I’m going all Betty Crocker on you today.
Now, if you’re a professional cake decorator, or even someone who’s made a cake more than, say, 3 times in your life, please don’t laugh at me unkindly.
This tutorial is for the average mum like me with zero cake decorating skills, whose sum total of prior experience includes staring bleary-eyed at their batter-splattered copy of the Australian Woman’s Weekly cookbook at midnight the night before a party, trying in vain to stop the icing wheels from falling off the icing train and cursing the person who ever invented the concept of the novelty cake.
There’s this kindy mum I know who decorates cakes for fun and profit, and I’ve seen photos of her incredible and intricate birthday-cake creations, so of course with an upcoming birthday party, I had to pick her brains a little. For starters, how is it even possible to make any money doing this?? Last time I made a cake I spent about five months of my husband’s wages on those little bags of ready-made fondant icing alone.
I knew there must be a cheaper way, and turns out – ta-da! – there is!
The secret is homemade marshmallow fondant. My kindy-mum friend assured me it was super easy to make.
I doubted her intensely.
“Easy” is, after all, a relative term, and this is after all a woman who whips up three-dimensional fondant models of golf-buggies and little golf-playing human beings to adorn her 18-hole birthday-cake golf course, and does it all without breaking a sweat.
But she was very persuasive, so I decided to give it a go. And you know what? She was right. It IS easy.
I’m going to give you the step-by-step exactly as she gave it to me. Be warned – there are NO MEASUREMENTS, but even if you have recipe OCD like me, there’s really no need to freak out. It actually is much quicker and simpler to do it by feel rather than by measured quantity.
1. Marshmallows (My cake-maker friend swears by Woolworths Homebrand!)
2. Icing sugar (truckloads – I used that entire Tupperware container full, which I’m guessing is at least 1kg.) (U.S. at least 2.5 lb powdered sugar.)
3. Food colouring if you want a different colour from white and/ or pink.
Let’s talk quantities. How many packs of marshmallows will you use?
My cake-making friend uses 2 x 250g packets of marshmallows per cake. That’s for a coloured cake, because you can use the whole packet (both pink and white marshmallows) and tint it with food colouring to whatever shade you desire.
If you want some (or all) of your fondant to be white, on the other hand, you’ll need to separate out the white marshmallows, meaning you’ll go through twice as many packets (but have heaps of pink ones left over!) You could also just use a whole pack of white marshmallows, but for some reason these are a lot harder to come by (in Australia at least.)
For this particular cake, I used 1 x whole packet for my small pink tier, with a couple of drops of pink food colouring added, and 3 x packets for my white tier, ONLY using the white marshmallows.
HOME-MADE MARSHMALLOW FONDANT: EASY 3-STEP METHOD
1. Place marshmallows in a microwave-proof bowl, add 1 tablespoon of water and mix through to wet the marshmallows.
2. Cook for 20 seconds in the microwave, stir, and repeat in 20 second intervals until the marshmallows are melted. The mixture should be silky smooth, with no lumps.
3. Add icing sugar and mix well. Continue to add icing sugar until the mixture is no longer sticky, and becomes kneadable. You’ll know you’ve added enough icing sugar when the mixture doesn’t stick to your bench.
That’s it! Once you have a lovely kneadable lump of fondant, sprinkle a little icing sugar on your bench and roll it out to roughly 5 mm (1/4 inch) thick.
You’ll need to “dirty-ice” your cake with a thin layer of frosting or ganache. I made my own ganache, but next time I think I’d skip that step and buy a tub of frosting. I’m all for easy.
The fondant can then be draped over your cake, smoothed and trimmed with a sharp knife. I did the tiers separately and then placed the second tier on top, already iced.
Tips and Tricks:
- Use one of these to smooth your icing before assembling the tiers.
- I created a “support” for the top tier by cutting four drinking straws to the height of the cake, then pushing them into the centre of the bottom tier in a circle, with one extra in the middle. They get covered by the top tier, so they’re not visible.
- To achieve the height of these tiers, I used deep tins available from a cake decorating store. You could also line a shallower tin with a collar of alfoil that sticks up past the rim of the tin. You’ll need to multiply your cake recipe if you want this look, as the tins are quite deep!
- You’ll notice my cake is looking a bit wonky in these photos. That’s because I used a strawberry cake packet mix, which just wasn’t quite dense and heavy enough to support the weight of the two tall tiers. Don’t do that. It all held together fine, and looked lovely on the table, but the wonkiness is pretty noticeable in the pictures. Note to self: use mud-cake next time.
- Don’t put your cake in the fridge, or it will go sticky. It will keep for up to a week on the bench.
- If you want to get creative with decorations, you can cut out shapes or letters from your fondant – the decorations will stick to the cake with a little bit of water.
This time, though, I went for simple and minimalist (i.e. I ran out of time, panicked, wrapped a bit of ribbon around each tier and called it good.)
I also made a little bunting banner from washi tape as my cake topper.
This was just a matter of folding some short strips of washi tape over a piece of twine at regular intervals, then snipping a triangle from the bottom.
I cut a pair of wooden skewers down to the right length with a pair of tinsnips, then knotted the ends of the twine around the tips of the sticks and planted them in the cake at an angle.
So that’s the finished cake. Simple, sweet, slightly wonky, but achievable – and hey, minimalist is in, right?
I loved only having to spend a couple of dollars on some packets of marshmallows, instead of selling my left kidney to buy ready-made fondant. And even better, the marshmallow fondant is delicious! So much yummier than the stuff you buy from the shop! I found it really easy to work with as well.
In more good news, my cake-decorating skills can only get better from here. I hope.
Let’s chat: do you tackle birthday-cake making with glee, or with dread? Any more tips I should know about? Help a newbie out here – I’ll love you forever.