Over the years sharing my recipes here on my blog and via my youtube channel, I tend to get certain questions way more than other questions.
Whenever this happens, I like to write a blog post to address the specific questions at hand, since it is sheer proof that so many people are wondering the same thing.
“Can I use ______ cake recipe for under fondant?”
Now let me start off by saying covering cakes with fondant is not my #1 expertise however, I have done a great many fondant covered cakes in my day as a pastry chef for 10 years and then while I owned my bakery for another 10 years.
I have battled ice cold kitchens with no heating system except the heat of the ovens in the winter and dealt with the other extreme of horribly hot, humidity in the dead of a New Jersey summer (again with no cooling system!)
You are forced pretty quickly into figuring out how to handle fondant cakes (among other things) and how each recipe will react in those conditions.
But let’s put those extreme circumstances aside for now, and pretend that we are in a very normal environment building cakes. (Hmmm who ever has THAT environment? I want to live with you! LOL)
I also want to state that my best experience with fondant is with a commercial product known as Satin Ice. It was always my brand preference after trying several other cheaper brands; and I have not yet made my own Marshmallow Fondant (But it’s on the list!)
So with that being said, fondant and all the specific brands is not really the issue at hand here, since what we are talking about is CAKE RECIPES and which ones are appropriate for fondant coverings and which ones are not.
Now I have always answered this question of “Can I use the ____cake recipe for covering with fondant?” with the same answer, “Yes as long as you build your cake properly you can use any cake recipe you like for under fondant.”
Perhaps that answer is just too vague, since the next question is, “Well how do I build my cake properly!?”
I use my swiss buttercream recipe 90% of the time for all my cakes and especially for a crumb coat or the “glue” that is needed for the fondant to stick on to the cake. Once that buttercream is cold (and yes I do refrigerate all my fondant cakes as well) it is solid and very sturdy.
It would be hours, like 6 – 8 hours at normal room temperature (about 72°f) before that cake is going to start to droop or become pesty.
So when I say “as long as you are building the cake properly” I mean:
- What are you using as a crumb coat?
- Are you using a buttercream dam to hold the filling into the layers to prevent a squishy, collapse-able filling?
- Are you rolling your fondant thin enough (no more than ¼ inch thickness) so it is not too heavy?
- Are you refrigerating this cake once it is finished to maintain the stability and integrity of all the base recipes that went into the final product?
- Dowel rods may be necessary depending on your design for added support, but typically not in the case of just a 1- tier fondant covered cake.
Those are the requirements for building a sturdy cake no matter what the icing will be, so if you can answer yes to all, then you my friend are building a cake properly!
Now let me clarify the buttercream standard on the above requirements list, since many of you are NOT using buttercream at all….. and that for me would be the first red flag.
I know, I know…..most people loathe buttercream! They want whipped cream or ganache or cream cheese icing…..3 things I will NOT use under a fondant covered cake.
Again- let me repeat: this is the way I do it, and there may be many folks who disagree with me and will readily use whipped cream, cream cheese and / or ganache all the time.
Here is my two cents on that.
Almost all cake recipes in and of themselves are quite sturdy. I have never met a cake recipe that would not stand up to a fondant cover. Including the more questionable Chiffon Cake recipes that are typically the softest and lightest of all the cake recipes, can and will live up to the test when it is built properly with a sturdy icing.
Let’s take a look at the most common icings that most people want for their cakes:
Whipped cream is so soft and billowy and has zero strength against fondant. Not to mention its high moisture content could pose a severe problem for fondant slippage since it cannot act as glue whatsoever.
Ganache is another one that I find to be quite sturdy under refrigeration, but once it starts to come to room temperature the disasters can strike. Chocolate begins to melt at 90°f. Which seems to be a high enough temperature to avoid, but in a room full of people (or outside on a summer day) with a blanket of heavy fondant draped over it, can create that temperature faster than you realize.
Cream cheese icing is more sturdy, however my experience with cream cheese icing and its high moisture content along with the enzymes from the dairy have proven to be a risky business for under fondant. It is the only 1 of the 3 that I would consider if I had no other choice (like an insistent client!), but I would be sure that the event venue and conditions for holding the cake in refrigeration for as long as possible are ideal.
The base coat icing under fondant must be thin. Fondant is a heavy medium to work with. It will droop, sag and bubble under extreme conditions and we are the cake warriors in constant battle against those extreme conditions and we must arm ourselves accordingly with a strategy that is sure to win.
The crumb coat or “glue” icing under fondant must be thin since that will be the first thing to go downhill once the temperature changes and the cake is out on display during the event.
Ok, so now that I’ve upset everyone to the fact that buttercream (in my opinion) is the best and quite possibly ONLY option for under a fondant covered cake where does that leave us as to the taste and desired flavor combinations our clients may want for this cake?
Again I will say that for all my years in the cake biz, I have always used buttercream as a crumb coat, and I remind you that crumb coat means thin, so the taste of this buttercream (for those who forbid buttercream anywhere near their cakes or lips) will not even be noticed. (Unless of course there is an allergy which brings even more variables into this equation).
What we have to remember here, is that FONDANT IS THE ICING when a fondant covered cake is required. You cannot really have 2 icings. So once the client realizes this we can all be at ease with deciding the more important parts of the flavor profile.
Let’s say your client requires a Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing but the design requires fondant work. No problem.
The cream cheese filling will be more than enough to carry the flavors through the entire cake and hit home the amazing taste they want, as well as a fabulously decorated fondant design.
Chocolate Truffle Ganache Cake? Again, no problemo: Chocolate Cake filled with truffle ganache, a light coating of chocolate buttercream to keep those shades of chocolate throughout the entire cake consistent and viola! You have yourself a sturdy and deliciously beautiful fondant covered cake!
I think most of the problems we run into when preparing cakes to the exact specifications of our clients is the fact that they surely have a good idea of what they want for their final cake; but they don’t know the first thing about how we are to execute that cake ~ and besides, why should they? They shouldn’t, that’s our job!
I also know that all too often we (as people pleasers) can get “talked into” following the orders of our clients, forcing us to ignore the rules of pastry law. But if you have the knowledge to get around those demands while staying with in the lines of the baking and pastry court of law you can indeed please everyone all at the same time.
Many of my clients who have said, “Ugggh, no way do I want sweet sticky buttercream on my cake….” have died and gone to heaven with their first bite of a subtly buttercream laced crumb coated cake and was none the wiser as the filling and other flavors burst through to the forefront. Certain tricks of the trade can (and should) remain secret amongst us pastry chefs. After all, the magician doesn’t tell his audience how he did everything right? They simply leave the show in awe of what they have just experienced and will be sure to tell their friends and family where to go for that same cake magic act!