14 Must-Know Tips for Working with Fondant – Cake Decorating Basics
Fondant has become the most popular medium for custom decorated cakes these days. And you find more and more people creating cakes covered in flawless fondant finishes. Working with fondant can be tricky for a beginner, and yet with these tips, you will be a pro in no time. Whether you are a novice working on just one cake or a professional cake decorator, these tips for working with fondant are all you need to up your game in the world of decorated cakes.
Fondant Myths and Truths
Fondant has come a long way in the world of cake decorating. Customers are more aware of fondant and its unlimited possibilities. So the moment you decide you want to become a cake decorator, one of the first things you will need to master is – how to handle fondant. For those of us that actually never worked with fondant before, this can be a challenge. And if you’ve had a bad experience with fondant, as I did a zillion years ago, you know what I mean. Ah well, I was petrified. And yet, I was only sixteen at that time.
So here’s a little advice for you if you just starting out. Don’t read people’s negative experiences about working with fondant. Because it doesn’t help. And if you tell yourself ‘I got this’, guess what, you will get this.
Many people claim that store-bought fondant is easier to work with. While others say that homemade fondant is easy to work with. The truth? It’s just a myth. Working with fondant gets better with practice. And of course, knowing a few tips for working with fondant.
So that’s what we are going to do today.
We are going to share some tips for working with fondant (Save/Pin)
Having been a cake decorator for over 10 years now, I have some tips and trick that make working with fondant a lot easier. And I’d love to know if any of these tips helped you with your next project. So please let me know in the comments below.
1. Prepare your work surface
- First of all, clean your work surface making sure you have no cake crumbs, water puddles, or wet spots anywhere. A great way to get lint or tiny particles of dust off your surface is to use a small ball of fondant (about a golf ball size) and rub it over the surface. All the tiny particles stick to it, and voila, your surface is now ready for fondant.
- Next, clear the space so you can roll your fondant large, as well as keep your cake within reach without knicking into it while rolling.
- Also, have the immediate things you need handy so you don’t go looking for them last minute. Such as dusting pouch, knife or cutting wheel, acupuncture needles to pop air bubbles, cake smoothers, acetate smoothers. Nothing is worse than to go hunting these down while your fondant dries.
2. Prepare fondant first
- Bring your fondant to room temperature before you use it. If necessary, microwave it for no more than 10 sec. or it will become sticky and too soft.
- If possible, color your fondant a day or two ahead of time – so the colors will deepen.
Additionally, letting the fondant sit, after you added all that color, will help restore some of its composition. And you will find it’s not as goofy the next day.
- Knead your fondant well before you start to roll it or it will not roll evenly. That is the reason for tearing and cracking. Kneading also helps with a smooth finish.
3. Rolling fondant
- Roll the fondant on a lightly dusted and smooth surface.
- In most places, a mix of powdered sugar and cornstarch works best.
- While in dry places, vegetable shortening works best to roll fondant.
- And in places with high humidity, using only cornstarch works best. Since powdered sugar can cause the fondant to become sticky with condensation.
- Make sure your cake is smooth with buttercream or ganache before you cover it with fondant. Because fondant will show all the uneven bumps and gaps.
- Do not roll your fondant much larger than you need it. The excess will only make it heavy to lift and difficult to move. For example, if you are covering an 8” cake roll a disc of about 20 inches not 40. In addition, you won’t waste so much fondant by exposing it to air and cornstarch.
- To transfer fondant over the cake – do not use fingers as it can tear, instead:
- Use a rolling pin to lift the whole piece of fondant. Thus, distributing the weight evenly and avoiding any tears.
- You can also use both of your arms.
4. Smoothing fondant
- The palms of your hands are the best tool for smoothing fondant. Since the friction caused by your hands rubbing on the sugar paste makes the fondant smooth.
- For those with sweaty palms, fondant smoothers are available in the market at very affordable prices. They are one of the best cake decorating tools to keep handy and they do more than just smooth cakes.
5. Cutting fondant
- A pizza wheel works better than a knife to cut around the cake. Also, a scalpel or an exact-o knife is much better than a pizza wheel. And yet, a scalpel is really sharp and can cause serious damage if not used carefully (don’t ask me how I know that).
- And if you have small kids watch out for those exact-o knives or scalpels as kids seem to be very attracted to them. I almost avoid using them because my kids always seem to find a way to be around them.
6. Cake drums
- Fondant is heavy, thus making the cake heavy – so ensure you always have a sturdy cake board. A cake board that flexes or bends results in fondant tearing when the cake is moved. Especially during transportation.
- Cake drums are best for fondant covered cakes. I have shown you how to make your own cake boards here on the blog by simply using foam core and contact paper you can buy from your local craft store. Check this post – DIY cake boards.
Working smart with fondant (save/Pin)
7. Find your strength
Are you better at covering round cakes, square cakes, or novelty cakes? Practice on a dummy – a great way to learn is to practice on a dummy cake. Use leftover fondant you don’t mind wasting. Cover it once but before it dries remove it, knead it with damp hand and practice again. Until your fondant become useless.
8. Know your fondant
If you have a bad batch of fondant, perhaps using it to cover a round cake with sharp edges is not the way to go. Instead, save it for novelty cakes when you can use it to your advantage. And make a batch or find a brand that you know works better for you when covering round cakes with sharp edges.
9. Color fondant ahead of time
One of the advantages of coloring fondant ahead of time is that the fondant has time to settle back into its original composition. Always use food color gels when coloring fondant as these are more concentrated. So they don’t affect the consistency of the fondant much. Another advantage of coloring the fondant ahead of time is the colors have time to deepen. Below is a great example. As you can see, this is a cake before decorating with brush embroidery and after. Some colors deepen more than others. And some get even better over time, while some may need a little more tweaking.
10. Fondant is also greatly affected by climate
Cool temperatures work better as it keeps the fondant pliable and not too soft. So, work in a cool place. And if necessary, work in an air-conditioned environment. If you do not have air-conditioning, work in the cool hours of the day like the evenings or later.
11. Strengthen your fondant
If no matter how many recipes of fondant you make, or how many commercial brands of fondant you try, your fondant is still too soft, or difficult to work with, perhaps it’s the weather, not you. (What a relief eh?). Well, a way to help strengthen it would be to add a small amount of tylose orCMC to your fondant.
12. Working with seams
If you are working on novelty cakes and find that you have many seams to work worth with, avoid using vegetable shortening while kneading the fondant. Rather, use a damp finger over the seem then smooth it with your palm and you will see the seams just disappear like magic. Because veg shortening tends to prevent the sugar from blending (no clue why – it just does).
13. Novelty Cakes
Another great way to prevent your fondant drying quickly when working with novelty cakes is to add some modeling chocolate to the fondant. I like adding modeling chocolate to my fondant when working on novelty cakes. This works great for me in winter but in summer I prefer to use just fondant as modeling chocolate tends to make the fondant softer.
14. Hot humid weather?
- In hot humid weather, fondant tends to melt with condensation. So, chill the cake well before you cover with fondant. That way you will have a nice firm cake to work with. And yet, once you cover the cake with fondant, DO NOT put it back in the fridge. Leave it out. Usually, it will get wet with condensation. Leave it in a cool place until the cake’s internal temperature has settled. The fondant will dry in a few hours and you should have a dry surface to work with again. This requires that you step away from the cake for a few hours between covering the cake with fondant and continuing to decorate. So plan your project accordingly.
- I highly recommend strengthening your fondant with CMC (as I explained above). The humidity will prevent the fondant from hardening so don’t worry about it getting hard.
15. Make/buy the right right fondant for the right job.
(Well, we lost count and went past 14 tips but this is important)
I buy fondant in bulk because fondant making can take a lot of time when you have many orders. So, I have to plan and decide when I am going to use homemade, and when I am going to use commercial fondant. For example, for almost all my kids’ cakes, I use homemade fondant. But all my wedding cakes are covered in commercial fondant. That’s one way for me to plan in advance and reduce my workload.
If you make homemade fondant then plan the right recipe for the right job
- You can easily use my homemade fondant recipe from scratch for all your cakes. You can pre-color the fondant right at the time of making it. And if you find yourself short on time or don’t have all the ingredients, then perhaps try a marshmallow-based fondant recipe.
- A marshmallow fondant uses 2 main ingredients and is just as easy to use.
- If you plan to make a cake that needs brown fondant then perhaps make chocolate fondant. That way you can skip the process of coloring, and it’s also chocolate. And who doesn’t like chocolate?
- Of course, I have brown fondant recipes for you, and one made with chocolate marshmallow fondant.
- Similarly, if you need a black fondant, I would rather make a black fondant from scratch than just add colors. You do need a lot of color gel, and as a result, you get a very soft fondant.
- And then there is a vegetarian fondant, which works for those who do not want any dairy or can’t have gelatin.
- If you use homemade fondant often, you may also like to check out the other Homemade Fondant Recipes I have for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the easiest way to cover a cake with fondant?
There are two most commonly used methods.
- The drape method, which involves rolling fondant larger than the size of your cake and then covering the whole cake with fondant. I have previously shown you how to cover a cake with fondant. I covered the whole cake in this Paw Petrol Cake tutorial.
- The panel method – here you roll two pieces of fondant. One for the top of the cake (using a cake pan as a guide) and then rolling a long strip of fondant for the sides. This method has seams which can easily be masked with decorations if you plan your cake design in advance. I paneled this Pink Tree Stump Cake Tutorial.
How to prevent cracking fondant?
Knead your fondant well before you start to roll it or it will not roll evenly. This is the reason for tearing and cracking. Kneading also helps with a smooth finish. As I explained above (tip #2).
How to make fondant easy to work with?
As I explained above, fondant is not hard to work with. Use these 14 tips for working with fondant for your next project. Know your fondant, use the right fondant for the right job, prepare accordingly and you will have success every single time.
How to strengthen fondant?
The simplest and easiest way to strengthening your fondant is with CMC (as I explained above in tip #14).
How to prevent fondant from sticking? How do you keep the fondant from sticking to the counter?
Fondant is sugar, so any moisture or warmth can cause it to stick. So, always dust your work surface well (explained above in detail in bullet 3). In addition, knead your fondant well (explained more in tip #2).
How to fix dry fondant?
Fondant can go from wet to too dry very quickly. The same goes for too soft, too wet etc. So, if the fondant is not rolled yet, and looks dry – use damp hands to knead it first. Yes, just use a little water on your hands to help knead. Once you’ve done that, use vegetable shortening to knead it until it’s soft and pliable.
And, if the fondant is on the cake – rubbing the cake with vegetable shortening gently can prevent it from drying out further. Also, gently steaming the cake helps. And yet, most people don’t usually have a hand steamer at home. I have a hand steamer that I use to steam my sugar flowers, which works for this purpose very well.
How to fix wet fondant? Sticky fondant? Soft fondant?
If fondant is sticky due to adding gel color, the best way to fix it is to add a little bit of powdered sugar. When rolling fondant for a cake you can use any one of the three – vegetable shortening, powdered sugar or cornstarch.
Vegetable shortening works great because it enhances the elasticity. However, it does not work well if the fondant is too wet. So, use it if the fondant is already pliable but stiff. Powdered sugar is used best when the fondant is wet and sticky but not pliable. And cornstarch is best used in hot humid places where powdered sugar can cause more sickness rather than fixing it.
How thick should fondant be?
The thinner the fondant the better. That is what’s usually advertised. My students are usually always debating this. And yet, you need to find that sweet spot that works best for you. I’d say between 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick, leaning more towards 1/8 rather than 1/4 inch thick.
1/4 inch is way too thick. Because it will be heavy on the cake and cause the edges to crack. It will also make the cake look bulky and prevent you from getting sharp edges. A 1/8 inch is good, and yet often difficult if you are new. Sharpening the edges can cause it to tear if you’re not careful. Often, newbies tend to tear if the fondant is too thin.
What causes the fondant to tear?
When fondant is rolled too thin it can cause the fondant to tear. This applies to both when placing it on the cake and smoothing the sides. In addition, when trying to achieve sharp edges. That is why it is important to roll fondant no thinner than 1/8 inch thick.
Why does my fondant keep ripping?
If fondant is rolled too thin it can rip when draping a cake. Similarly, fondant, when rolled too thick, can rip because of the excess weight. That is why finding that sweet spot that works best for you is really important.
Can I remove the fondant from a cake once covered in fondant?
Yes, you can. This is not recommended because it’s a waste of expensive fondant and a re-do of a lot of steps in the cake decorating process. And yet, often as a cake decorator, you have to put the customer first and that’s when you have no choice but to re-do the fondant covering from scratch.
Here is what you can do:
- Chill the cake covered in fondant in the fridge until firm. You want the cake and the fondant both to be well chilled. If not you will end up with a big mess and more waste.
- When chilled, gently peel the top layer of fondant. Usually, the fondant should just peel off the cake leaving the buttercream or ganache behind.
- If your ganache or buttercream is in the right consistency this can be a clean peal. Sometimes, you may get some parts of buttercream or ganache break and stick to the fondant and that’s ok.
- Once all the fondant is off – put it away.
- Now, tidy up the frosting on the cake again with ganache or buttercream.
- Chill it well.
- Cover it with fresh new fondant.
How to stick fondant to the cake?
Use water or vegetable shortening. Sugar sticks to sugar so water are the first most appropriate answer. Always use a damp, not wet brush. Remember too much moisture can cause the fondant to melt and become sticky.
Personally, I like to use vegetable shortening over my ganache cake before covering it with fondant. That is because I live in a high humidity climate. You can use a damp water brush as well. And yet, I usually prefer a light smear of vegetable shortening. For buttercream cakes, water is definitely the best way to go. However, often I do not need any water because the condensation caused by my humid climate is good enough.
How long can a fondant cake sit out?
Fondant cakes can be kept out at room temperature for 3 to 4 days and do not need to be kept in the fridge or frozen. You can also put fondant cakes with perishable fillings in the fridge. Of course, always bring the cake to room temperature before serving. Since room temperature cakes taste better than cold chilled cakes.
Can you put a cake with fondant in the refrigerator?
Absolutely, those who enjoy good weather can put fondant covered cakes in and out of the refrigerator without a second thought. This also allows us to use perishable fillings in fondant cakes.
And yet, those of us that live in hot humid climate need to be careful. Because bringing the cake out from the fridge usually causes condensation. You don’t need to do anything. Just leave the cake alone until the temperature in the cake equalizes and the fondant automatically dries. It’s often when people try to fix fondant with condensation that causes issues. Depending on the weather, it can take from a few minutes to a few hours for the cake to dry out.
How far in advance can I cover a cake with fondant?
Fondant covered cakes can stay out on the counter for a good 3 to 4 days. Fondant on a cake helps seal in the moisture and prevent the cake from becoming dry. Always use a good frosting on the cake before covering it with fondant. Buttercream or ganache are the two most popular frostings used. We discussed this in detail on my post – Timeline for decorating a cake.
How long will a sponge cake last once it’s covered in fondant?
Sponge cakes, if wrapped well, have a longer shelf life, especially when made from scratch. Exposure to air can cause the sponge to dry out, which is why we usually wrap cakes well in plastic or cling wrap. Fondant works as similar well-wrapped protection that seals in the moisture.
It is said, a well-stored sponge cake has a shelf life of about 2 weeks. I have never kept my sponge cakes that long outside the fridge.
Why should you simple syrup the cake before covering with fondant?
Unlike dessert cakes, working on custom decorated cakes can be time-consuming which is why we usually bake these cakes in advance. Often these cakes have a gap of 4 to 5 days from the time they are baked to the time they are consumed. To ensure these cakes stay moist when cut we moisten these cakes with additional sugar syrup.
My sugar syrup is created with the intention of moisture rather than sweetness. You may also want to try my simple syrup for fondant cakes. Many of my cakes are less sweet than traditional because they do take into account the sugar syrup added over the cakes.
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Here’s today Tip Thursday
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