By Deana Whitney, Workshop Director
In every artform, it takes time and practice to develop skills that result in wowing others and yourself. Because let us face it, the maker can see all the flaws, while most of the appreciative audience does not. Makers, we should all try to be less hard on ourselves; let’s all spend some time having more fun and celebrating our wins this year.
To encourage this, let talk about cake decorating! In this artform I would call myself a skilled amateur, far from being a pro, but it is something I have fun doing for myself.
Making cakes pretty is a different skill than making cakes tasty. The bakers and decorators that mange to achieve both are highly skilled individuals. The internet as a whole can teach you about baking yummy cakes. (Sidenote: the extra time it takes to make Swiss meringue buttercream icing is totally worth the time.) As a skilled armature baker/decorator I have learned a few things about working with fondant if you want to add extra visual wow to your treats.
To learn to work with fondant cheaply, grab some play-doh. Or make your own salt-dough with cream of tater in the recipe. Like play-doh fresh out of the container, fondant needs to be kneaded a bit before shaping or rolling it. If you can build a shape using play-doh, you can make it in fondant, and probably easier, since fondant has a more refined texture. The main thing is to get your head and hands into thinking “I can do this!” Play like a kid again making snakes, trees, hearts, swords, crowns, or anything else you can think about.
Upper row: plastic rolling pin, toothpicks (2 styles), drageés, fondant combs, and shape cutters.
Middle row: Luster dust, icing tips, ruler, food-safe paint brush, and a small dish with vodka.
Lower row: Flower press mold with petal cutter, and cake spatula.
I’m a firm believer that amateur cake decorators don’t need to buy many fancy tools. However, I have found several more specialized items to be helpful, such as cake spatulas and a collection of small shaped cookie cutters. A smooth rolling pin will be needed, wooden rolling pins can transfer textures to the fondant and tend to stick more than plastic ones. Any paintbrush used for cake decorating should be dedicated to food use only; store it far away from regular craft paintbrushes.
When attaching two pieces of fondant together, they need a glue. Water can be used, but vodka will produce better results. No flavor or alcohol is transferred. It evaporates more quickly than water as well. This is very apparent when applying luster dust for added color. Sometimes clear gel icing is useful as glue. Note, it leaves the pieces with glossy edges if extra is on the edges, which should be seen as part of the design.
For extra tools, use what is available to you. Pizza cutters, dull knives, toothpicks, cookie cutters, forks, or even the fancy shaping tools and texture pads. Just play; let your imagination go wild making large flat panels into 3D phonebooths. You need to become comfortable kneading and rolling your materials. Realize it is more forgiving as a sculpting medium than many realize. Fondant can be reshaped many times while it is fresh. Do keep unused portions of fondant wrapped tight by plastic wrap and in an airtight container. This will help retain its flexibility longer. After opening a package of fondant, if stored correctly, it can keep its fresh flexibility for weeks. If not stored correctly, it can harden overnight.
Sometimes older fondant can be used to create smaller items after it has hardened. The best results happen if the fondant was stored in a rolled-up ball. The store-bought brands of fondant can often be returned to workable condition by microwaving it. Place a moist paper-towel next to the fondant on a dish. Heat up the fondant 10 seconds at a time, check in between rounds of heating. You want the fondant to be smashable again to knead and shape it. Older fondant can develop rough hard edges that should be cut off and thrown away. Those bits have dried out too much. If worked into the rest of the fondant, they create weak cracking points and bad textures. Older fondant needs to be worked within 10 minutes of softening it, before it hardens again. I’ve been able to re-soften older fondant twice before trashing it as too hard and brittle.
Marbling Fondant & Edible paper:
One of the easiest things to do with fondant is to cut out flat designs, either by using cookie cutters or by making a printed template.
For the smoothest surface texture, you will want a plastic rolling pin. Even if your rolling pin is a serialized piece of PVC pipe. For elements that will be supported, the fondant can be rolled thin (i.e. less than 2 mm). Elements that support themselves should be of thicker fondant (i.e. over 4 mm).
Extra color dimension can be added by marbling two colors of fondant together. take small amounts of each color and knead them together until the blend you want is achieved. For a quick even blend, make two snakes of color, twist them together, and start kneading or rolling. This works well with the metallic and solid color fondants to create shimmering fondant, as shown in the photo above.
Roll and blend until happy with the mix. Next, cut out the shape you want. Cookie cutters are great for this.
When you need something more irregular, find a reference image to print on paper. If you can, use software to resize the image to fit your needs. Lay the cut-out paper shape on top of the fondant, then trace with a sharp tool to cut around the shape.
After it is cut out, smooth the edges with your fingertips or a tool like tooth-picks, chop sticks, or the special cake tools. This is how the whale seen in the header image was created.
Since most decorating amateurs don’t have a printer dedicated to edible ink, you will need to find a bakery or cake supply shop that can produce them. Blank edible paper is sold, as are markers with edible ink. If you feel up to the artwork, freehand a design using them to place on your cake. Me, I tend to create images using Photoshop then place an order with my local store. Note the pages are sold in standard paper sizes, so you can add multiple small images onto one sheet to save sheets and money.
When using printed edible paper design, place it on the fondant first, then add the fondant onto the cake. Cut out the design, remove the plastic backing of the paper, then lightly brush vodka on the fondant where the paper will go. This is a very light brushing of liquid. Too heavy of a hand will cause the edible paper to distort and possibly ruin your design. If you went too light with the vodka, the edge will lift up, so you can lightly brush the underside of the paper and tap it into place with a dry finger or blunt tool.
For the Roshar gem cake, I used a clear sparkle gel icing as the glue. This added an extra shine and glitter to the gems. The map shown is a large edible image placed on top of the buttercream. It adds great details to the cake with minimal effort. Often an icing border can be placed around edible images, but for these applications I did not see the need for one.
Silicone Press Molds:
Flower and leaves press molds are specialized tools, so I’ve only bought a few when I had a design in mind that required them. Most kits come with a cutter and a two-piece mold. To make flowers using a press mold, start by rolling the fondant thin, 2 mm or less. Use the shape cutter, then press the fondant with the related mold. I find it best to mark two sides of the mold to line up the design best. Extract from mold using a toothpick or similar tool to lift it out. If the flowers keep ripping, roll the fondant a touch thicker. Transfer the flower to a support surface to let dry, empty egg carts or bunched up foil work well for this purpose. After they are dried, luster dust or dragées may be applied to add extra color.
Luster dust is applied two different ways.
Dry: Using a dry food-safe paintbrush, dip brush into the dust container. Brush it over the surface you want it to cover. Best done before the fondant has fully dried. Good for a widespread light application of color.
Wet: In a small container, mix a bit of vodka with small pinches of luster dust. Dip paintbrush into mixture. Paint the areas you want to color. If you’re not seeing the color intensity you want, add more luster dust to your wet mixture and repaint. The vodka will evaporate, leaving just the color behind.
The purple and yellow-orange flowers shown above were made using this technique.
Besides whole fondant covered cakes, when most people think of fondant, they think of the elaborate sculpted decorations made from the edible clay. This is when many people start thinking “I can’t do that.” First, give yourself a chance to try. Play with playdoh to see if you can get close to your desired shape. Break the piece down into its simpler geometric components before worrying about the extra details, as seen in the leaf pin above. Also, try watching some YouTube videos of professionals making similar shapes. No, you won’t recreate their work first try, but their way can help guide your work. If you provide the framework, often the brain will read the intended design without elaborate additions.
To help inspire others to build 3D shapes with fondant, below breaks down the making of a few fondant decorations.
Pokemon Ball – Roll two balls of red and white, then cut them in half. Stick them to the opposite color with a dab of water or vodka on each side. Cut a thin strip of black to put around the middle. Add a small white circle to one side. The circle was cut out using the small hole from a #3 icing tip.
Doomslug – Make two short snakes of yellow, one should be smaller in plumpness than the other. Flatten, until both look more oval than cylinders, curve to mimic Doomslugs upright shape.
Roll blue fondant about 2 mm thin, cut an oval shape, as seen in the photo. Pinch the sides to stretch out the oval more, until it matches the shape of the yellow pieces. In the photo you can see, I needed to use a second piece of blue fondant, but it just added to the ruffles. If you have a fondant ball tool, use it to give ruffles before attaching it to the worms. Or use your fingers to pinch the sides to thin out the outer most edges and make ruffles. Attach it to the lower plumper oval portion. Cap with the upper oval worm. Let it dry a few minutes.
Spines – Roll blue fondant extra thin (1 mm). Cut into narrow strips 3-4 times longer than the slug body. Accordion fold on your working board. Bush vodka in a strip along the body’s back where you plan to place the stripe, one at a time. Place folded strip and adjust until you like the look. Repeat for the strips you want. Let dry.
Eyes were cut using a #4 icing tip. Edible marker made the smile.
Swords – For items like swords or lightsabers, wrap the fondant around a tooth pick for long-term stability and extra playability with the items. Unsupported rods of fondant are prone to breaking. Wrap the blade fondant first, then wrap the handle. If there is a cross guard do that third. Last is adding the extra details needed to suggest the exact item you are making.
The Tardis – I made mine by rolling out dark blue fondant to about a6 mm thick slab. Then cut out three rectangles. Glue together with vodka. Set aside to dry. Place a square on top to cover the seams; make it slightly smaller than the overall demotions. Form a small cylinder of white, then top with a small ball on top for the light. Place in the center of the square. I recommend placing the light last, but in the photos you see I placed it early in the process.
Roll out white, blue, and black fondant extra thin, 2 mm. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife and ruler to cut thin strips and rectangles for the windows, coffers, and signs of the police box. Cut two signs of white as 1-4 black “Police” signs.
Place the windows first. As you rotate the four sides, make sure the working space remains dry. If there is too much moister, the blue color can transfer to the white fondant.
Place the strips to build the coffers. The long vertical lines go on first, then cut the short horizontal lines to go in between the vertical ones. Place on one side at a time, giving each side 3-5 minutes to set before rotating to the next side.
The window and sign rectangles can be written on with edible ink markers or Sharpies, if you don’t plan to eat the fondant* (see disclaimer below).
The last step is to roll out the platform to a size about 2-4mm larger all around then the base of the Tardis. Glue the box to the base and leave to dry.
Serpent – Start making a thick rope of fondant. Leave one end thicker as you roll it back and forth under your hands. Work to extend the back end into a smaller point. When it’s the length needed, start shaping the head. Look at photos of the type of snake you want. I started with the mouth placement, then moved to eyes and kept refining until satisfied. Toothpicks can be very useful for sculpting if you don’t have formal tools.
Once happy with the shape of the snake, add texture by lightly pressing into the fondant with a tool. For the texture shown, I used small cookie cutters.
To get a golden look, use food color spray to deepen the color. Place on your cake with the help of a wide spatula.
That’s all there is! Go forth and play with the edible clay fondant. If you make something or have questions, please email them to: Workshop[at]jordancon.org
*Disclaimer: Homemade marshmallow fondant tastes better than every kind of premade fondant you can find. It also takes significantly longer to harden. If you are trying to create 3D shaped figures, it is better to use store bought types. Overall, I think of fondant as a type of technically edible Saran Wrap on cakes. Thus, I do not make fondant-covered cakes. I will make buttercream-covered cakes that use fondant decorations as accent pieces.