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Monday, November 14, 2011

Adventures in Caking: Marshmallow Fondant How-To

A lot of people have been asking for my fondant recipe/tips, so here's a whole photo blog how-to entry for you.  These pictures were taken when I was making fondant for the Minion Cake, but I always use the same recipe.  Not only does this recipe taste awesome (and it's easy to cut through, especially when the cake is room temperature), but it can be made into tons of flavors, and it can also be bland enough to blend in with the frosting underneath and not drastically affect the flavors of the cake, if you only want to use it for the awesome look you get with it.

Marshmallow Fondant Recipe:

16 oz bag of mini marshmallows
2 lb bag of confectioner's sugar (plus more for rolling out)
4 Tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract (or any other extract/liquid flavoring)
crisco (for your hands)
gel food coloring, if desired

First, dump the marshmallows in a big bowl and microwave them on high for 1-1.5 minutes (for my microwave, it's always 1.5 min).  The top marshmallows will probably still look whole, but underneath, they'll be melted.  

When the marshmallows are heated, add the 4 Tbsp water, and the extract/flavoring you're using (I've done vanilla, almond, root beer, and bacon before, all with great results - but some extracts/concentrates, like root beer, are so dark, they'll tint the fondant.  Keep that in mind when choosing your flavoring - if you want to make white or light fondant, you can't use a dark extract.  Also, Wilton has several clear extracts available for just this purpose, but I've never had an issue with regularly colored vanilla affecting the white color), If you're coloring the entire batch of fondant one color, it's easiest to add the food coloring at this point.  Otherwise, leave it white and you can add coloring to pieces later, as desired.

And now the fun part.  Reserve 1 cup of the sugar and set aside.  Then gradually start adding the rest of the confectioner's sugar, stirring until mostly combined after each addition.  The mixture will get stickier and stiffer with each addition.  Add in all the sugar (except the reserved 1 cup) while the mixture is in the bowl.

Getting goopy!

After all the sugar (except the reserved 1 cup) has been added and mixed in, prepare a place on a clean counter top by sprinkling it with some of the reserved sugar.  The next step is to dump the fondant out of the bowl and onto the prepared surface to continue to kneed it, but be warned: it is now a sticky, huge mess.  I usually dump it onto my sugar-coated surface and then prepare my hands.  I've found the thing that works best (for me, at least) is to coat my hands in crisco (between the fingers, too), and then dip my hands into my container of confectioner's sugar (not the reserved 1 cup, but my regular container of it).  The sugar then sticks to my hands and is the best way I've found for keeping the fondant from getting all over me.
I just dip my hands into my crisco jar...

Now, with coated hands, begin to kneed the reserved confectioner's sugar into the fondant ball, adding more as needed to combat the stickiness.  Also, make sure you regularly lift the fondant and put more sugar beneath it, or it will stick terribly on the surface you're using.  Usually, somewhere in the beginning of this process, I have a freak-out moment when I feel like I MUST have done something wrong this time - the fondant is TOO hard to manage, coating my hands, sticking to the counter, being too goopy, etc.  It's best to just try and work through the panic.  Chances are, you're doing it right.  :)

 Coated hands: don't panic, it's SUPPOSED to be a giant mess!

Becoming stiffer - turning into actual fondant!
I frequently have to add slightly more confectioner's sugar than just the 2 lbs called for in the recipe.  Continue to kneed and mix the fondant until it becomes smooth and easy to handle.  But keep in mind, if you continue to kneed past this smooth point, you'll have to add more sugar to get it smooth again.  It's kind of a continuous cycle, so when it first gets to the smooth stage, stop kneeding (but keep in mind you can always add a bit more sugar to get it smooth again if you need to).
Now flatten the ball slightly, sprinkle a bit of sugar below and on top of it, and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.  It need to be refrigerated at least 8 hours, but I always just do it overnight.

Congrats, you've made fondant!  And for the clean up...  It works best to pour a tiny bit of warm to hot water over the sticky mess left on the counter and let it sit for a bit.  The water will help to dissolve the sugar left on the counter and will make it easier to wipe up.  I then usually have to wipe the counters down with soap and water at least twice to get them completely clean.

Super-messy counters

Now that your fondant has refrigerated overnight, it's almost ready to use.  If you need to color it, divide it into the sections to color and let them warm to room temperture, or at least an hour (covered, to keep dust, etc off of them).  Whenever you do anything with the fondant, have a good deal of confectioner's sugar on hand, and use it liberally.  The best way to keep it from sticking is to use tons of excess sugar.  If there's sugar on the fondant when you put it on a cake, don't worry, it can easily be smoothed away, or it will absorb into the fondant while the cake sits in the fridge.

To cover a cake with fondant, you first need to crumb-coat the cake with a layer of frosting.  Crumb-coating is just putting a layer of frosting over your cake and smoothing out any crumbs of imperfections on the cake.  You can frost the cake and then use the fondant over it immediately, but for the best results, you should crumb-coat the cake the night before and refrigerate it overnight (along with the fondant).  The fondant will stick well to the cool, hardend frosting, and the cake will stand up to the fondant better if it's chilled and slightly hardened (you're also less likely to accidentally smoosh the cake if it's chilled).

 Stacked cake before crumb-coating:

Crumb-coated cakes, waiting overnight for fondant:

To fondant a cake, let the fondant warm up slightly (though with marshmallow fondant, if it's at room temperature, it's much more likely to tear and stick), then roll it out on a heavily sugared surface.  It helps to flip the fondant several times during the rolling out process and throw extra sugar underneath.  Also, make sure you don't knick it with your fingernails, as that will leave infuriating marks in it.

Roll out a piece that it bigger than the cake you're trying to cover.  Using your sugar-coated rolling pin, you can wrap the fondant around itself (very, very loosely), and you can "roll" it back out onto the cake.  Begin in the center and smooth the fondant out toward the sides (make sure you don't pull it, as it will tear easily).  Fold gently over corners/curves.  Once the fondant is in place, you can rub it gently with your hands to get a smooth effect.  For the excess around the base of the cake, I use the backside of a butter knife blade (the rounded, not serrated side) to gently "cut" the excess at the edge of the cake.  However, even with professional tools, fondant has a tendency to look ragged at the edges, which is why fondant cakes usually have a border at their base (aside from giving the cake a more "completed" look).

Fondant-covered minions!

To stick fondant decorations on a fondant-covered cake, use a tiny, tiny bit of water.  I dip just the very tip of my finger in a shallow bowl of water and put a dab on the back of the piece I want to adhere, then stick it on.  It will basically glue it there. 

For molding fondant, treat it just like modeling clay, but use confectioner's sugar liberally to prevent sticking.  I've found the store-bought Wilton brand of fondant is best for things you need to harden very stiffly.  Marshmallow fondant WILL harden if left out overnight (or several days), but the Wilton stuff harderns faster and stiffer. 

Also, I leave all my cakes in the fridge, but be warned, marshmallow fondant will "sweat" when removed from the fridge, until it reaches room temperature.  It won't affect the cake in anyway, except it gives it a wet look until it's at room temperature.  I'm always nervous my cakes will melt if I leave them out (or the fondant will get dirty, or stiffer), so I don't mind the sweating look.  If you're opposed to the wet look (which, again, is only temporary - but if you take a cake out at the beginning of a party, expect it to look extra shiny at the party), either leave the cake out entirely, or remove it from the fridge several hours before it's needed.

I think that's it!  Please feel free to ask me any questions about this process, or let me know if I left anything out/didn't make something clear.  Good luck, and always keep in mind: fondant can make me more angry than anything (I call it the "fondant rages"), but the joy you then feel after it actually turns out is one of the best feelings in the world.  Just keep at it, and, when it doubt, add more sugar.  :D

My sugar-coated kitchen after fondanting the minions:

Adventures in Caking: The Legend of Zelda

I'm pretty much an awesome wife.  When Husband said he didn't care what kind of cake I made him for his birthday, I originally planned on just making his favorite coffee-chocolate cake.  Then I thought I could put a little fondant Triforce on it (he's loved every Zelda game his entire life).  But if I was going to be making fondant anyway, I might as well do something a little more elaborate.  Then it turned into a whole, big design.  And finally, I decided to try out new recipes.

Dark chocolate-bacon cake.  With maple-bacon frosting.  And bacon fondant.

The cake itself was basically the same recipe as the coffee-chocolate cake, but with bits of bacon mixed in.  It's really good, but next time I'll mince the bacon (instead of just chopping it into small pieces), because I didn't really like the noticeable pieces of bacon in the cake.  They just get too chewy and weird in a cake.

But the frosting.  A-mazing.  For this, I did mince the bacon, because I knew I'd be putting fondant over it, and I didn't want it to make my cake all bumpy (or tear the fondant) with bacon pieces.  Personally, I could do without the bacon and just eat the most delicious frosting I've ever tasted in my life, but the saltiness of the bacon added a great flavor.  And since Husband wanted bacon, it was perfect.

For the fondant, I ordered some liquid bacon flavoring and just about 5 drops of it, along side regular vanilla extract.  It had a vague hint of bacon, but it was a sweet taste (since it's all marshmallows and sugar, anyway).  It was great by itself, but I couldn't really taste it on the cake (I'm also not a big fondant person - I love it for decorating, since I can do so much more with it, but I don't care if it's on the cake or not.  Fortunately, the recipe I use tends to blend in pretty seamlessly with the frosting flavors, so it's really not very noticeable at all.)

Then I miraculously stumbled across a tiny square fondant cutter that I didn't even know I had.  That probably saved me about 10 hours of work.  All the decorations are fondant (since I'm pretty terrible at piping, but after this cake, I feel like I'm going to need to learn - I think the lettering at the top would have been much better piped, if I were more capable), except the bushes, which are just leftover maple-bacon frosting.

Husband loved his cake.  Then he decided the only thing that would make it cooler would be if I made him a Zelda cake for birthday every year, progressing chronologically through the sequence of Zelda games.  This is going to be interesting....

I think he likes it.  :)  Also, he's had this shirt for years, but we also got him a Triforce winter hat and a little metal Zelda mint tin for his birthday this year.  He's my favorite dork.

Adventures in Caking: Coral Reef Cupcake Cake

I don't have an anecdotal entry for you today (or the last couple weeks - sorry!), so I'm hoping if I offer up two cake entries, you'll forgive me.  :)  Husband came home two weeks ago, so we've been enjoying some family-togetherness time, and that's probably why I haven't had a chance to write anything.

When we found out about when Husband was supposed to be coming home, I thought it'd be a really nice idea to invite his family to come up and actually get to come to a redeployment ceremony.  Since it was such a short deployment, I knew I wouldn't feel like they were infringing on our family time (like I probably would after a longer deployment).  Plus, it turned out to be a gigantic blessing, as we had to wait in this giant gym/hangar on bleachers for over an hour, and the extra sets of hands with the kids helped me not lose my mind.

We decided kind of last minute to also celebrate Sweet D's birthday the same weekend (just hours after Husband got home), so I figured I wouldn't have the time to make the giant octopus cake I'd originally been planning to make for her.  Instead, I chose to make a cupcake cake.  Maybe with some little octopuses or something.

And then I went a bit overboard.  Pun totally intended.

All in all, the cake probably took me between 15-20 hours.  It's all homemade (like usual), half the cupcakes were strawberry, half were chocolate, and all the little critters were molded (by me!) out of homemade marshmallow fondant (both almond and vanilla flavored).  I had SO much fun with this cake.  I did some menial research on coral reef creatures (mostly pictures to get a few of the little guys more accurate - namely things like the top hat, bow ties, and hair bows on octopuses, right?), ignored the kids a bit, drank some wine and skyped with a good friend while molding, and all in all really enjoyed the whole process.  It was much more rewarding than other cakes, since I'd have a finished, adorable little critter in just 10-25 minutes (as opposed to the full 20+ hrs for a completed larger cake).
With my little 1-year old girl!

Left side of the cake

Right side

Coral reef views

 Back of the coral reef

The hermit crab and the squid were my favorite critters

More critters

Candle Octopus!

My sweet birthday girl

Enjoying the cake! (actually, I think they both only ate fondant)

And some homecoming photos, too:

Redeploying soldiers standing in formation at the ceremony
Ant's in the orange shirt, being held by his Auntie

When they released the soldiers, Ant turned to me and said,
"I get my Daddy back now?!" *sob*

Not the best photo, but we're all together again!!