Icing On The Cake: One Writer’s Perspective On A Classic Cake Conundrum
Is it better to look good than to taste good? Don’t think, just answer. Your response will give you a clue as to where you weigh in on the Great “Fondant versus Buttercream” Controversy, or, as I like to call it, “the Famous Frosting Smackdown.”
If you’re a novice to cakery, here’s what we’re talking about: The two main choices when finishing (the technical term for “icing”) a wedding cake are BUTTERCREAM and FONDANT. Buttercream is a blend of sugar, eggs and butter, which results in a soft, creamy texture that can be mixed with various flavorings. It’s light, not too sweet, and universally acclaimed as the tastier of the two. Fondant is made from sugar, corn syrup and gelatin (as in, jello). It’s then rolled out into sheets, and molded over the cake. The result is a smooth and shiny finish.
In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to be a devotee of “the BC.” While avoiding sweets in daily life, at weddings I’m one of those people who sneak over and scoop up a bit of pillowy, white buttercream frosting on my finger while everyone else is doing the funky chicken. Some people eat the cake and leave the frosting; I’ll eat my slice, and then finish off my neighbor’s frosting leftovers. (I’m just waiting for the evidence of my gluttony to show up on YouTube.) To me, real buttercream (not that faux stuff made with shortening and diglycerides they sell at Costco) is Nectar of the Goddess. It has a dreamy melt and a satisfying richness, and when accompanied by a bit of sponge cake or devil’s food, there’s nothing I would rather consume at a party.
Fondant leaves me flat, however. According to one top wedding cakemaker, “Fondant tastes sort of like marshmallows.” (Mmmmm…marshmallow jello!) Confesses another, “Some people love it, and some don’t care for it and will peel it off of their portion.” Count me in the latter category. I know, I know, there are those confectioners who swear that THEY know how to make fondant that’s really good. Maybe so, but in my mind fondant can’t hold a candle to Ms. Buttercream.
So then why is fondant kicking buttercream’s sweet behind? Because, quite simply, it’s gorgeous. The texture makes it easy to roll, tint and decorate, and in the hands of a cake artist, fondant can be transformed into whatever you or they can envision—a football for your groom’s cake…dainty Limoges jewel boxes…a red Chinese pagoda…the possibilities are as unlimited as your imagination (and budget). Brides and wedding planners concerned with the “look” of each wedding element are drawn to the sleek sophistication of a fondant finish. Whether accented with a single lily or gussied up like a Southern Belle at her first cotillion, fondant makes a fashion statement.
Fondant has another thing going for it—it’s much more durable than buttercream, which melts at temps above the mid-80s. Buttercream at outdoor weddings can be quite a gamble. But if you plan on keeping things cool on the Big Day, then the Creamy One is still in the game. I have it from a Cake-Artisan-to-the-Stars that true confectionary masters can make buttercream look as sleek and glamorous as fondant, but it’s not a universal skill.