The Great Debate: Buttercream vs. Fondant
It doesn't matter who you ask: most everyone has a preference about how they "take" their cake! I've heard and seen everything from: "I just like whipped icing", and "Cream cheese icing isn't super sweet, so I like that one better", and "Fondant is gross! I just peel it off," and yada, yada. The list goes on... Over the last year, we've even witnessed the trend of the "naked" cake, where the cake isn't iced at all (except for between the layers in some cases)!
Well, everyone's entitled to his or her own opinion, right? Here at Artistic Desserts & Cake Rental, we certainly believe so! Albeit respectful of our dear followers, we're equally as curious as to what may be influencing these preferences. For the sake of simplicity, let's take an objective look at two seemingly opposing cake decorating mediums: Buttercream and Fondant!
Made from confectioner's (powdered) sugar, water or milk, real butter or vegetable shortening, flavorings (i.e. extracts), and sometimes-actual egg whites or meringue powder and granulated sugar. This depends on the recipe and these ingredients are blended together using a hand mixer (ouch!) or stand mixer until smooth. Store-bought icing is will most likely have some of these ingredients and some artificial ones as well.
Smooth icing is readily available at your nearest grocery store. It's also relatively inexpensive compared to fondant.
Store-bought icing straight from the container is best for covering a cake. When piping decorations, it's best to create your icing from scratch to achieve the right consistency (thickness).
Buttercream icing made from scratch can be easily colored and flavored.
Buttercream can be applied directly to a cake that has been cooled to room temperature without additional preparation.
When working with buttercream, one typically uses a spatula (or two, or three, etc.) and decorating hands fitted with couplers and decorating tips.
Depending on your intended "look", buttercream can appear smooth or textured. It takes time and practice to achieve a super smooth appearance on a cake covered in buttercream, but it definitely can be done.
Buttercream icing is usually sweet, but the sweetest can be offset with the addition of a pinch of salt, a bit of lemon juice, or the substitution of some of the powdered sugar for plain cornstarch. It dissolves on the tongue, and you typically don't need to chew it.
Made from confectioner's (powdered) sugar, corn syrup, vegetable shortening. Some brands contain white chocolate. Homemade fondant can be made with marshmallows.
Some grocery stores may carry fondant, but it's likely to be found in craft and hobby stores like Michael's, Jo-Ann's, and Hobby Lobby. If there's a specialty cake shop in your area, it's very likely that you can purchase it there. It is typically more expensive than store-bought smooth icing.
Store-bought fondant can be used straight out of the container (after kneading and rolling) to cover a cake. To create toppers and some decorations, it's recommended that you combine the fondant with gum paste to make your decorations durable. It's recommended that you don't eat gum paste.
Fondant typically comes already flavored and colored. Small amounts of flavoring and gel color can be added if necessary.
Fondant has a dough-like texture. A cake must be covered in smooth icing before fondant can be applied to it. This is done after the fondant is kneaded and rolled to the proper size.
When working with fondant, majority of the work is done by hand and with the use of special modeling tools. It's very important to keep one's hands and tools clean, dry, and lint-free.
Fondant can help you achieve a very smooth cake appearance.
As with smooth icing, the taste depends on the brand. The oral texture of fondant can sometimes by off-putting, but this also depends on the brand. I encourage you to try a few different brands before making a final decision.
Now that you have the facts, I'll speak subjectively. If you couldn't already tell, I prefer to work with buttercream. This decision is primarily driven by my family and friends for whom a bake and decorate cakes. Don't get me wrong! I think that fondant is great for toppers and other embellishments. However, I do like the taste and ease of use that buttercream entails. What's your take?