Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fondant! Wait...what is fondant?

If there is one question I tend to get a lot from Brides, it's "What is fondant exactly?" Funny thing is, this question comes after they state they do not want fondant, it's gross, and refuse to have it on their cake. Hmmm....that makes sense. Anyway, lets put the fondant questions and concerns to rest, shall we?

Fondant leaves cakes smooth enough for any decorations.  Including stencil work.
Though there are several kinds of fondant, the one in regards to cake decorating (majority of the time) is ROLLED FONDANT. Rolled fondant is NOT the same as poured fondant. Different ingredients, different method, and most certainly a different blog entry. Rolled fondant includes gelatin, glycerin, corn syrup, flavoring, and powdered sugar. It's a pliable sugar dough that is rolled out to cover cakes and also can be used for decorations. It can be dyed just about any color or just left white.

Fondant, unlike buttercream, gives you a smooth and satiny finish to any cake. It can be steamed to make it shiny, airbrushed for texture, and more importantly it is much more stable than buttercream. Fondant can withstand the heat and bumpy car rides. Buttercream tends to become mushy and move around 70F and melt at 80F.

Buying vs. Making Fondant and the Perils of the Home-Maker-Cake-Baker Fondants
Here is where a true cake decorator tends to get annoyed. NO, you do not have to buy fondant. Yes, Cake Boss and several other big-time cake decorators buy fondant (in particular the Satin Ice brand). I can say that for six years I too bought it. It's easier, but certainly not cheaper. For about the 1/3 of a cost of a bucket of fondant you can make the same amount at home or in your cake shop. So why not just make it? Well to be quite's a pain in the...well you know. You have to mix, you have to measure, and you have to knead a bunch of fondant by hand. Benefits? You control the consistency, texture, and most importantly...FLAVOR!

If you are just too scared to make your own fondant, buy it. There is no shame. A LOT of bakeries just buy their fondant. You will notice, however, they all tend to buy the same brand...SATIN ICE. It's smooth, it's pliable, it tastes like vanilla candy. I can say this is my favorite brand as well. Let's cap on some others out on the market.

Wilton Brand - Buy this and kiss your clients goodbye. It's chunky, stiff, chalky, dry, and overall the worst fondant on the market. WORST! It's over-priced to boot.
Pettinice - Great brand, but pricey. For 15lbs the cheapest I can find is $65.00. It compares to the quality of Satin Ice, but is not flavored with vanilla.
Choco-Pan - I have had students in my cake decorating class ask if they can use this. Yes, but ITS NOT FONDANT. This is modeling chocolate. Two VERY different products. Modeling chocolate can be rolled thinner and cover more surface area that fondant and also is much more pliable. However, it also tends to tear and not do well on wedding cakes in heat (ummm...hello, it's chocolate). So I tend to avoid modeling chocolate unless it's for figurines.
Gumpaste - Again, this is not fondant. I have had students that used this thinking it was. This is for sugar flowers and other decorations that you want to dry to a rock-hard consistency.
Duffs Buttercream Fondant - Though it's technically fondant, I hate this stuff.  It has WAY too many artificial flavors added and their "white" is actually a very dark IVORY color.  Which royally sucks.  Furthermore, dying this stuff is worse than bleaching black hair blonde.  It doesn't take.  It's very stiff.  The only good I have found in this stuff is that it covers about a 1/3 more than normal fondant, but who cares when you have to work it to death.

If there are other brands I missed, it's because they are inconsequential to my point and probably products I will never use.

Making Fondant
If you are using "marshmallow fondant" please for the love that is all cake decorating and holy...STOP IT NOW. It's flat, it's unpredictable, it has horrible coverage, and tastes like a chalky marshmallow and honestly...not true fondant. There, I said it.  Those making this "fondant" are the ones ruining fondant for the rest of us.  Majority of the clients I get that say they hate fondant, say its because they ate it on a homemade cake that "Sally Sue" made with her homemade marshmallow recipe.  

Here is a recipe that I have found to be the most accurate for making true fondant that you can put on cakes.  It can by dyed, though I recommend dying in the process of making, and covers just about any type of cake.  The only drawback to this recipe (and basically any homemade fondant recipe I have found) is that it just doesn't harden like factory fondant.  Why?  Well look at the ingredient list on your bucket of purchased fondant.  Yeah...see all that?  That's why.  Either way, this is good.

Kali's Fondant Recipe
2 lbs. of Sifted Powdered Sugar (Use a nice quality brand, such as C&H)
1/4 Cold Water
1 T. Unflavored Gelatin
1/2 C. White Corn Syrup
1 1/2 T. Glycerine
1/2 T. Clear Vanilla Extract (if you dont use clear, fondant will be yellow)
1/2 T. Clear Almond Extract

In a large (not metal) bowl, sift half the powdered sugar.  Make a well in the center and set aside.  In a medium pot, place cold water in the pan.  Sprinkle lightly with gelatin and wait about five minutes for gelatin to dissolve.  You want the granules gone.  Turn on medium heat and heat until gelatin begins to melt and become clear.  Add corn syrup and glycerine.  Remove from heat and stir to combine.  Add flavorings.  Pour mixture into the well of your powdered sugar.  Using a wooden spoon mix slowly by adding powdered sugar from the sides of your well until a sticky/stringy mess has formed.  Add the rest of the powdered sugar until you can no longer mix with a spoon.  Move to a non-stick surface (I use a vinyl mat) sprinkled with powdered sugar and knead until strong and pliable.  This may require more powdered sugar or not.  Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rest AT LEAST eight hours before use.  

Viola and congrats.  You just made REAL FONDANT.

...and now, you know what fondant is.  

The Topsy Turvy vs. Mad Hatter

I get a lot of clients/prospective clients that call for a "topsy turvy cake". I start to quote them, only for them to follow up with a phrase such as "You know, like from Alice in Wonderland?"...okay...hold on people. It's time for the ultimate clarification! I think Food Network Challenges (though I love em) have started to confuse the American people on whats what when it comes to cake terminology. So let me break it down for ya:

Topsy Turvy!
March 2010

A Little About Em
This cake in fact is nothing like a mad hatter cake. Each tier is separated by foam blocks, boards, flowers, etc and lifted at an angle. Yes, cake is literally LIFTED to angles. This is one of the most difficult cake designs out there. Not many decorators can pull it off, nor have the stones to try. Why? Because even if you are an 1/8 of an inch off in measurements your cake can come tumbling down like an old brick building in those action movies (ya know...where the tiny puny car runs through the walls like it's not big deal?). These cakes require countless measurements, stable cake structure, a good buttercream recipe, heck of a lot of fondant skills, and a lot of knowledge of physics. They are, however, some of the coolest cakes to ever be made. I have made several of these in the past. My most famous is the "Ashley" cake. It's been at the Davis County Bridal Showcase and the Utah Bridal Expo at South Towne. It's five tiers and filled with flowers. Today, as a matter of fact, I'm doing a three-tier rendition of the same cake. Next week, doing it again.
How Much Do They Cost?
Depending on the size of the tiers, height, etc the pricing is hard to say.  Mine start at $250.00 and the famous  "Ashley" cake is $750.00.  Most people think thats an outrageous amount.  However if you knew the skill, time, etc that went into these (and the sheer matter of fact that you yourself couldn't make offense, just pointing out that no Average Joe can pull it off), you would be more than willing to pay for this work of art.  That's what they are.  They defy gravity, showcase unbelievable skill, and are edible.  Hell, who would want to pay less than $1,000 for it?!  Imagine having that at your wedding!?  Trust me, it will be noted and you will have the cake everyone talks about.
Are They Stable?
Iffy question here.  Yes and no.  Have I had them fall over?...YES.  Why?  Because the photographer felt he should move the table with a cake such as that on it.  They are not built to be moved after assembly.  Yes, on Food Network Challenge they move them a whopping three feet to a table.  Bravo...that's TV, not reality.  They are assembled on-site and most definitely NOT MOVED afterwards.  I do not make my cakes impossible for the guest to take apart and cut.  The ones on Food Network are practically a pain in the @$$ to pull apart, let alone cut up.  Reality folks.

The Mad Hatter Cake!
Mad Hatter Cake

Here is where we think of "Alice in Wonderland".  The mad hatter is a tiered cake, stacked right on top of one another, and carved in funky shapes.  They can be round, square, a mixture of both.  Each tier is angled on the sides and top in a "mad" design.  They are typically covered in fondant with designs that range anywhere from flowers, to pinstripes, to dots, etc.  It's endless with these cakes.  They are supposed to look "mad".

How much do these cost?
Not as much as topsy turvy, but they still are not cheap.  These still require a lot of skill.  They are hard to carve and the Average Susie Homemaker Baker tends to experience what we in the business refer to as "sinkage" when they attempt these.  They require supports, stable cake recipe, and good fondant skills.  These types of cakes, i'm sorry to say, CANNOT and SHOULD NOT be made with any cake mix.  No cake should really, but these especially.  You need a sturdy cake (such as pound cake) that will still taste great, but not fall over.  My average cost for a two-tier mad hatter starts at about $85.00.  These aren't easy. Unfortunately, everyone loves these types of cakes, but are not willing to pay for them.  Of course after they attempt to do it themselves, they realize just WHY people charge this much to make them.  They take TONS of time and effort and honestly, creativity.

...and there ya have it.  The difference.  I will post photos of the Topsy Turvy cake I'm doing later today.  It is named "Danny", after the bride (as all of my wedding cakes are).  This one is bright and very summery.  Perfect for the season.

Now, go forth with the cake knowledge you have been given today.  Order away that Mad Hatter or Topsy Turvy cake, shock the baker/cake maker with your terminology.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hit the brakes...I'm headed north!

Originally I had started this blog to talk about cakes, pastries, recipes, guidelines, etc. Though this is all very exciting, I think it leaves out one of the largest facts about cake decorating/private chef work...THE CUSTOMERS. Some are crazy, some are fun, some are the absolute definition of "Bride-Zilla" and some are the easiest and most laid back people to the "T". Names will be changed (because no one likes a lawsuit), but I will discuss just how this business really is. The "inside scoop" as you will. It's not pretty. Cake decorating and the wedding business is honestly one of the ugliest businesses in the prettiest of events.

Sometimes it all goes smoothly, others not so much. Have I ever had some crazy bride throw my cake? No, but I had one call me to say she tossed it in the trash. Funny thing is, she was actually lying to just get her money back. We'll save this for another time. This is just a prelude tease.

...and so, it begins. Cakes, brides, a little history, a few recipes, a little know how, and you have the ever-so-miraculous-art of CAKE DECORATING. There are tears, there is blood, and sometimes, there is cake.