G was getting married, and he was very brave to let me – a complete novice – bake his wedding cake. How hard could it be? I have a great recipe for a butter sponge, so I’d use that. I also have a dead-delicious recipe for mousseline buttercream, so I’d use that too. I’d just wing the decoration.
It wasn’t until G told me he wanted a three-tier cake covered in fondant sugarpaste and pink polka dots – no doubt to befit his funky, set-the-dancefloor-on-fire reputation as a partying king – that reality set in. I’ve never handled fondant before. It might be tricky.
So a week before the big day, I set about making a full-dress-rehearsal cake. The three tiers of buttery sponge cake were done without too much fuss. But the fondant.
First, the packet of ready-made fondant I bought required lots of kneading. Then, when I rolled it out, it stuck to the table. Then, when I re-rolled it, it was too thin. Finally, when I’ve covered all three tiers of the cake with it and stuck on the polka dots, the nightmare truly began.
The fondant surface started taking on this eerie sheen, like my face on a hot day. Slowly, it started sliding down, and down, and down, until it gathered like a skirt at the ankles of a randy schoolgirl. The polka dots, too, gave way to gravity and became forlorn, lifeless blobs of oval.
The only thing that kept me from descending into a, well, meltdown was the number of this bakery owner I know. I had written plenty of articles about his cakes before. He should be able to make me a wedding cake on short notice.
What followed over the next few days was a flurry of SOS e-mails to pastry chefs, food writers, even my baker Ah Yee back in Sabah, on how to fix that friggin’ fondant. Advice included adding more icing sugar, rolling it out thick, and chilling the cake overnight in an air-conditioned room to harden the fondant. But out of all this came the best tip that I was to go on to heed: Make your own (Thanks, Chris!).
I followed a recipe by Rose Levy Beranbaum, which required even more kneading. Huffing and puffing, I thought to myself, who needs the gym? Making fondant is as much a work-out as jogging. In fact, like jogging, you’d need to wear a support bra too. Same same.
Beranbaum’s fondant is easier to handle, and – best of all – it tasted way better than store-bought versions. Despite the yucky additions of gelatin and glucose, it tasted somewhat like the white filling in Oreo cookies.
But not that I was expecting people to eat it. Fondant, to most bakers, is just a decorative medium. It’s 95% sugar, so it’d be far too sweet to eat it along with the cake and filling underneath. So imagine my surprise – and slight horror – when I spotted a few guests peeling it off and chomping on it at the wedding. Man, they’d better brush their teeth that night.
The cake, by the way, turned out really well. The fondant held up beautifully and I’ve since declared Rose Levy Beranbaum as my new best friend. If there are lessons learnt from this foray into fondant, it is this: Roll it out thick (at 5mm), and blast the air-con.