Getting friendly with fondant opens up a whole world of amazing decorating possibilities — and it doesn't have to be intimidating. If you're new to the scene, a few top tips will get you going on the right track.
1. The brand you use matters
There are dozens of pre-made fondant brands, and each brand offers plenty of colors, flavors, textures and elasticities. There's no right or wrong here, but it IS worth the time to find the brand that just feels best in your hands — and that means some trial-and-error. So buy in small quantities at first, then get down and dirty with a few different types until you fall in fondant love.
You can also make fondant yourself. It's a bit more work than tearing open a package, but it's still pretty simple and inexpensive to make. Homemade fondants are usually made with only a few ingredients and typically have a light, cotton candy–like taste.
2. Set up for success
Once you're ready to work, prepare a nice clean space. Stainless steel makes an ideal work surface for fondant, but most any hard, flat surface will do as long as you've got a fondant mat, self-healing mat or Silpat mat to place on top. Starting off clean is essential, since once you roll your fondant and cover your cake, any stray crumbs or debris picked up from the work surface will be all too obvious.
Rub your work station with a little ball of fondant (you'll dispose of this piece) to get rid of any lint or dust particles. Then grease your hands generously with vegetable shortening (or something similar) and knead your fondant until it’s warm, soft and pliable. You should be able to pinch a bit and roll it into a ball in your palms without seeing any cracks.
Only prepare as much fondant as you need for the task at hand. Keep the rest bagged or in an air-tight container so it doesn't dry out.
3. Try different thicknesses
The thickness you should use to cover a cake is a much debated issue. Most people use between 1/4” – 1/8” of rolled fondant, but it's usually best to go as thin as possible without sacrificing elasticity.
You don’t want a thick, clumsy layer of fondant smothering your cake, but you also don’t want your fondant to tear as you work with it. Practice makes perfect here, so don't expect to nail it on your first try.
Thickness matters for accent pieces too. If you’re making cut-out designs (like flowers, stripes, polka dots, etc.), your fondant shouldn't be more than 1/8” thick. Some specific designs might call for a thicker piece, but 1/8” (or thinner) is standard, and sticking to this rule will prevent your finished cake from looking bulky.
5. Keep those edges sharp
When cutting fondant with cutters, it's all about technique. Push the cutter hard against your work surface and slide it just a tiny bit from side to side (be careful not to move the surrounding fondant). If the fondant sticks to the cutter, gently pop it free and lightly rub your finger around the edges to clean them up. If the cut fondant piece remains on your working surface after you cut it, pick it up and give the edges the same little clean up. It's amazing the difference that neat, clean edges give to your finished design.
4. Strengthen if needed
When making accent pieces, you may want to add strength to your fondant so that it'll dry hard. Try adding Tylose powder (that's a food-safe hardening agent) while your fondant is soft and warm. Knead about ¼ teaspoon into a golf ball–sized piece of fondant, then continue working as you normally would. Items laid to dry will begin to harden within a few hours and will be completely hard in a few days. Just remember to add Tylose to your fondant right when you're ready to work with it. If you add the powder too early in your process, the fondant will start hardening up too early and become difficult to work with.