Jun 10, 2010

The Great Fondant Debate

By: Amy Atlas, in Ask Amy

{All cupcakes above are from Amy Atlas’s dessert bars.}

Everytime I meet with a client, I hold my breath because I know the discussion is coming. Usually it’s a battle rather than a discussion. The debate of buttercream vs. fondant. Every client wants buttercream because they have all had a bad experience with the tasteless and often rubbery texture of fondant. We’ve all had that experience, right? Having styled both buttercream and fondant cakes and cupcakes more times than I can count, I always breathe a sigh of relief when my client picks fondant. I know I’ll gain some criticism for this, but I’m sticking to it. Many don’t realize it, but good bakers will use better tasting fondant like Fondarific, a company that makes vanilla, chocolate, and fruit flavored fondant. Now don’t misunderstand me…I adore buttercream. I make buttercream cupcakes all the time with my kids. I’ll serve buttercream cakes when I’m entertaining in my home. I’m also not saying that fondant tastes better than buttercream. But if the cakes are being transported in any way, you can bet I’m going to lobby for fondant.

Here’s a few reasons why…
(1) Buttercream in the summer is a nightmare. I mean a real nightmare. No matter how much the buttercream is set, it instantly loses it’s shape when exposed to heat. If you are transporting anything with buttercream, it makes it that much worse.
(2) Everything sticks to buttercream. Once, we were serving buttercream cupcakes and somehow black sweater hair made its way onto the precious vanilla buttercream cupcakes we were serving. That was an interesting lesson in troubleshooting. Thankfully, we had lots of other treats to serve.
(3) As I discussed here, all of the adorable cupcake wrappers that are on the market now are better suited for fondant cupcakes. Often buttercream will leave cupcake wrappers looking greasy and messy.
(4) We have more flexibility in incorporating our design onto fondant. Take a look above at a few examples of designed fondant cupcakes we’ve used on our dessert bars {I limited it to cupcakes for this post, I’ll save the pictures of fondant cakes for another post}.

If you’re a huge buttercream lover and can’t be convinced to go with fondant, then try these tips…
(1) Refrigerate your cake/cupcakes so the buttercream is very cold.
(2) Limit the amount of time your buttercream is exposed to heat. Time it very carefully.
(3) Stay away from the dressing up buttercream with cupcake wrappers until lined wrappers hit the market (hint, hint to my cupcake wrapper manufacturer friends).
(4) Use fondant sparingly and incorporate buttercream in places where it won’t get messy or melt. For example, place a fondant chip over a small dollop of buttercream on your cupcakes. Alternatively, infuse buttercream into the center of your cake/cupcakes with a bismarck tip.
(5) Ice the cake or cupcakes on site, if possible.

I hope this insight is helpful for all of you bakers, stylists, and planners!

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  • Tati Alberti

    Hello ..
    An opinion is always important, especially when it comes to explanations …
    I personally love the fondant, I find it easier to work and please …

  • Save the Date for Cupcakes

    This post is right on! I only use fondant for toppers (mostly because I haven't found a good tasting fondant). I'll have to go check out that link;o) I've had too many messy buttercream experiences and learned to decorate with buttercream on site!


  • Sharnel

    Sing it sister!!!

  • Sharnel

    Sign it to me sister!

  • Christi Bennett @ pisforparty

    What a great article! I feel the same way. I adore the look of fondant, but I too always say "but doesn't buttercream taste much better?" When I got married, I went with buttercream for that same reason, but if I could do it again, I would go with fondant.

    Thanks for posting!

    ~ Christi

  • Buttercream

    fondant for looks and buttercream for taste. That's what I tell my clients, although most who order fondant like the taste of it. I use satin ice and I have never had a complaint.

  • Sucré Dolce Bakehouse

    How true! I wish that more people understood that if you use a fantastic gourmet fondant with buttercream underneath, you can still have the taste of buttercream, and the polished look and stability of fondant.

  • Robin

    How about covering the cake with buttercream (for flavor) then topping it off with a think layer of fondant, (that can be removed before eating, leaving only the cake and buttercream behind)
    this way you can have the preferred taste of buttercream , and the desired protection and clean look and design of fondant???

  • Sucré Dolce Bakehouse

    How true! I wish that more people understood that if you use a fantastic gourmet fondant with buttercream underneath, you get the taste of the buttercream along with the polished look and stability of the fondant.

  • Andrea Boudewijn

    As a cake designer I'm very familiar with this dilemma. Public opinion is decidedly against fondant, but I manage to give it a fighting chance: I make all my fondant with a white chocolate base. It tastes better and it's easier to use. I use swiss buttercream exclusively. That means no crusting surface and butter-only in the icing — no Crisco to help with stability (our motto here is "Flavor First" :). For cakes on the beach, I build protective and decorative gossamer "display boxes" around the cakes to protect them from sand. There's much you can do, but at the end of the day, fondant is the safest (and easiest to decorate intricately).

  • Pam @ PartyStart.Me

    Wonderful discussion topic and advice from everyone. Thanks!

  • Robin

    I meant to say THIN layer of fondant in my comment above…lol…sorry

  • Scrumptious Swirls

    Exactly right! I have only used Satin Ice and everyone always likes it even the fondant snobs…I have to honestly say though I heart my buttercream and all the flavors I make, it took me a year to make it perfect. With that being said when I do top my cupcakes with just fondant, I fill my cupcake with buttercream…you get the best of both! In addition to that and to obtain a stronger buttercream use less fat and more sugar and like you mentioned place it in the refridegator for it to hold better

  • Scrumptious Swirls

    and I apologize for my spelling error…the PA dutch shoo-fly pie for my daughters PA culture day at school tomorrow is in the oven and the molasses has my fingers still al little sticky 😉

  • Bumpkin on a Swing

    Fondant, ehhhhh, I'll try to see your way, since you are the authority.
    I love the buttercream, it's a southern thing!

  • karen

    Such a timely discussion, especially since we're in the middle of the wedding season. While I love the look of fondant-covered cakes, I still have a hard time getting used to the flat look of a fondant-covered cupcake. My only suggestion is to make sure the disc of fondant is large enough to cover the entire top of the cupcake. I personally don't like the look of the edge of the cupcake showing, and there's also the issue of the cupcake drying out from air exposure. Cupcakes are so particular because they're little, and any part of the top that is exposed to air (even if the top is brushed with simply syrup) will become hard and dry before your guests start helping themselves to dessert.

    I would recommend using some buttercream on the top of the cupcake, under the fondant, to give the cupcakes a bit of height and add to the flavor/texture/taste of each cupcake.

  • Better Bit of Butter Cookies

    Totally agree! I fight the misconception about fondant all the time. High quality fondant and fondant made from scratch taste wonderful!! I make fondant everyday, that is what we use on our cookies!!

  • Pink Little Cake

    I totally afree with you. My clients are always looking for buttercream and I am always saying NO for the same reasons you explained before. If a clients is looking for a specific design, fondant is the only choice they have. I am glad you gave us your opinion on this topic.

  • Bird

    Oh Amy,

    I also have fondant on my mind today, as I have posted about it too! 🙂

    You've just convinced my to stick with it!!

    Do you know how one can flavour fondant like Fondarific at home?

    Thanks again,
    p.s. – I'm learning yet some more over here! 🙂

  • Koru Kate

    I'm a HUGE fan of buttercream- I could eat it without the cake or cupcakes! But I agree fondant is the better choice for design. I'm going to keep this post to share with clients who are debating buttercream vs. fondant. I love the buttercream/fondant combo for the best of both worlds!

  • Rachael

    I personally love Chocopan and always hear people say "it actually tastes good". We put a buttercream base under our fondant the same thickness a buttercream cake would be, so you don't miss out on that wonderful flavor. Great article!

  • zalita

    i use both buttercream and marshmallow fondant which does the job perfectly:) if u want to just have fondant on the top fill the middle of the cupcake with buttercream or ganache and u have the both of best worlds:) i never yet had any1 complain!

  • Chic Cookies

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for articulating all of this in one cozy spot and for the link to good-tasting fondant! I have exactly the same arguments/concerns/issues/justifications about bc vs fondant, and have been searching for a decent fondant to save the day. (I'll also be linking on my edible crafts column to spread the wisdom)

  • The Lawton’s

    I love fondant and order all my cakes/cupcakes in fondant! However, my guests always tend to "peel" it off! I find most people hate it sadly!

    We even have one bakery here that refuses to even use fondant and one bakery that actually instructs people to peel it off!

  • Jennywenny

    I love buttercream, I love ganache and cream cheese frosting even more. When I make cupcakes I often decorate them with a small fondant topper, but they always have a generous swirl of frosting!

    I think its so much more important that cakes taste good that I'd rather make sure they are kept in the shade, or brought out later than sacrifice the flavor.

    With cakes, I do feel that everyone really likes the look of fondant and it has many advantages, especially when rolled thin.

  • Blue Penguin

    What happened to glacé icing? For me, it's a clear winner on both taste and looks, at least where cupcakes are concerned. Wish there was more of it around…

  • Page

    gorgeous cupcakes!!!

  • Jessica

    My mom is a baker and insists on covering cakes with fondant 🙂 She has not done only buttercream in at least two years. IMO it looks more professional. If you don't like it's taste, you're right, they are not using a good fondant (my mom's is homemade and great!)…or peel it off when you are ready to eat 🙂
    Your cupcakes are adorable!

  • SweetCakes

    I use satin ice…it tastes just fine!

  • Kat and Nat

    Hi Amy,
    We think we have solved the great cupcake wrapper dilema!
    Ours our lightly laminated on both sides eliminating the problem of the ingredients (butter) that seeps into the wrappers.
    We will send you some so you can check them out, I think you will love them!
    The Cupcake Wrapper Co

  • Anonymous

    Marshmallow fondant still looks great but tastes even better than regular fondant! And is easy-peasy to make! 🙂

  • Kat and Nat

    Hi Amy, we think we have solved the great cupcake wrapper debate!
    Our cupcake wrappers are lightly laminated so it eliminates the ingredients (namely butter) leeching onto the wrappers.
    We will send you some so you can check them out – we think you will love them!
    The Cupcake Wrapper Co

  • Anonymous

    Timely topic. Just hosted a shower for my cousin and her sister ordered "bouquets" of cupcakes in clay pots. It would have been very cute on our dessert table if the buttercream icing hadn't fallen off. Literally the icing was falling off the cupcakes in whole, round, pieces, leaving the cupcakes naked. Then we had to clean up the mess of the icing circles hitting our crepe paper runners, take the cupcakes off of the forms and place what was left of them on trays. This of course ruined the look of the dessert table as this was supposed to be our back layer. The table was still totally adorable, if I do say so myself, but we were missing the height in the back.

  • Sharon

    I agree too! Fondant all the way. Less dramas and stress when transporting or when someone accidentally touches the cake. I use a generous layer of ganache under my cakes and cupcakes so I can roll my fondant thin. Some people like it, some don’t, but at the end of the day it can easily be peeled off like some of the others say.

  • Think Thin Thoughts

    this post was SUPER helpful!
    My friend is baking my cupcakes and decorating them for my wedding and I was stuck on doing buttercream… but after reading your post I may do buttercream underneath with a thin layer of fondant on top for design & look.
    Thanks again!

  • Dots Treats

    Amy, Amen!! I love the versatility of fondant, the ability to match any event and the wide range of vibrant colors I'm able to create. My customers get the best of both worlds on their cupcakes, each topped with fresh made buttercream and handmade fondant designs to match their theme. Love the post, keep 'em coming!

  • I love using fondant but allas we only have the nasty tasting kind or really vanilla so I use the latter. Wish we had the fruitkind over here in Europe !

  • Jamie!

    I put basically the same amount of buttercream beneath the fondant cap, so people can peel it off. Plus, I use a meringue buttercream, so the fondant comes right off. I'm a huge fan of fondant caps, they're the only way to really dress a couture cupcake!

  • Scarf Ace

    Oh how I would love to be Amy Atlas when I grow up and create and be surrounded by such lovely details! I'm in my 30's with 3 kids, but a girl can still dream….

  • whisk-kid

    I've been working with fondant for about a year, and I was convinced that I didn't like it so I never tried any. But last week, my boss told me I should, and I have to say – Satin Ice isn't bad. The chocolate stuff just tastes like a Tootsie Roll!

    I like that you can do so much more for design with fondant, and also that you don't have to worry about messing up buttercream when decorating with stripes/dots/whatever. I'll admit that I, too, try to steer people in that direction whenever I take an order, just for ease of completion.

    But for cakes at home? I still prefer buttercream. Excepting the transportation/stickiness issues, it's just simpler.

  • I totally agree! Fondant for styling your party, buttercream for entertain at home. In the weather in which I live (Puerto Rico), buttercream for a dessert table is out of the question! It start to melt instantly. :S
    But I love buttercream, so I also made it often with my kids!
    Love your cupcakes and dessert tables. You are a true inspiration!