Have you ever wished you could make a really professional-looking cake? This two-part series will teach you everything you need to know about how to make fondant for a fancy birthday cake, starting with part one: how to prepare your cake. Give it a try!
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My baby turned two last week. I can’t believe he’s getting so big! He’s talking in sentences, running everywhere he goes, yelling “I do it!” 500 times a day, and has developed a pretty hilarious little sense of humor.
(Read more about why I actually think the “terrible” twos are a pretty awesome age.)
One of my favorite things about my kids’ birthdays is the excuse it gives me to make a fun cake. I know they would be totally content with simple cupcakes, and I fully accept that the cakes are more for me than for them, but I love the creative process of making a fun and edible representation of whatever it is that they happen to love at the time. For Little Man’s fourth birthday this year, I made a fun dinosaur world cake, and for Little Brother–who is constantly running around yelling 3-2-1 BLAST OFF!!!!!–we decided on a rocket ship.
I went to Pinterest for ideas, and (as usual) I found a TON of amazing cakes that seemed way too elaborate for my humble decorating skills. I consider myself a moderately experienced chef. I can make a roux and bake my own bread, but I’m certainly no Julia Child (maybe it’s because I could never get into the idea of liver pâté). Fondant has always kind of scared me. It just seemed so…perfect…and finicky. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make it look right, and that I would drive myself crazy trying.
My mom–who is super talented at cake decorating–made a rocket cake for my nephew a year ago using fondant, so I called to ask her about it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the plunge, but I thought I’d at least pick her brain a little. She assured me that fondant really isn’t that hard to make or work with.
Although I wasn’t sure that I would find it as easy as she does–in a moment of boldness–I decided to try.
I figured my experiment with fondant would have one of two outcomes: Either it would turn out great, and I would take pictures to share here with you all, OR it would be a wreck, and the two-year-old wouldn’t care, and I’d still take pictures to share with you all so that we could laugh together about it.
I’m happy to report that my mom was right (she always is). Fondant was much easier to make than I expected, and while I made a giant mess of my kitchen, it was a fun project.
So, if you’ve ever thought about making fondant, but you’ve been nervous to try, wait no more! In two parts, I’m going to walk you through the process I used and share with you my best tips for how to make fondant successfully!
Part One: Preparing Your Cake
Note: I know this looks like a long list, but most of it I already had in my kitchen. I just wanted to give you a thorough list of EVERYTHING I used for the entire cake-making process, because I hate getting into a project and realizing I have to go to the store to get something. So, you may not use some of these until one of the steps in part 2 or 3, but here’s your shopping list:
- Buttercream frosting (here is the recipe I used)
- Fondant (this recipe was sent to me by my mom, and it worked great)
- Extra powdered sugar or cornstarch
- Parchment paper
- Angled spatula (or you can get away with a butter knife)
- Gel food coloring
- Plastic wrap
- Plastic freezer bags
- Large cutting board (or clean, smooth counter top)
- Rolling pin
- Sharp paring knife
- Fondant smoother (or use your hands like I did)
- Latex gloves (for coloring fondant)
- Cookie cutters for any shapes you want to decorate with
How to prepare your cake:
- Bake your cake according to your recipe’s directions. I just used boxed cake mixes to keep things simple. Line the pans with parchment to ensure that the cake will come out easily and without falling apart.
Let it cool completely and then wrap each layer separately in plastic and freeze overnight. This makes the cake easier to handle, cut, and frost in the next steps. You can make your cake several days (or even weeks) in advance if you want. This way you don’t commit so much time on the day of decorating.
- Get or make your cake base. If your cake is round, you can just use a plate or fancy cake stand, but for rectangular (or rocket-shaped) cakes, I often cover a large piece of thick cardboard or foam core board with wrapping paper. You can also get or make a simple cardboard “cake board” that is cut to the shape of the cake so you can store it more easily and then “plate” your cake onto a platter or cake stand later.
- Make a batch of buttercream frosting. You’ll use this to crumb frost your cake, and you’ll add an additional thin layer to the cake so the fondant has something to stick to. Set the frosting aside, and let your assistant lick the beaters.
- Assemble & shape your cake. Unwrap your frozen cake layers. Use a serrated cake knife to trim the tops of the cake until they are pretty close to flat. Place the bottom layer on your base (you can put a small smear of frosting to help it stay in place if it slides around). Frost the top of this layer, then place the next layer on top.
- Before you crumb frost the cake, shape it as you desire. I HIGHLY recommend that you make a template using parchment paper (or any paper, really) to help you keep things even. I almost ruined the whole thing before I even got to the fondant part because I thought I could eyeball it. Thankfully, I stopped myself before I let it get too crooked and I went back and made a quick template.
I did eyeball my template, but drawing it on paper (I used the same parchment that I use for baking) allowed me to fold it in half and cut it out so that both sides were the same.
Follow your template and then continue to shape and shave away extra cake until you’re happy. Bonus: my boys LOVED eating the discarded cake!
- Crumb frost your cake. This means that you cover the whole cake in a thin coat of frosting to keep the crumbs in place and to give your fondant something to stick to. I made mine a little thicker than a traditional crum frosting just to make sure that the fondant would be secure. Don’t worry too much though, as long as all the cake it covered in some amount of frosting, you’ll probably be fine.
- Smooth out the frosting. You want to get your frosting as smooth as possible so that the bumps don’t show through under the fondant. I just used my favorite little angled spatula and even got my (clean) fingers in on the smoothing action until my cake looked like this:
- At this point, you can freeze your cake again (which I did for a day), or you can just stick it in the fridge for 30 minutes while you get your fondant ready.
Okay, friends. I know we haven’t actually gotten to the fondant part, but doing the prep work properly will make a big difference in how the fondant turns out in the end. Besides, that’s enough baking for one day!
Stay tuned for part two…the thrilling conclusion of my fondant adventure where you’ll learn how to make fondant and decorate a super stellar rocket cake!
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