“I’m not a fan of fondant”
“I hate fondant. I want a buttercream cake.”
Generally one of the first things communicated to me by a potential client, even though every single inspiration cake they are in love with probably was made with fondant. And why is that? Because fondant is infinitely more versatile in its decor options, gives a smoother, cleaner finish, protects the cake from outside environmental assailants, & is much sturdier to support all those wonderful decor elements that they love on the cakes.
The bigger question here is: WHY IS WHAT IS ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE CAKE SO IMPORTANT TO PEOPLE?
You eat watermelon & cantaloupe, right? Do you eat the rind? No. Or at least I don’t know anyone who does. Do you throw away or refuse to eat all the deliciousness inside a peach or an orange because you don’t like the peel? Sounds silly, right? Why do you care what’s on the outside of a cake, then?
It’s a tiny little thin layer, regardless of buttercream or fondant, unless you have a piped buttercream design which can be super thick, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. For this discussion, we are talking about the lovely smooth finishes. So seriously, it’s maybe 1/4 inch thick, usually less. Why is this thin skin the subject of so much concern and consternation?
Answer: because they are used to big box store or bakery cakes, & how they are served. If it’s a layer cake, these generally are 2 or, if you’re lucky, 3 thick layers of cake with a thin smudge of filling in the middle, sometimes that’s not made of buttercream at all but some kind of jam-like stuff. So it’s all cake, little filling, & your only hope of delicious buttercream is what’s on the outside of the cake. Especially if it is—horrors!—a sheet cake with NO filling, & is just a lump of cake with icing on the top, so everybody fights for the side pieces (especially the corners!), or the piece with the big buttercream rose on top. (Am I right or am I right? I’ve been there. I win. Don’t fight me over icing. I will cut you with the cake knife.)
So this is what most are used to:
And how do people usually cut cakes? Layer cake: wedges. Sheet cake: little squares.
So this adds up to victorious people who got the ‘good’ slices of sheet cake, or people who got a big bohocking chunk of layer cake that is way more than a serving for a lumberjack, so they eat the outside with the icing on it & throw the rest away.
This is NOT how cakes are properly cut & served, especially at a wedding or large event. But people aren’t used to buying & serving these, so they extrapolate their experience from the small cakes of the past to large event cakes.
So for the sake of this article, let’s focus on wedding cakes & large tiered party cakes, as they are a totally different animal in terms of serving.
For layered cakes, most cakes for most parties are no larger than 8 inches. That’s quite normal, & pretty much the size of one you would bake at home. For a 6 inch cake, yes, most of the slices DO touch the outside of the cake, & the way I cut mine, they all do. But look at the chart above and what happens when you cut a cake the proper way, so you get the most servings out of it with no waste. How many of those slices ever see the outside of that cake versus how many come from the center & never have hope of touching the outside?
Do you think your guests getting the majority of those slices care at all about what was on the outside of the cake? They only care about if they are getting any delicious buttercream at all in the slice on their plate.
With cakes, like with people, it’s what on the INSIDE that counts.
The outside of the cake is completely independent of the inside of the cake.
THIS is what the inside of a cake should look like:
Is ANYONE getting shorted on buttercream with these slices?
I bake my cakes up extra thick, & then torte them in half horizontally. This not only allows for 3 layers of filling, but also allows me to inspect the inside of each cake layer for quality & proper texture. And if you notice, each filling layer is about 1/2 inch of luscious, made-from-scratch buttercream. The result is a tall slice of cake at least 5 inches high, compared to the industry standard of 4 inches, so you get 25% more cake per slice with me than industry standard.
And each slice, even from the very center of the biggest cake at the bottom of that towering tiered confection, has a good 1 1/2 inches of buttercream in it. WAAAAYYYYY more than you’d ever hope to get just from having buttercream on the outside of the cake. So even the very last guest picking up their slice of cake that wasn’t in the same zip code as the outside of that cake, is victorious in their quest for a ‘good’ slice of cake.
Which of these two cakes is real cake inside?
The two cakes above have EXACTLY the same materials on the outside: fondant, gumpaste, & real edible silver leaf. If I hadn’t told you, could you tell which one was real and which one was dummy? The outside is completely independent of the inside!
IF THE INSIDE OF THE CAKE IS DONE RIGHT, THE OUTSIDE JUST DOESN’T MATTER……
…….From a taste perspective. Of course it matters visually. Get the design you want. It doesn’t affect the inside.
The outside is just the ‘skin’ that makes the cake unique to your decor, wedding, and personality. It’s what amazes & delights the eyes of the guests & is your dream come true on your special day.
But the true measure of the cake is when you break that skin. When you cut into it and reveal all that deliciousness inside, will it still be awesome down to the last slice from the middle of the bottom tier? Yes, the cake is the centerpiece of the event. It’s the most important element. But at the end of the day, it’s supposed to be an amazingly delicious dessert, regardless of its outside appearance.
Let me address a couple of other concerns about fondant:
1) It tastes bad.
A) Yes, most of the commercially available fondant does. I make my own, which is made from marshmallows & powdered sugar, & flavored exactly like my buttercream. It’s delicious. I challenge you. Come try it. If I’m lying I’m dying. It’s like a soft, chewy buttercream taffy.
2) It’s hard to cut.
A) Yes, the commercial fondants have stiffeners in them that cause them to harden up after being exposed to air for a period of time. This is great for certain applications like making figures or flowers, but not great when trying to cut a cake. Mine is so soft that it literally won’t even dry out in a dehydrator. I have tried. I can’t make figures, flowers, or anything that needs to hold it s shape from mine. It’s too soft and won’t harden. This is GREAT for covering cakes that will be sliced, though!
3) But I want buttercream on the outside too.
A) You still get buttercream on the outside, the exact same amount as you would anyway. It’s just under the fondant as a nice supporting layer, helping that fondant look smooth & beautiful! Or if you prefer, you can have white or dark chocolate ganache as the outside of the cake. Solid chocolate. Yum!
4) Fondant costs more.
A) Yes, yes it does. It’s adding an element to the cake that adds more time & materials, & therefore cost. And usually, fondant cakes are much more heavily decorated. With buttercream cakes, the design is pretty much put on with the icing. There’s no additional design time involved. This is why rustic buttercream cakes are so popular & cost effective. If you’re on a tight budget, get the rustic buttercream & decorate with fresh florals. It’s gorgeous & right on trend. But if that’s not the look you want, fondant is a far superior decor method. I much prefer working with fondant, & it’s worth it!
Don’t Fear the Fondant! Fondant is your Friend!