.
There is often a lot of debate about what type of surface to use on the outside of a cake.   If you're interested, I found this wonderful discussion about the merits and drawbacks of each one.  In my opinion, especially as a novice decorator , I prefer fondant because it creates a cleaner finish, it tends to be more forgiving, and it holds up better in warm weather.  However, in the hands of someone who is skilled, a buttercream finish adds a level of depth to the design of a cake and gives it a completely different feel than those covered in fondant.

How to buttercream a cake and create a smooth finish

Here's a video showing how to create a smooth surface on your buttercream.  What I like about this video is that it shows a more realistic approach (especially for the less skilled!) because I often find that I have to go over my buttercream repeatedly to get it smooth.  Having said that, you don't want to remove so much buttercream that you hit the cake, because it can create crumbs that get into the buttercream and ruin the finish. 

What I often do if I find the surface isn't smoothing out the way I want, is put the cake in the fridge for 15-20 min so that the buttercream hardens a little then I start over again.  Adding more buttercream and then scraping & smoothing.  I haven't read or seen anything that advocates my method, but it has worked well for me!

How to cover a cake with fondant

I've added two videos to show two different people doing the same thing. I know this may seem like overkill, but it looks easier than it is especially on bigger cakes so I thought it would be useful to see it done in different ways. 
The first video is a quick demonstration by Amanda Oakleaf:

The second video is a longer more detailed demonstration by Fields of Cake:

Notes on working with fondant

Fondant needs to be kneaded to make it pliable enough to work with.  I've seen some people put it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so to get it warmed up to help speed up the process, but I've never tried it myself.

When rolling out fondant, your surface needs to be impeccably clean.  Otherwise it shows up in your fondant.  Also, if you notice that there are any small lumps in the fondant when you're rolling it out, pull them out gently and continue to roll.  If the surface won't smooth out afterwards you may need to roll it back into a ball and start again.

If you put fondant on a cake and you need to move/remove it do it VERY carefully!  I've found that if I have to remove fondant I end up needing to redo the buttercream layer as well. 

You cannot reuse (as in store or re-roll) any fondant that has buttercream on it.  You'll have to throw it out.

Fondant dries very quickly when exposed to air.  To keep it in a usable form it needs to be tightly covered in plastic when not in use.

If you don't plan to decorate your cake right away, put your fondant covered cake in the fridge and remove it when you're ready to start.

Up Next: Part 4: Stacking Cakes

- Jacs

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