What is fondant icing?
Fondant icing is a type of icing used to cover cakes and pastries. It is a sugar mixture that can be moulded, rolled, shaped, and otherwise manipulated physically to decorate cakes, pastries, and other sweet treats. Fondant can be coloured and otherwise given texture, which is why you might see all sorts of colourful, impressive cakes with different shapes and appearances that are all edible.
What is fondant?
There are different types of fondant - poured and rolled are the two most common variations which can be transformed into the most impressive of cake decorations. Pastry schools teach the ins and outs of sculpting, dying, and rolling fondant and the different variations can be used for a multitude of sweets, often seen on wedding or celebration cakes.
Poured fondant is slightly more liquid, comes in tubs, and gets poured onto pastries or cakes to form a semi-hard smooth surface. Poured fondant can also be used as a filling for doughnuts or chocolates when it is flavoured. The filling in Oreos, for example, would be classified as a fondant. Because it starts to harden immediately, poured fondant should get used fairly quickly - reheat if it’s hardening too fast, and any leftovers can be put in the fridge and reheated for later use.
Rolled fondant is closer to a dough than a paste. It can be moulded into whatever shape you like, and is called “rolled” because it gets rolled out before being used to cover cakes. Rolled fondant is also used to cut out edible decorations like flowers or stars. Similarly to poured fondant, you can store rolled fondant in the fridge in an airtight container. When it comes to using it again, let it come to room temperature and knead it until you can easily shape it.
Sculpting fondant is an even stiffer version, used to make larger sculptures and busts that rolled fondant might not hold up to. There is also gum-paste fondant, which is a type of rolled fondant that hardens completely once it has dried out.
Fondant can also be coloured by mixing or kneading in edible colouring. Liquid colourings can be used although these will give a paler look. Paste colour is the preferred option if you’re looking to make a brightly coloured fondant, as these are more pigmented. For poured fondant, simply stir your colour in. You can even paint on your fondant, inscribing words or designs as you please.
When rolling the fondant out, make sure to dust your surface with icing sugar so it doesn’t stick. You want the room temperature to be neither too hot nor too cold, so it’s easy to handle but doesn’t become too sticky.
What is fondant made of?
The basis of fondant is sugar and water. Water is usually boiled and then has a high amount of sugar added to make a thick paste. Different processing techniques such as whipping in air may be used to thicken the mixture up. Most fondant recipes also include a stabiliser like tartar, corn syrup to thin the mixture out and make it more pliable, and glycerine to keep a dough-like consistency.
Some even claim that melted marshmallows make a great fondant, already containing sugar, water, and gelatine. You can just melt marshmallows, add water, sugar, and a fat and knead it all together once cooled down. This type of fondant tends to be easier to handle and more pliable, although the process may get your hands rather sticky.
Since it’s basically just a sugar mixture, there isn’t much flavour in fondant. It’s essentially a very sweet, chewy paste that dissolves in the mouth the longer you hold it. Not much enjoyment out of that. You can of course add your own flavours and essences to make it more palatable and suit your tastes - vanilla, rose water, or almond extracts are all great options. You won’t want to add flavourings that are too thick, such as creams or melted chocolates, as these can alter the consistency.
Fondant icing vs. cake
Of course, it’s worth noting another type of fondant that is entirely different: fondant cake, which has different meanings in different countries. In the U.S., fondant cake generally refers to a large cake covered in fondant icing, as described above. In the UK and European countries however, a fondant cake typically refers to a chocolate cake that has a 'melting' core (fondant meaning 'melting' in French). Americans might know these as molten lava cakes, which have nothing to do with fondant icing. These types of cakes can be made as individual portions or as a large cake, involving under-baking the batter slightly so the middle remains gooey. Other versions don’t even require baking, and instead are chilled in the fridge so the batter is set but still somewhat runny in the centre. European bakeries also produce fondant fancies, which are small little cakes covered in poured fondant.
And of course, a final distinction should be made between a fondant cake and a cream cake. Fondant is different from other types of cake icings, such as buttercreams or ganaches, as its main ingredient is sugar and it is shelf-stable, whereas other forms of cake coatings more often contain dairy and egg products that must be consumed within a specific amount of time. Cream cakes that are covered in some sort of butter or cream coating might have a shorter life-span and not hold up as well to extreme heat or humidity, but they’ll also generally have more flavour and overall taste better. Cream cakes are perhaps more appropriate for smaller gatherings, and are more often homemade. Fondant cakes, however, are sturdier and travel better and can be made in larger sizes, making them ideal for bigger occasions. For an easy-to-make at-home recipe, check out these Christmas fondant cupcakes.