For novice cake decorators, learning to use fondant is one of the biggest breakthroughs on the road to expertise. A special kind of icing that can be kneaded and rolled like modeling clay, fondant gives cakes an impeccably smooth, satiny professional-looking finish. Once you've learned to apply fondant smoothly, it also forms a blank canvas for further decoration. With practice you can pipe over your fondant-covered cake to enhance it with writing, filigree or elaborate floral decorations.
Getting the Hang of It
If your piping skills are rudimentary at best, it's a good idea to practice before you touch a tip to your painstakingly covered cake. A sheet of parchment is a good practice surface, because you can scrape up the icing and reuse it. The side of a glass jar is another good place to practice, because often you'll need to decorate the vertical sides of a cake. That's very different from decorating on a flat surface, and you'll need to train your hands how to move.
Pipe Royal Icing
Much of the elegant lace and filigree you see on wedding cakes and professional showpieces is done with royal icing, a special type of icing made with powdered sugar and either egg whites or meringue powder. It has a smooth, soft consistency that's easy to pipe, and it dries to a hard texture. That's important when you're learning, because it means you can let your mistakes dry and then easily pick them off with a toothpick or the tip of a paring knife.
Pipe Buttercream Icing
You can also pipe regular icing over fondant, either true buttercream or shortening-based simulations. Buttercream is stiffer than royal icing, so you'll need to squeeze your piping bag a bit harder, and it's harder to remove without leaving any marks on the smooth surface of your fondant. Before you pipe buttercream to the surface of your fondant, brush away any excess cornstarch or powdered sugar left from the rolling process. It can absorb fat from the icing, resulting in unattractive, greasy-looking patches around your decorations.
Additional Piping Substances
Occasionally you might need to pipe unusual decorative elements onto your cake. Melted chocolate works well, piping just as easily as royal icing. Use dark chocolate over white fondant and white chocolate over colored fondant. It's useful for cake writing or as a tastier alternative to royal icing for filigree. Piping gel is used to add vivid, colorful accents to your cake. Supermarkets generally carry a small selection in squeezable tubes; you can buy larger quantities from a cake-decorating shop.
A Few Tips
Although fondant makes a fine canvas for your artistic streak, you might occasionally run into difficulties. If you live in a hot and humid climate, buttercream can melt and bleed color or grease spots onto your fondant. Use shortening to make it more stable, or stick to fat-free royal icing for your decorations. Using colored buttercream over colored fondant can be especially troublesome, causing the color of one to bleed into the color of the other. To minimize this risk, carefully rub a thin layer of vegetable shortening over your sheet of rolled fondant before you cover the cake. This provides a protective surface that prevents the food coloring from crossing to or from the fondant.
- The Professional Pastry Chef; Bo Friberg
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