I have a serious case of split personality disorder when it comes to my relationship with homemade birthday cakes.
The more sentimental, doting, and hausfrau side of me feels that making someone a birthday cake from scratch is a true expression of love for the person and is part of the gift you give to them on their special day. And then…there’s the more frazzled side of me who may just put the whole thing off out of indecision and intimidating expectations until the very last moment rush into Target to try to find a prefab cake in the cooler that I can try to pass off as special. That, of course, is the worst case scenario, and I swear it only happened that one time. Most often, the haufrau side begins the task, searching the internet for photos of cake decorating that match the pictures I have in my head of the perfect cake. And with that, I am off and running. There will be setbacks, changes in design, reformatting to make it more cost-effective, each challenge chipping away at the enthusiasm that I began with. And in the end, the frazzled side of me has emerged, ready to slap some frosting on that sucker and throw it in the fridge so I can go to bed.
Knowing myself as I do, I made every effort to keep myself even keeled when my son’s seventh birthday rolled around. We sat down together and looked over some photos online of kid’s birthday cakes, and I asked him what he liked. I resisted the urge to aim for the highest, most challenging thing I could see, and instead we both agreed that making him a Lego cake would be a pretty cool idea. Rectangles!, I thought, No problem. However…if you are really, really bored someday and feel like wasting time, go to your favorite search engine and type in “kid’s Lego cakes”, and see what comes up. There are, of course, some that are not so fantastic. And then there are these amazing, detailed, intricate creations that make me sit back in wonder and wish that I had more of a natural knack when it comes to bakery skills. These movie-quality cakes all have one thing in common: fondant. I have never used fondant, aside from the brief few days in culinary school when the chef handed us wads of it and left us to create little play doh people or flowers, under the guise of bakery skills. Not my finest use of student loan money, those days.
After doing some research online, I came to the understanding that with fondant – as with so many other foods – homemade is miles above the kind bought in craft store tubs (from a flavor point of view. However, one exception comes to mind: if you are trying to make fondant and dye it into primary colors, you may be better off buying pre-tinted fondant. Trust me). So, as with the cake and frosting, I decided to try making my fondant from scratch.
1 Tb unflavored Gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1 tsp Almond Extract
1 Tb Glycerin
2 Lbs Confection Sugar
1/2 tsp Vegetable Shortening
Food coloring paste or gel food color (optional)
Food Coloring markers (optional)
- Add the gelatin to the cold water in glass measuring cup or large microwave safe bowl and let sit for 2 minutes to soften
- Place the measuring cup in the microwave for approx. 30 seconds, or until the gelatin dissolves
- Add the corn syrup and shortening and stir until the shortening is almost all melted
- Add the glycerin and extract, and stir until mixture is smooth and clear. Let mixture cool until it is lukewarm
- In a separate bowl, add 5 c of the confectioner’s sugar, and make a well in the middle. Add liquid mixture and stir together gently with a wooden spoon until fully mixed. Continue to add more sugar and stir in until it is solid enough to turn out onto a clean countertop to be kneaded.
- Once the fondant is on the counter, begin to knead in more sugar until the dough is smooth and soft. The goal is to reach a consistency where the fondant is not extremely sticky and yet it is not so full of sugar that it begins to get to hard or breakable. The exact amount of sugar will vary depending on the climate, but generally you will need around 8 cups. Add sugar to the countertop as you would with flour, to keep things from getting too sticky.
(Makes enough for 3 or 4 balls of fondant, if you want to have many different colors, or one very large ball of white fondant for one cake)
After stirring the first six cups of sugar into the syrup mixture, I turned it out onto a clean counter to begin to add the remaining sugar by hand. If you have a tool like the one shown, it can be very helpful to scrape countertops and for cutting fondant smoothly.
By kneading the sugar in bread-style, you ensure that you have added in enough sugar to make the dough lose it’s stickiness, but not so much sugar that the dough becomes hard and tears
And after all your arm muscles have been worked out sufficiently…a lovely ball of fondant waits for your creativity to bring it to life!
If you will not be using it right away, wrap the ball in parchment or wax paper and place in a large freezer bag. the parchment will make removing it from the bag later much easier. Store the fondant at room temperature, unless you will be storing it for more than a day.
If you are planning on making several different colors to decorate with, form your ball into a log shape for easy portioning. Use a sharp non-serrated knife to cut the log into portions that will work with your project
Using a toothpick, add small amounts of the color you want to the dough, pressing it in. Remember, it’s much easier to add more color if you need to than to deal with the problems of over-tinting, so take it easy! Avoid using liquid food coloring, like you would find in a grocery store. It adds a lot of liquid and can make the fondant sticky.
Begin to knead the color into the ball (after putting the other balls away that you aren’t using so they don’t dry out). If you have added a lot of color, it may increase the stickiness of the fondant and you can add more sugar to get it to the right consistency. Depending on what you are making for decorations, leaving a half-kneaded in tie-dye look can look really cool.
After finishing my fondant, I was really happy with the taste, the texture and that I had made it on my own. However, as happens with me so often, the plans for the cake I was making changed, and I ended up using other things to make it. 🙂 So I don’t have any pictures of a cake decorated with this fondant, but I know that I will make it again soon and actually get to use it!
If you have any pictures of fondant decorated cake, please share them! I love seeing other people’s creations.