My first try with fondant and piping icing

sorry pic isnt bigger, the I's are flowers :-)
hehehe the cake wasnt level...but it was yummy!

Well I thought I'd share my first try with fondant with you. Perhaps newbies to cake decorating can catch a few do's and dont's from my trial. I decided to try it out for my friend's birthday. There were only going to be 10 people there and it was a very relaxed birthday BBQ so it was a nice, pressure free task. If I stuffed it up I could just buy a cake from the supermarket anyway.

So I tried to keep it simple as I tend to go all out with new things and try doing all the crazy fandangle stuff you shouldn't attempt till alot later on. This time I was determined to get good results so I kept it as simple as possible.

I chose the birthday girls (well, shes in her 30's) favourite colour, Lilac, for the fondant using Wilton's violet gel colour. I made a marshmallow fondant with a recipe from the Internet. The Cake was made with a tweaked recipe from the "devils food" cake mix (the name is awful but it's a nice choc cake) and cottees chocolate pudding mix. I didn't bake totally from scratch as i usually would as I wanted to focus on the fondant and didn't want to over commit.

For the base coat and layers I used a buttercream recipe from the Wilton website which was the perfect consistency, but extremely sweet!! I had to make a second batch of buttercream with a softer consistency for the piping work.

So there were three firsts for me with this cake.
1. Making and using fondant
2. Layers inside a cake
3. Piping words and patterns

If anyone wants the recipes I used, which I would recommend, the links to the respective sites are here:

Wilton's Buttercream Icing 
Easy Chocolate Cake Recipe
Marshmallow Fondant (there was heaps left over this makes a huge batch!)

now as far as the Fondant recipe is concerned, Aussie's, here's some things to know instead of having to look it up or figure it out.

1. Crisco is an american brand of vegetable shortening which is not available in Australia. In fact, there is no equivalent whatsoever in supermarkets at least in my state! The closest you can get it COPHA. Which is a vegetable shortening made from coconut oil. Dont worry it doesnt taste like coconuts and I used it as an alternative sucessfully. Use plenty, with our hot weather we need it. dont be shy to smother more into your hands and the counter if its sticking still. Also, Copha is extremely hard and doesnt melt well in the microwave so be sure to leave your copha out on the bench overnight or in hot weather for a couple of hours before you want to work with it. Refrigerated copha is so hard to soften!!

2. Use a proper conversion tool on the internet to see how much of everything you will need for the recipe. Id give you the exact amounts except I lost the paper I wrote it on! I used Pascal's marshmallows (white only) instead of mini marshmallows since i couldnt find them, and used a homebrand icing sugar, not top quality and it was still absolutely fine.

3. "Confectioners sugar" is another name for your standard Icing sugar. So dont panic and scour the asiles of every supermarket for confectioners sugar, you wont find it. Aussies call it icing sugar. lol.

My mistakes beginners can learn from:

My first hiccup was the layering. I do not have a cake-leveler or any thin long knives. I used a bread knife to cut the layers in the cake. They were not even. I also cut the cake too soon. I'd leave it overnight before cutting so that it's got less of a chance of being crumbly on the sides. Thankfully I needed a thick layer of buttercream frosting as a base coat for the fondant anyway so I kind of filled in any crumbled parts with extra frosting haha. Id recommend using a proper cake leveling tool for this task if you can borrow one from a friend or afford to buy one.

Second hiccup was using a large plastic cake spatula to smooth over the buttercream layer. This particular spatula had been perfect for spreading soft frosting on the top of cakes and for smoothing out potato on the top of shepheards pie, but for this cake I would have been better off with a smaller, stainless steel one for a smoother finish. The plastic just isnt stiff enough to get the job done.

Third hiccup, the fondant. This wasn't so much error than it was inexperience but I really had to work with the fondant for quite some time to get it cooperate. I went with the recipe I had on hand but due to getting my measurement conversions wrong, I started off with a bit too much icing sugar. Easily fixed with a few teaspoons of water but it did mean alot more kneading. Also, put your colouring into your fondant when the marshmallows come out of the microwave, not after youve kneaded, means the colour will blend in with much less effort. Use a gel colour not normal food colouring.

I also had to roll out the fondant 3x before getting it right. Then as I placed the fondant over the cake, I had no trouble doing so, but the fondant was thinner in one place then everywhere else and it tore slightly. I ended up disguising it with another small bit of fondant over the top. You could tell it was a bit of a mistake but I just made that the back of the cake and piped over it since it wasn't a professional job, it didn't matter.

So with fondant I'd recommend making sure you don't roll it out too thin, and try to make sure it's quite even when u do roll it. Take the smoothing out part nice and slow. The fondant is easiest to work with when it's firm but elastic enough to stretch out without tearing easily. If it tares when u try to stretch it, it's too dry and you need to add a tablespoon at a time of water.

My final hiccup was with the piping work. I used Wilton round tip #5 and knew it was a little thicker than it should be, but thought it would be easier to work with. I was wrong. As you can see, the writing on the cake and the patterns especially are just too chunky to have much detail and elegance. I should have used a tip half the size for a more delicate look and to be able to work with the patterns better. I had a picture in my head of a lovely delicate pattern which I just could not achieve with this thicker tip which is more for dots and zigzags.

As a novice, I'm still okay with how it turned out. I found it to be alot of work (thats the whole cake start to finish though not just the fondant process) and am glad I spaced it out over a few days. I think next time it won't take as long because I wont have as many mistakes to try and correct. I also think that working with fondant would be alot easier with the right tools, such as a  fondant rolling pin and One of those plastic fondant smoothers. But most of the tools aren't cheap in AU and aren't worth buying if you aren't going to be cake decorating often.
fondant smoother
Fondant Non-stick Rolling Pin

So although I could see my cake was not level, had a mistake on the back and thick, somewhat clumsy pipe work, I decided since nobody who would see it would know any better as they don't do cakes, I'd still use it since I worked so hard on it. And the birthday girl loved it! She didn't know what fondant was so she was quite fascinated by a "smooth" cake. It got a few compliments for being "pretty" and that was good enough for me.

The cake was moist and attractive on the inside which was a bonus. And most people cleared the plate but quite a bit of the icing was left as it was so very sweet! I thought it was just me as I don't like sweets really but even my sweet tooth hubby couldn't eat all that buttercream and fondant!

Also, I'd like to mention that this cake cost me a total of $24 to make and it yeilded about 12 very large servings. If you were to serve up average sized slices it'd serve closer to 18. If I'd had purchased the fondant ready rolled, the cake from the shop and the buttercream in a package it would have cost me a minimum of approximately $48. So it really does pay to do as much from scratch as possible. If I'd done this cake without using cake mix and pudding mix, it would have been even cheaper.

I do think there will be a next time. I may be crazy enough to attempt a basketball shaped cake for my hubby this yr if I can find a second hand mould (I'm not paying $50 for a new one!!!) I think an orange fondant and black icing basketball would be pretty cool and a bit of a challenge! Sigh, why can't I just keep it simple? Haha.

Have you tried working with fondant yet? How did you find it? What are your go-to recipes?