If you’d asked me when I started this blog, “what is the one thing you will never do a cake decorating tutorial on?” I wouldn’t have hesitated – my answer would be “covering a cake in fondant!”
Fondant and I have issues. Like serious, personal issues. Fondant hates me. Hates me. I don’t know what I ever did to it to make it feel that way, but it does. So there it is.
For years, every time I would try and put fondant on a cake, something would go wrong. The fondant would be too dry. It would be too soft and sticky. There would be air bubbles. Holes. It would stretch. It would tear. There would be tears (my tears, because of the tears). And that’s just on round cakes, don’t even get me started on squares.
I know some of my cake preferences make things harder on myself. I love sharp edged cakes, and I love tall cakes. Both of which can make it harder to cover a cake. The sharp edges can tear the fondant, and the height of a cake can mean that before you’ve finished easing out the pleats in the fondant and smoothing it all the way down the cake, the fondant can dry out and give you the dreaded ‘elephant skin’. Nothing against elephants, in fact I love the wrinkly beasts, but their skin texture sure ain’t attractive on a cake. Unless the cake is an elephant. But who wants to only ever make elephant cakes for the rest of their cake-life?
Sure, there are magnificent cake decorators out there that can cover a cake in five minutes flat with no rips, no flaws and no swear words. I have no idea whether they are magicians, ninjas, or just purely brilliant decorators, but all I know is that I’m not one of them. There are probably also a lot of decorators who aren’t as ridiculously fussy as I am and don’t lose sleep over minor imperfections, but I do. I care. Too much, probably. But it’s a character flaw that I’m learning to live with.
When I started this blog, I knew I never wanted to pass myself off as a pro decorator, as though I know what I’m doing, and that I can do anything. Because I’m not, I don’t, and I can’t. I’ve never been to a cake class, I’ve learnt what I know from the internet, books and from a cr*pload of trial, error, bad language and meltdowns. And it’s that trial and error that led me to realise that sometimes, you just have to do things differently.
And in this case, “different” for me is wrapping a cake in fondant instead of covering them in one piece. Sure, you do end up with seams but the way I wrap my cakes now results in seams which are neat, clean and barely visible unless you’re specifically looking for them. See?
Wrapping a cake has always been recommended when making super tall cakes (double/triple barrel, etc.) but I have to admit that these days I wrap most of my cakes, regardless of whether they are super tall or not. I do this because it’s much less stressful for me, and now that I have done it many times, I always end up with a good result. I do sometimes still cover shorter cakes the all-in-one way, generally with reasonable success these days, but when I’m covering a taller cake, or just when I’m particularly tired or stressed, wrapping is the way to go.
Admittedly, wrapping does come with its own small set of possible complications, but I’m going to do my darndest to break them down for you in this tutorial, and with a little practice, maybe you’ll find this technique a little less stressful too.
When I was first experimenting with wrapping a cake, I followed a few online tutorials which had various ways of covering the top of the cake, but most of them involved a lot of messy trimming, which made the seams, well, messy. Or they involved wrapping a cake with cut-to-size pieces of fondant, which could stretch and/or distort, ending up too big or too small, leaving either pieces that needed trimming or unsightly, unfixable gaps. Frankly, I found it all a bit hard, a bit imperfect, and almost as stressful as the all-in-one method.
Then one day, while flipping a cake upside down to ganache it, I thought, why don’t I do that to cover it?! And as it turns out, it wasn’t a stupid idea.
Ever since I posted my watercolour cake tutorial, people have been asking me to share how I got such a clean sharp fondant look on my cake, and many were surprised when I ‘admitted’ that I had wrapped it. If you look close enough you’ll see the seam around the top edge, but on this cake it was barely noticeable.
My basic process for wrapping a cake in fondant is to cover the top first, then flip the cake upside down and wrap one long piece of fondant around the side. Having the cake upside down means that you don’t have to trim the fondant at all along the top seam (this’ll make more sense once you read the steps below) which in turn means your seam will be much neater and you won’t risk damaging your perfect sharp edge with your sharp knife.
This method also means that the top seam of the cake will be on top of the cake, rather than around the side. I prefer it this way as the seam is less visible from the front. If, for the purposes of your cake design, you want to have the seam on the side you’ll need to skip the first step of covering the top, and flip your cake upside down straight away. Then follow the steps to wrap and trim the cake. Once that’s done, flip the cake back over then follow the steps to cover the top, flip the cake over again (onto another waxed paper covered board) and very carefully trim the excess.
When you read the instructions below, you may think “she’s making me cut out a template, I thought she didn’t like the methods that cut the fondant to size before putting it on the cake?!”. Don’t worry, I’m not flip-flopping on this one. I cut out a waxed paper template because it is really important that one edge of the fondant is cut perfectly straight (this will be the edge that is on the top of the cake). The template will be just slightly bigger than the cake, so that we can trim along the bottom.
Also, I find it easier to have a rectangular template and be able to just place it onto my rolled out fondant and cut around it, than faff about with a tape measure/ruler making sure the fondant is long enough to go around the cake, and having the fondant sitting there drying out while you measure. Anything we can do to reduce the time the fondant is exposed to the air is worth doing. And you do not want to unroll your fondant around the cake only to find that your strip is an inch too short. #IknowthatcozI’vedoneit . Doing it this way means I know that my fondant strip will be the right size, with the right amount of excess and overlap, while making it quick to cut out, and preventing the fondant from drying out. So that is why I like to have a template. Sweet?
These are the key things that will keep your wrapped cake looking neat:
~Perfect ganache. Having a beautifully ganached cake will give you a great base for your fondant. In order to get that glorious sharp edge on your fondant, you need a sharp edge on your ganache. Check out my ganache tutorial if you need tips. I haven’t tried this technique with a buttercream covered cake, but I imagine as long as you use a fondant that sets firmly, and you’re confident working with fondant on a cold cake and the condensation issues it can cause, then it should work. If you’re not confident, then go with the ganache.
~Thin fondant. The thinner you can roll your fondant, the neater your top seam will look. 3-4mm is ideal, thinner if your fondant allows. If you happen to have a rolling pin with spacers, that will make it a whole lot easier to make sure your fondant is evenly rolled. I use the orange spacers on my rolling pin ( don’t quote me on this because I’ve had it for a million years, but I’m pretty sure mine is the large Wilton plastic rolling pin).
~Neat cuts. Using a pizza wheel to cut out your strip of fondant will help keep the bottom edge clean (and this edge will be on the top of your cake) Using a super sharp knife or scalpel to trim the seam at the back will make that seam neat too.
One tool that probably needs an extra mention before we start is the one you’ll use to roll your fondant around. I have a plastic rolling pin that is perfect for this as it has flat rather than rounded ends (you can see it in the first image below). You can use a rolling pin with rounded ends (obviously you cannot use one that has handles) but you will need to be very careful when you roll your fondant around it that you line up the edge as you roll. You could also use a piece of PVC pipe (the kind used for drinking water plumbing) with the end cut straight.
So, whether you’re making a 12” tall triple barrel cake, or a 4” tall 4” cake, here’s how to wrap a cake with fondant…
What You’ll Need:
~Ganached cake – make sure you ganache your cake the day before, and leave it overnight to fully set.
~Fondant (if colouring it, do so the day before and let the fondant rest overnight) I used Satin Ice here but have also done this with Bakels Pettinice. Any good quality fondant should work.
~Vodka or cake decorator’s alcohol
~Shortening/Crisco – this is what I like to use to stick my fondant to ganache, see this post for more info.
~Cornstarch – for dusting
~Long metal ruler, pencil, craft knife or scalpel and cutting mat
~Plastic fondant smoother – I use a ‘smedger’, but any rigid plastic fondant smoother will work.
~Flexible fondant smoothers – Learn how to make your own smoothers here.
~Sharp knife and/or scalpel
~Pin or acupuncture needle – For removing air bubbles
~Two setup boards – I use acrylic boards, but if you don’t have those you can use masonite cake boards. One should be square, if possible. Both boards need to be at least 3-4” wider than your cake.
~Paintbrushes – one flat one for painting vodka or water onto the top of your cake (you could use a pastry brush for this), one fluffy brush for dusting cornstarch, one large flat one for un-sticking fondant (that’ll make sense once you read that step in the tutorial) plus one little one for painting vodka into seams that haven’t stuck down.
~Grippy/non slip mat – cut into a circle slightly smaller than the cake width.
~You’ll also need to excuse any photos below that are a little blurry, I basically threw the camera at my mother and asked her to quickly take shots as I was working, and we had some technical difficulties with the camera focussing. (I had the problems before I threw the camera at her, so it wasn’t that… 😉 )
Start by covering a square cake board with waxed paper. Place the paper waxed side down on the bench, put the board on top and tape along one edge. Pull tightly and tape on the opposite edge. Then tape along the other two edges, again pulling tightly. The fondant on the top of your cake will be on this paper, so the smoother it is, the smoother your fondant will be.
Now you’ll need to cut out a rectangular template for the fondant you’ll wrap around the cake. Measure the circumference and height of your cake. You will need to add 2-3” to the circumference, and 1” to the height. As an example, my cake was a 6” high, 6” round cake. The circumference was (almost) 19”, so my template was 22” x 7”. Mark the measurements on the paper, and then use the ruler and craft knife to cut it out. Carefully roll this up and set it aside.
While I’m in prep mode, I like to get all of my tools and stuff set out, like a right proper pedantic decorator. There’s nothing worse than groping around for a knife and realising they’re all half a kitchen away. Oh, and on the subject of knives, I like to rub mine with a little Crisco (same goes for the pizza wheel), this stops the fondant from sticking and helps keep each cut clean and neat.
Right, let’s do this!
Start by giving your fondant a good knead. The amount of time you’ll need to knead (sorry, couldn’t help myself) will vary by brand, but basically you want the fondant warm and pliable but not too soft, and not sticky. I find with Satin Ice, I don’t need anything to stop it sticking to the bench or my hands as I knead, but if you do then I suggest using a little shortening rather than cornstarch or icing sugar, you really don’t want your fondant drying out.
(If you don’t want to cover the top first, because you want the top seam on the side of the cake as I mentioned above, then skip this next bit, and move straight onto flipping the cake upside down and covering the sides)
Paint some vodka or water onto the top of the cake.
Roll out a small piece of the fondant, aiming for a thickness of 3-4mm. Place it onto the top of the cake, smoothing out any air bubbles.
Give it a rub with a fondant smoother…
…then place your waxed paper covered board on top, and flip the cake upside down.
The fondant will flop down onto the board. You can then use a knife to carefully trim around the cake.
Rub the sides of the cake with a thin layer of shortening, trying to avoid the edge of the fondant. I didn’t get a shot of this, but you basically want just enough shortening to cover the ganache – it will look shiny but it shouldn’t be too white. Set the cake aside.
Give the rest of your fondant another brief knead, then dust the bench with cornstarch, shape the fondant into a sausage and flatten in out onto the cornstarch (starting with a sausage shape makes it easier to roll the fondant out in a rectangular shape).
Start rolling it out, trying to keep the rectangular shape. Also keep an eye on the thickness of the fondant as you roll – getting the fondant even and thin is one of the keys to getting a neat seam on your cake. Aim again for 3-4mm in thickness, thinner if your fondant is capable of it. Make sure you move the fondant around as you roll, and add a bit more cornstarch underneath if the fondant is sticking. Try to avoid dusting cornstarch on the top surface of the fondant unless it is really sticky.
Lay your template onto the fondant, and press it down gently with a fondant smoother.
Use the ruler and pizza wheel or sharp knife to cut the shape out. Make the first cut on the long side closest to you, and be super careful with this cut, making sure it is neat as it will be the top edge of your cake.
You can be a little lazier with the other three sides, but that first one will be the star of the sharp-edged-cake show, so be gentle with it.
The way you roll your fondant around the rolling pin will depend on which hand is dominant. I’m right handed and like to hold the roll of fondant in my right hand, and smooth it onto the cake with my left. This means that I start rolling the the fondant from the right-hand edge. If you prefer to go the other way, then obviously you’ll need to do the opposite of what I do.
Gently roll the very edge of the fondant flat with the rolling pin, this will stop it from indenting too much into the rest of the fondant as you roll.
Very, very lightly dust the surface of the fondant with cornstarch. You really don’t want too much here, just enough to remove any tackiness from the fondant, so it doesn’t stick to itself when you roll it up. I know I said up there that you don’t want too much cornstarch on the surface as it dries the fondant out, but this single light dusting here is very important. Keep this brush nearby for the next step.
Carefully line the end of the rolling pin up with the edge of the fondant. Start rolling the fondant around the rolling pin, keeping a careful eye on the edge closest to you, to make sure it is flush with the end of the rolling pin. If you’ve used too much cornflour as you rolled the fondant out, you may need to use the fluffy brush to dust the excess off the underside as you roll it up. Too much excess cornstarch under the fondant will stop it from sticking well to the cake, and in turn cause airbubbles and other nasty you-really-don’t-want-thats.
Have a good look at the picture below, that’s how you want the edge of the fondant to look, even and flush through the whole roll.
Gently lift the rolling pin up to the cake, and press the end of the fondant against the cake, making sure it is well adhered.
Slowly unroll the fondant around the cake, smoothing with your hand as you go. Make sure you keep checking the bottom edge, to make sure it sits flush against the board. If you find the fondant is rising up – this could be due to the fondant not quite being rolled flush around the rolling pin, or the roll could be riding up like a pair of ill-fitting pants as you unroll it. You can very, very gently pull it away from the cake and let the fondant sink down a bit.
Now, if your fondant is a bit sticky, then it may, at any stage (but I find it tends to be as I get to the end of the roll) stick to itself. If you have a look where my blurry finger is pointing in this photo, you’ll see where the fondant is sticking to itself a little…
Don’t panic if this happens, in most cases you can fix it. Just whatever you do, don’t pull on the fondant roll to try and unstick it. Grab your flat paintbrush, and use it to gently run up and down the fondant, easing it apart.
You can put a bit of cornstarch on the brush if you need to, but just the brush tends to be enough. I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes it gets so stuck that you cannot fix it. But you should know that in all likelihood, it’s not your fault, it’s because the damned fondant is sticky. That may only make you feel slightly better as you remove the fondant and try again.
Things you need to be careful of while wrapping: the bottom edge, the fondant sticking to itself.
Things that don’t matter right now: air bubbles (we’ll get ’em later), bumps, anything to do with the excess fondant, we’re hacking it off in a minute anyway.
Once you get to the end of the fondant, place a ruler against the cake, in the middle of the overlapped fondant. Try to just lightly rest it against the fondant, so you don’t dent the fondant with the edge of the ruler. Use a scalpel to cut down through both layers of fondant.
The loose outside piece will fall away, and you can ease back the opposite edge and remove the cut section from underneath. Be gentle as you do it, sometimes you may not have cut all the way through both layers of fondant and you don’t want to tear it. Cut it again with the scalpel if necessary and pull it away.
Very gently press the edges of the fondant together with your fingers. Don’t overlap them, make the cut edges sit flush together. If the edges are slightly dry and they don’t stick, you can use a small paintbrush dipped in vodka or water (vodka is better as it dries quicker and doesn’t mark the fondant) to dampen the edges so they’ll stick. Use your fingers to rub up and down the seam until it has fully stuck together.
Then grab one of your thicker flexible fondant smoothers and use it to buff the seam. Use the smoother in a gentle circular movement. The reason you need to be gentle is so you don’t distort the line. If the line does start looking a little wonky, then use the smoother or your fingers to gently coax it back into line, so to speak.
“A straight line is neater than a squiggly one” – Old New Zealand proverb. (Not really)
Once you’re pretty happy with the seam (you can work on it a little more later), continue to use the fondant smoother around the cake, buffing out any obvious bumps. Check for air bubbles as you go, often if they are towards the top of the cake you can use the fondant smoother to gently ease them up so they release the air at the top. Other bubbles you’ll need to prick with a fine pin or needle (acupuncture needles are great for this) and smooth. Check around the bottom (remember, that’ll be the top of the cake) and make sure the fondant is sitting flush against the setup board. If there is a little gap, you can use the fondant smoother to very gently smooth the fondant down to fill the gap.
When you’re mostly happy with the sides of the cake, trim the fondant from the top of the cake. Run the knife along the cake board as you cut, making sure the knife stays flush against the board, to get a perfect straight cut.
Pop a piece of non-slip/grippy mat onto the top of the board, then put your original setup board on top, and flip the cake back over.
Use a knife to cut through the tape holding the waxed paper onto the board, and remove the board.
Carefully peel the waxed paper off the cake.
(If you’re covering the top of the cake now so the seam is on the side, then do this now and follow the instructions for flipping and trimming the cake)
Run a smoother around the cake, and then check out your top seam.
If the fondant hasn’t joined together well (as you can see in the picture above, mine hadn’t – totally planned it that way to show you.. you’re welcome!) you can use a paintbrush dipped in vodka to moisten it (argh, moist)…
…and then smooth the fondant together with your fingers. Hey, even though it hadn’t fully joined up yet, you can see how neat the seam is already, right?!
Place a rigid cake smoother against the side of the cake, and the thick flexible smoother on the top, and gently run around the top edge with the smoother. This will press the fondant together and make the seam less obvious (as a side note, this is also the same technique I use to get sharp edges on a cake when I cover it in fondant in one piece). You can also use your fingers again to gently rub around the seam, the heat from your fingers will help to blend the seam. If your cake moves around as you’re smoothing, you can pop another piece of non-slip mat under the setup board to hold it in place.
I swore I’d never make cake videos, but I couldn’t help shooting this little one here so you can see exactly how I smooth the edges…
Once I’m happy with the edge, I like to go around the whole cake again with the thinner flexible smoother. Using the thinner one means you can feel any little lumps or bumps and work on smoothing them out. I usually do a bit more work on smoothing the back seam as well (although if the back of your cake won’t be seen, you may not want to waste time smoothing it further).
This is the back seam of my cake. No Photoshopping here, hopefully you can tell that by the fact it’s not totally perfect or completely invisible (if I was going to Photoshop it, I’d have made it invisible. But we’re friends so I don’t lie to you. I’ll tell you if you have spinach in your teeth and everything) but it is pretty neat and tidy, and when you’re doing this at home (or work) and not stopping to take photos, you’ll have longer before the fondant dries so you can make the seam nearly invisible.
And then, you get to step back and look at your beautifully wrapped cake, and give yourself a pat on the back. If you can, I usually have a sore arm after kneading all that fondant. But I’m a weakling like that. So the back patting is optional.
Now you know how to wrap a cake with fondant. As always, if you have any questions about this technique, you can ask them in the comments below.