Bakers can draw from a wide range of icings when they're decorating cakes. Buttercreams can be used as a cake's primary covering, or piped into decorative shapes. Hard-setting royal icing makes beautiful flowers and decorative accents. The most versatile of all might be fondant, a type of rollable sugar icing with a consistency similar to modelling clay. Fondant can make a smooth, flat covering, three-dimensional decorations or anything in between. Once prepared it keeps for months, either in its natural white or when colored.
Skilled bakers and candymakers can do amazing things with sugar by controlling whether and how it crystallizes. That's how hard candy, soft caramel and fondant can all be made from the same sugar. With fondant, bakers use two techniques to keep it soft and workable. One is adding an acidic ingredient -- usually cream of tartar -- and glucose or corn syrup, which inhibit the sugar's ability to crystallize. The second is monitoring the sugar's temperature as it heats to exactly 240 degrees Fahrenheit, then cools to 110 F. At that point, kneading the melted sugar as it recrystallizes creates the distinctive fondant texture and clean, white color.
Wrapped and Swaddled
Fondant quickly dries to a smooth, hard satiny finish. That's a good thing once it's on your cake, but it's an irritant while your fondant is in storage. To keep your fondant soft and moist, wrap it in plastic wrap as tightly as you can manage, sealing out the outside air. Lightly covering its surface first with a thin coating of vegetable shortening is helpful, both as a second sealant and to help the plastic wrap adhere. Once it's wrapped, bag the fondant in a zipper-seal bag or seal it in an airtight container. Properly wrapped and sealed, it will keep for two months or more in your pantry. It shouldn't be refrigerated or frozen.
Color Your World
One of fondant's many virtues, from the decorator's perspective, is that its pure white color can serve as a base for tinting, either to a delicate pastel or to full, vivid color. There are several ways to do this. Some manufacturers sell pre-tinted fondant that can be worked into your main batch to color it. A tiny quantity of commercial-quality gel or powdered colorings will color enough fondant for one or two cakes, and even liquid food colorings from the supermarket will work. Coloring the fondant doesn't affect its shelf life, as long as it's well wrapped and stored in a cool, dark place.
A Few Tips
If you're storing colored fondant, it's important to remember that its hues will fade under exposure to light. Keep it in a dark corner of your pantry, where light won't find it every time you open the door. Some bakers start by making their fondant slightly darker than necessary, to compensate for the fading effect. If you find that tinting your fondant left it slightly tacky, you can dry it by kneading in a small quantity of powdered confectioner's sugar. It will be stiff after storage, and should be kneaded until soft. If it's dry, mist it very lightly with water to soften it before kneading.
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