Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fondant from scratch

Based on the Amazon reviews for Wilton fondant, I made up my mind long ago to learn how to make fondant myself. I was in a room full of people working with Wilton fondant the other night, and I couldn't bring myself to ask anyone for a sample (quotes like "tastes like rancid oil," "not fit for human consumption" and "laughably bad" kept running through my mind). Fondant ingredients are relatively easy to find and inexpensive, and there are about a million recipes online. Many of the recipes feature marshmallows, which appear to be to fondant what Bisquick is to pancakes. Fondant is one of those things I like to have a mise en place set-up for (all the ingredients pre-measured in small bowls), because working with fondant is a sticky, messy business. For that reason, I also plan to thoroughly clean the kitchen after making fondant; there's just no way to follow this recipe without powdered sugar winding up in every imaginable crevice.

Start by turning off the AC, the heat, and any overhead lights that generate a lot of heat; extreme temperatures will affect the fondant-making process. If you're wearing a sweater or anything that might generate fuzz, take it off; fondant has some sort of magnetic force field that attracts dust, fur, lint, coffee grounds; pretty much all particulate matter. Take off your rings, bracelets, watch, etc.; you don't want to have to pick bits of fondant out of the works. If you haven't been scared off of making fondant from scratch yet, set up your ingredients: 1 Tbsp unflavored gelatine (usually located near the Jell-O), 1/4 cup of cold water, 1 tsp. any flavor extract (I'm not quite ready to give up my signature blend, but it involves just under half a teaspoon each of three different flavors), 1/2 cup of light corn syrup, 1 Tbsp of glycerine (available in any cake decorating section and some supermarkets), 2 pounds of powdered sugar, and 1/2 tsp of Crisco. Somewhere away from your work area, spread out a piece of plastic wrap at least 2 feet long (never scrimp when wrapping fondant; it wants nothing more than to dry out and complicate your day).

Start by sifting about 3/4 of the 2 pound bag of powdered sugar into a very large bowl. Set it aside.

Pour the 1/4 cup of water into a small, microwaveable bowl, and sprinkle the gelatine over it.

Let it rest for about 2 minutes. It will evolve into this peculiar-smelling substance:

Pop it in the microwave for about :30 (until the gelatine dissolves). Add the flavored extract(s), the corn syrup and the glycerine; stir until it is smooth and clear (additional time in the microwave may be required to reach this stage). 

Using a wooden spoon (or a Messermeister high heat spoon; I love these things), make a hole in the center of the powdered sugar and pour the gelatine mixture into it.
Start stirring. You'll likely break a sweat, or at least get a good workout of your dominant arm. The mixture gets very stiff and sticky, like taffy (having never attended a taffy pull, I'm assuming). The mixture in this photo is not moving:
If you're having a hard time getting your mixture to this level of stiffness, sift in more powdered sugar from that remaining quarter-pound. Also sift some powdered sugar all over your work area (kitchen counter or prep board). When you're able to pull most of the fondant together into one mass, dump it right in the middle of the pile of powdered sugar…
…and sift even more powdered sugar on top of it…
…and knead it in. Knead even more powdered sugar in, if the mass of fondant will take it. When it's starting to be more dry than sticky, you're in the home stretch. Smear the 1/2 tsp. of Crisco on your hands and knead it in as evenly as possible. Eventually you'll wind up with a mass of fondant that will fit in your hand like this:
If memory serves, it weighs close to 30 ounces. It's enough to cover an 8- or 9-inch 4-layer cake with enough left over for decorations, easy. Don't let the powdered sugar on the surface concern you; it will get absorbed in no time. Break off a smidge and have a taste; yummy, right? 
Now, imagine the shape of one of your empty storage containers, and form this mass so it will fit into it. Drop it onto the piece of plastic wrap you laid out earlier…
…and then wrap it. Wrap it twice. Don't be stingy with the plastic wrap; you don't want all your hard work drying out because you decided to be a tree-hugger all of a sudden. You'll wind up with a lovely package of fondant that looks like this:
Put it inside of a plastic storage container with a tight-fitting lid, and store it away from heat and light. Fondant should last for weeks, but it's better to make it when you have a project on the horizon. Fondant that doesn't pass the sniff test should be thrown away or otherwise destroyed. 
Tomorrow I'll show you how to color it. That part's easy.

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