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Friday, April 13, 2012

Adventures in Fondant

I had the happy occasion to bake a cake for someone's baby shower (you know who you are!) today.   At first someone suggested that I make the "pregnant Mom" cake from Buddy Valastro's Baking with the Cake Boss, (funny but cute); but instead it was requested that I make something with a beach theme.

How about a fondant covered sand pail cake with shells, sand dollars and a starfish in graham cracker "sand"?   Having made only one other fondant covered cake before - albeit a 3 tiered wedding cake, I was excited but totally apprehensive too.  Could I sculpt a cake like they do on Ace of Cakes?

Using the shell cupcakes from the cookbook Confetti Cakes as inspiration, and the pocketbook cake on the cover for directions on building the layers, I started by making six (yes, that's not a typo!) 8 inch cake layers on Wednesday.

A practice fondant cupcake I made at the Montville Library's fondant decorating class taught by Kristen Havyar.
Thursday I started the morning by making the fondant shell decorations (really fun), and then continued by making both a faux buttercream frosting and a real buttercream filling recipe.  By the afternoon, it was on to  filling, constructing, sculpting, and then the worrying part: covering the cake with fondant.

Constructing involved cutting foam core to size under each two layers of cake and supporting the cake layers with straws.  After all six layers were stacked up,  I sharpened a dowel, poked it through all the layers including the foam core "plates", and cut the dowel flush with the top. Into the fridge with the giant cake (it was seven and a half pounds before filling and frosting, and almost a foot tall) in order to make the sculpting more stable.  Confetti Cakes suggests cakes should go in the freezer for an hour, but there was no way I had freezer space for that behemoth!

On to sculpting the cake.  Fortunately for me (who is completely drawing challenged), cutting a cake into a cone shape is pretty basic.  After cutting off (and BTW consuming!) a lot of frosting filled cake (what was that diet I was supposed to be following?), it was time to coat the whole shebang with frosting.  But first, back to the fridge to cool down.

While I waited for the cake to cool,  I mixed pink gel food color into a two and a half  pound block of fondant.  As I  mindlessly and endlessly pulled, pushed and  kneaded the fondant to get the color mixed evenly, I fretfully pondered how to get the fondant onto the cake.

Plan A:  If I rolled out a giant sheet of fondant and put it over the entire cake, would I then have so much excess fondant that it would bell out around the cake and be impossible to shape without a lot of cutting or unsightly seaming? Also, would the fondant sheet be so big that when I tried to drape it over the cake it would start tearing??? Yikes! Okay, that would be too nerve racking.

How about Plan B:  If I cut the fondant into a top piece with a separate side piece, it would be easier to work with for sure, but would the unsupported side piece then slide off the cake?

Since tearing would be really hard to fix, I decided to take my chances with Plan B, and proceeded to roll out a small circle of fondant for the top.   Thus committed, I put some some serious muscle power into rolling out the remaining fondant into a huge semicircle to drape around the cake.

One small tear near the top later, I had wrestled the fondant onto the cake.  Success!  It still didn't look like a sand pail, but it was an impressive looking pink cake.  Hopefully the additional of the pail handle, some cute fondant polka dots,  crushed graham cracker "sand" and fondant shells would contribute to the illusion.

A friend told me it takes her 10 hours to decorate each fondant covered cake, and with a few more parts to finish up that night, I'd say that was right on target.  Ten to decorate, plus four or five to make the cakes.

So here's the final result today, Friday, and I think the expectant couple was pleased.  Hooray!  The surprised and happy smiles on the parents-to-be's faces were totally worth it.  My only question is:  when can I make the next cake?

Find the recipes for Vanilla Cake and Swiss Meringue Buttercream in Elisa Strauss' Confetti Cakes, and the extra faux buttercream frosting I used to "glue" the foam core to the platter and the cakes in America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, both available in our Library

An important food safety tip I would add to the Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe from the Confetti Cakes book, is that when you are heating the egg whites, the directions say 'until they are very hot'.  If you use a candy thermometer, the safe temperature to cook eggs to is 160 degrees.  (I cooked mine to 165 just to be sure.)  If you get to 180, the eggs will set and will no longer be usable for frosting, so watch carefully and pull the eggs off the flame at 160 or 165 or so. Also, refrigerating the Buttercream and then rebeating it as directed in the recipe will allow you to put more filling between the layers, which I would have done had I had more time.

For inspiration, check out Buddy Valastro's book, Baking with the Cake Boss.  And if you feel like you need some instruction, try the Wilton cake decorating classes offered at  Michaels' stores.  (Also this is where you can buy fondant in 5 pound packs.) I took two Wilton classes (then offered at JC Penney and paid for as a gift from my thoughtful mother-in-law) thirty two years ago in order to make my own wedding cake, and am still enjoying using those skills all these years later.

Diane Whitman, MLS
Reference Librarian
Designated Library Baker


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