the icing on the cake

I signed up for an “amateur class” in Fondant and Royal Icing yesterday afternoon at the French Culinary Institute. I’ve always wanted to take a cake decorating course and now I have started one that meets for five Saturdays. Chef Christopher and Chef Isra were our teachers for about 20 women. Class started at 3:30 and ended at 8:30 p.m. and we were on our feet the whole time. I have an entirely new respect for chefs now; you need a good pair of shoes and long underwear. It was cold in the pastry kitchen! Who says if you can’t stand the fire get out of the kitchen? It’s October but the a/c was on full blast! Now a uniform did make me look and feel professional (terrified) and most intimidating of all, every single one of us “amateurs” got our very own roll of tools. Now my first attempt at fondant was an utter failure; the gelatin mixture got cold from the frigid air from the a/c and it clumped when it should have turned into a taffy-like consistency. I learned two things: all ingredients are weighed and following a fondant recipe is a lot harder than it looks.

Here is the basic textbook recipe for enough rolled fondant to cover two six-inch cakes:

1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
60ml cold water
170g light corn syrup or glucose
1 1/2 tablespoons glycerin
900 grams powdered sugar, sifted

  1. Put the gelatin in a bowl and cover it with the cold water.
  2. Allow the gelatin to soak for several minutes.
  3. Heat the gelatin in a bain-marie until clear and completely dissolved.
  4. Stir in the corn syrup and glycerin.
  5. Make a well in the center of the powdered sugar.
  6. Pour the gelatin mixture into the well.
  7. Stir the mixture together until it forms a mass.
  8. Knead the fondant until it is smooth and malleable.
  9. Wrap the fondant in plastic wrap and set it aside until needed.

Now here is my version of the recipe with notes (what you learn from watching, making mistakes, and doing it again!) Thanks to Chef Isra, I now have a better understanding of the fondant. She insisted I dip my finger in the gelatin mixture to feel the temperature.

Ingredients (to cover two six-inch cakes)

1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
60ml cold water
170g light corn syrup or glucose
1 1/2 tablespoons glycerin
900g powdered 10x sugar, sifted (2x453g boxes) plus extra for kneading
Cornstarch for kneading


  1. Pour the sugar in the bowl of a mixer.
  2. Put  a saucepan half-filled with water on to boil. Put the 60ml cold water in a metal bowl and sprinkle the gelatin all over top. Swirl the gelatin back and forth to “bloom.”
  3. Heat the gelatin over the hot pan of water until dissolved and no lumps remain. Stir gently with a whisk in a back and forth motion.
  4. Add the corn syrup and glycerin to the gelatin and stir until the mixture is well combined. Do not overcook. The temperature of the gelatin mixture should be just hot, comfortably hot, not scalding.
  5. Make a well in the center of the sugar and pour the gelatin mixture into it. Let it sit for 2 minutes.
  6. Blend the sugar and gelatin mixture on low speed in the mixer until all the dry ingredients are moistened. It will be sticky and thick but not runny or dry.
  7. Use a bowl scraper to get the fondant off the beaters. Spread a mixture of powdered sugar and cornstarch on the work surface. Using the bowl scraper, scrape all the fondant onto the prepared work surface. Knead the fondant until it is smooth and malleable. It is better for it to be underdone and slightly sticky rather than dry.
  8. Wrap the fondant in plastic wrap and set aside until needed. If you are not going to use the fondant right away, wrap a damp towel around the plastic wrap, and then wrap it again with plastic. Refrigerate.
  9. Prepare the cake for the fondant. Put the cake to be covered in fondant on the work surface. Then sprinkle a mixture of powdered sugar and cornstarch on the work surface. Roll the fondant out evenly so that it is at least twice the diameter of the cake. If bubbles form in the fondant surface, gently prick them with the tip of a paring knife. Gently roll up the fondant on the rolling pin.
  10. Unroll the fondant on the cake so that it falls evenly over the top and sides. Don’t worry if you have to pick it up and adjust the position. Using two smoothers, gently smooth out the top and the sides. Gradually smooth out the bottom as you go by unfolding the folds of fondant and gently pressing it to the side of the cake. As you get to the bottom, cut the excess fondant away about two inches from the bottom edge of the cake. Continue unfolding and pressing the edges of the fondant to the bottom of the cake. Then, using a paring knife, carefully trim away the excess as close to the bottom edge of the cake as you can. Save the fondant scraps for decorations.

Chef Christopher told us lots of stories about cooking lore and gave us advice about getting started as a cake baker.  I’m not sure I want to go that route but about half the class put up their hands when asked, how many of you want to be professional bakers?  The Chef gave a quick lesson on the economics of cake baking; the starting price for a wedding cake is $10.00 per slice.  He told us about the four different types of buttercream frostings (Italian Meringue, Pâte à Bombe, Swiss Meringue, and Mousseline) and then he made a delicious batch of Pistachio Swiss Meringue to sample. Oh, heavens. It’s to die for.

Cooking school, I am learning, is all about community and eating nutritious food. About halfway through the class, we stopped for a quick snack of homemade raisin-walnut bread and cheese and pear. We were invited to partake of Family Meal after class. Family Meal is prepared by the students in the classic culinary arts curriculum to give them hands-on experience in cooking in quantity.  But I was tired, my feet were aching. I didn’t go. Maybe next week.

My fondant friend Peaches Snowball Caraway

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