Fondant Cake Help

There are more requests for a fondant cake these days thanks to  the increase in popularity generated by competitions on television. Fondant is a very versatile medium to work with, giving unlimited design possibilities and rendering a beautiful, porcelain-like finish on the cake.

It can, however, pose a challenge for beginners. A number of different things can go wrong when covering a cake with fondant. It takes practice to get a flawless finish and many of the issues you can have working with it stem from the climate or the structure of the cake.

Here are some of the most common problems people have working with it and how to overcome them.
Common Problems with Fondant Cake

Cake Sides Bulging

cake sides bulgingWhen the cake filling settles, it pushes outwards, resulting in a bulge all around the sides of your cake. In order to avoid ruining your cake from this problem, you need to make sure your filling stays where it belongs.

There are 2 different methods to achieve this:

  1. Create a dam of thick icing around the edge of the cake before you add the filling. This will prevent the filling from seeping out. Even after you do this, it's wise to let the cake sit a while to allow it to settle so if some of the icing seeps outwards or some of the filling sneaks through the dam, you can fix it with your spatula before you frost the cake. If filling seeps out and it's a loose filling, it might decide to continue seeping out and you really need to plug the leak with more thick icing.
  2. Another way to prevent cake bulging is to cut down into one tier to put the filling in. You take your knife and cut down about 1/2 inch into the cake starting from about 1/2 inch from the edge of the cake. Then you remove cake from within that circle. There will be less cake overall, but the tiers will fit perfectly together and the filling will be contained within this well you've created, preventing it from seeping out. Just be sure that you don't fill the cake above the cake top.

Another cause of bulging is the lack of sufficient support. If your cake has many tiers and you don't use enough dowels to hold the upper tiers, the pressure from the upper tiers will push down on the lower tiers causing the filling to leak out.

Air Bubbles:

Air bubbles have 3 main causes:

  1. Temperature of the room - If you are working in a warm room, the fondant will develop air bubbles. This is especially problematic when you use marshmallow fondant or a chocolate based fondant. Keep the room as cool as possible. If there's nothing you can do about it, then combine 1/4 gum paste with your fondant to improve the texture. (Gum paste will not mix evenly with chocolate based fondant). A warm room can quickly heat up the buttercream beneath the fondant, creating air pockets beneath it. Freeze the frosted cake before covering to get the frosting as solid as possible. Using an all butter buttercream will make the frosting harder than one with shortening.
  2. Kneading fondant -  If you knead the fondant as you would bread dough, you will incorporate air bubbles into the fondant. Instead of kneading, push down and press inwards on the fondant. Don't fold it over.
  3. Fondant not evenly smoothed - When you cover the cake, you need to make sure the fondant is smooth from the center outwards. Any areas that are not well adhered to the cake can be air bubble sources. Before you smooth the fondant over the sides of the cake, make sure you smooth from the center of the cake outwards to push out any possible air bubbles. Using a fondant smoother will help to get the fondant as flat as possible.

If it's too late and you already have air bubbles, they can be popped with the end of a pin and the fondant smoothed. To prevent the build up of air bubbles, poke a skewer from the corner of the top of the cake diagonally through the center of the cake towards the bottom of the other side. You can hide this hole when decorating the cake.

Tearing:

Tearing is often caused by the fondant drying out. When rolling out the fondant, periodically smooth the top of it with the palm of your hand to keep the surface supple. Additionally, many people use cornstarch to roll out fondant. Cornstarch absorbs moisture and dries the fondant out. Instead, grease your fondant mat and rolling pin with shortening. The added benefit of working with shortening is that if you have left over fondant, you can combine it back together and reuse it. When you use cornstarch, it gets too dry to do that.

Another cause of tearing is the weight of the fondant. When you drape the fondant over the top of the cake, the weight of the excess fondant pulls down at the edge of the cake, making the top edge a common place to experience fondant tearing. To avoid this problem, bring the outer edges towards the cake so it is gathered. This will alleviate the stress at the top edge of the cake.

Elephant Skin:

1. Stickiness: When fondant sticks to your mat, rolling pin or hands, it can be frustrating. The fondant recipe and the room climate can be culprits. If you make homemade fondant, you will find the same recipe that works perfectly at one time of the year may create a fondant with a completely different consistency at another. Marshmallow fondant can be very sticky in the summer months. If you make homemade fondant, you might require more powdered sugar in the recipe when it's warm or humid.

Always grease all surfaces with shortening. Here, again, combining 1/4 gum paste can alleviate the problem.

Chocolate based fondants, while very delicious, are very difficult to work with in the warm months. The heat brings the oils from the chocolate to the surface. If you love chocolate based fondant, you might want to reserve using it for the cooler months of the year. In some regions, it may be difficult to work with at any time of the year.

2. Uneven Finish: If the surface of the fondant is not smooth or you see bumps sticking out of the cake, either the buttercream softened up while you were covering the cake or you did not smooth the buttercream enough. Any imperfections in the frosting or uneveness in the cake will show right through the fondant. Before you cover the cake, make sure the cake is even. That means the sides of the cake are vertical and don't indent in the middle. That means the corners of the cake are the same height all around the cake. Again, a butter based buttercream will freeze up firmer and provide a firmer surface to apply the fondant.

Dull Finish:

If you roll the fondant with cornstarch, the surface of the fondant can be very dull or white looking. Using shortening to roll out the fondant will avoid this problem. If you prefer cornstarch, you can bring back the shine to the cake by steaming it or by spraying it with edible lacquer.

Shadow in Middle of Cake:

Let's say you've made a vanilla cake, filled it with chocolate icing, frosted it in vanilla frosting and covered the cake with white fondant. Chances are, you will see the shadow of the chocolate icing showing through the middle of the cake. To avoid this problem, use a dam of icing that is the same color as the frosting. This problem is more likely to occur when the fondant covering the cake is a light color which allows the icing to show through.

Fondant is Streaky Looking:

If you don't soften up your fondant enough, you could see streakiness in the finish. Be sure to massage the fondant thoroughly and long enough to bring out its elasticity. When you pull it apart and it stretches, you're ready to use it. If it rips, keep on working it.

Powdered Sugar Spots or Dried Fondant Pieces:

One of the pitfalls of making your own fondant is that it is more difficult to get the ingredients evenly mixed than a fondant manufacturer can do with machines. When making homemade fondant, be sure to sift the powdered sugar to remove any lumps before adding it to the other ingredients. If you find pieces of powdered sugar in the fondant while rolling it, pick them out.

Dried up little pieces of fondant can find their way into your rolled fondant when the fondant hasn't been stored in an airtight container. If the outside of the fondant is dry, cut it off before working with the rest of it. To prevent this problem in the first place, always wrap the fondant up airtight with plastic wrap before placing in an airtight plastic container.

Fondant can also get dry pieces if it has been exposed to the air for too long. This will happen to the outside of a piece of fondant if you don't cover it while you are working. It can also happen to the edge of fondant you are rolling out if you have been working with it for too long. Polishing the surface of the fondant with your palm can help to avoid this, but you really need to work as fast as you can to avoid drying.

Elephant Skin:

When you see wrinkles at the edge of the cake, that's referred to as elephant skin. This is caused by the fondant drying out. Working with shortening as opposed to cornstarch will help; polishing the fondant with you hand will help. If you get elephant skin anyway, rub a little shortening on the edge of the cake to help reduce the appearance.

Tips for Success with Fondant Cake:

Coloring Fondant:  Always use gel food coloring paste when coloring fondant. Liquid food colors will make the fondant sticky. They are also very diluted; by the time you added enough to achieve the color you wanted, you would make the fondant soft and sticky.

Combine the gel food color until you can no longer see any streaks of color otherwise you will have uneven coloring when you roll out the fondant.

If making marshmallow fondant, add the color to the melted marshmallows. It is much easier to mix the color into the melted marshmallows than to get it evenly distributed once you've added the powdered sugar to the recipe.

Always start with less color. You can always add more. If you go too dark, you can't go backwards unless you have more white fondant to combine with your colored fondant.

It is next to impossible to color fondant a true red or a true black. You are better off buying pre-made fondant. If using it for a small area, you can wait for the fondant to dry and paint it will either airbrush color or a combination of powdered food color and vodka. You can also airbrush the cake if it's a large area, but it will take several coats to turn white fondant a deep red or deep black. If you start with pink and airbrush red, it won't be as hard to cover.

Rolling Fondant: To determine how much fondant you will need to cover a round cake, add the diameter of the cake to 2x the height. Example: A 9" cake that is 4" high - 9 + 4 + 4 = 17. It will take 17 ounces of fondant to cover this cake.

To make sure the fondant is evenly rolled out, pull the rolling pin back and forth across it.

Use shortening, not cornstarch, to roll out the fondant.

Roll the fondant as thin as possible. (Thicker to cover dummy cakes). First off, more people than not pull the fondant off the cake when they eat it. If you keep the fondant thin, it won't be as chewy to bite into when people eat the cake and less likely to be left on the plate.

If you don't roll the fondant out large enough to cover the cake, you don't have to start over. When you use shortening as opposed to cornstarch, you won't have a problem combining more fondant to get the area larger. Place the extra fondant in the center of your rolled fondant and roll it outwards.

Covering the Cake with Fondant: The best way to get the fondant on the cake is to roll it out on a silicone mat and flip the mat on to the top of the cake. When transferring the fondant, slip your hand under the mat and place it in the center of the rolled fondant. This way you'll know your hand should land in the center of the cake in order to center the fondant over the cake.

Carefully peel the silicone mat back from the fondant.

Lift the outer edges of the fondant towards the cake.

Smooth the top of the cake first with your hands, then the fondant smoother, working from the center outwards.

Smooth the fondant from the top edge of the cake downwards, turning the cake and doing so evenly around the cake. Don't smooth all the way to the bottom on one side before you move to the next. You'll end up with a bunched up look. Go down a little in one spot and the same amount downwards as you go around the cake. As you work your way down the sides of the cake, spread apart any folds before smoothing to avoid creases in the fondant. Do this continually as you work your way around the cake.< /p>

Once you've smoothed down the entire cake with your hand, come back with the fondant smoother and go back and forth all around the sides of the cake, pushing towards the base of the cake.

When you trim the excess, trim towards the cake, not downwards, so you are trimming right under the cake board.

Applying Embossed Fondant:

If you've used an embossing mat or a textured rolling pin, you won't want to smooth the fondant out the way you normally would or the design will stretch or disappear. Use a foam sponge to lightly pat the fondant into place.

I hope these tips will help you to have greater success with your fondant cake. Don't expect perfection the first few times out. It takes practice to get a nicely covered fondant cake.


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