Fondant can mean quite a few things depending on how it's made and used. The syrupy inside of a chocolate covered cherry is called fondant. So is the center of a chocolate buttercream candy. But what most people probably know as fondant is the thin, smooth sheet that's wrapped neatly around a fancy cake. This creates a silky smooth outer shell, an elegant look that's popular for wedding cakes. Fondant can also be used for decorating, using cutters to make shapes that are pressed to the outside layer of fondant.
What's it made of?
There are many different recipes and techniques for making fondant. The standard recipe involves making a "simple sugar" out of water, sugar and glucose. This mixture is then cooked in a pan at 235 degrees Fahrenheit (112.7 degrees Celsius) until it transforms into the "softball stage." Then it's removed from the heat for some cooling and a rigorous 35 to 40 minute hand stir. This makes it the consistency of a thick frosting. If time is an issue and you need a short cut, you can always spin it for a couple of minutes in a food processor. Keep in mind, perfect fondant is difficult to make, so a good option if you want to practice working with fondant is to buy it pre-made. It typically costs about six dollars per pound, which will only cover a small single layer cake. But it's a good way to start if you want that perfect fondant finish.
The experts say that the trick to getting fondant right for application is to roll it out to a nice, even thickness. If you're a fondant novice, it's best to start small. The key to fondant's clean look is that it's used all in one piece, so working with large pieces for a big cake is difficult to pull off if you aren't experienced. Before you roll out the fondant, knead it until it has a workable consistency. Use confectioner's sugar to prevent it from sticking. Once it's rolled out, you drape it over the cake, leaving the heavy shell hanging snugly at the sides. Work from the center of the top and down the sides, smoothing out the wrinkles and bubbles. If you have a stubborn bubble, you can use a straight pin to let the air out and then smooth it from there. If you're a real pro, you may be able to use your hands to mold it without making indentations. For novices, it's easier to get a better result if you use a plastic fondant smoother.
A fondant cover is just the base for decorating a cake. You can also add different shapes from colored fondant to the shell for a nice decorative look. Cookie cutters will ensure a consistent shape, but for custom designs, don't be afraid to break out the blade and cut your own. You can use any kind of blade, as long as it's sharp. Many pros recommend an X-acto razor blade knife. Try making different colored flowers, using gum paste to layer the center on top of the petals for a three-dimensional overlap.