Many of us love the smooth look of fondant icing for Christmas cakes and special occasion cakes. Read on for tips on how to get your fondant icing looking its best!
Preparing the cake
Whether rolled or poured, fondant looks best if you've covered your cake with either a marzipan or buttercream layer.
For a marzipan layer, spread a thin layer of jam to help the marzipan stick to the cake. Apricot jam is often used for Christmas cakes, but you can use any flavour you like. Warm the jam slightly to make it easier to spread, and avoid any chunks of fruit sticking to the cake.
• Roll out marzipan like you would pastry, using icing sugar instead of flour to prevent sticking.
• Use a dry pastry brush to dust away excess icing sugar.
• Transfer to the top surface of the cake and use scissors to trim to fit.
You can opt for a buttercream layer, especially good for those who don't like marzipan or who have nut allergies. Use a buttercream recipe that uses mostly butter. You will need to chill the cake in order to create a firm surface before adding the fondant.
• Ice the whole cake with the buttercream, taking care to make it smooth and level - but don't worry about perfection or about crumbs in the coating, as you'll be covering it up with the fondant.
• Chill the cake until firm to the touch.
If you are using pourable fondant, place the prepared cake on a wire cooling rack set over a rimmed baking tray or swiss roll tin. The cake should be resting on a cardboard circle for easy manoeuvring. Cardboard cake circles are available at speciality cake decorating shops and online. (Or you can make your own: cut a circle slightly smaller than the diameter of your cake tin.) You can also elevate the cake by resting it on an inverted dish or other makeshift stand; the idea is to make it easy to cover the cake with fondant without making a big mess. The baking tray catches the excess and allows you to pour it back into a bowl to re-use.
Use a glass measuring jug for easy pouring. Start pouring at the centre of the cake, moving to the sides; try to cover the entire cake in one go. You can use a palette knife to spread the fondant, but be very careful: don't spread too vigourously - you will lose the smooth surface and might cut into the walls of the cake.
If you don't cover the whole cake in one pour, you may re-use the excess fondant on the baking tray. Reheat if necessary and proceed as above. Let the icing set before decorating.
Warm, but not hot
The pourable fondant should be warm enough to flow easily, but not hot - otherwise, it will melt the buttercream layer and/or lose its shiny finish.
Rolled fondant requires a bit of finesse, but results in a smooth, matte finish on your cakes. It is actually a little more forgiving than poured fondant, allowing you to move flowers or other decorations without leaving a mark.
• Prepare the cake by spreading a thin layer of jam on the top of your marzipan or buttercream layer so the fondant will stick.
• A marble slab is ideal for rolling out fondant. Otherwise, ensure you have a clean, dry work surface.
• Dust your work surface with sifted icing sugar and roll out the fondant to between 2mm and 5mm thick. Thinner is better, but it's also more difficult to achieve.
• Brush off excess sugar and carefully transfer the fondant to the cake; before you lower it onto the sticky surface, make sure it's large enough to drape over the entire cake.
• Starting in the centre, gently smooth the fondant towards the sides, pushing out any air bubbles, and smooth the fondant down the sides of the cake.
• Use a sharp paring knife to trim the excess. If the bottom edge is ragged, you can decorate the bottom of the cake with a rope of fondant or piped icing.
To make a rope of fondant to go around the sides of the cake, use string to measure the circumference of your cake. Then shape and roll out the fondant according to the length of your string. This trick also works for marzipan!
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