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How to Use Fondant, for Absolute Beginners

How to Use Fondant, for Absolute Beginners

Before you start asking if I’m qualified to write a guide to fondant, considering that I only used it for the first time last week, let me ask you: Who’s better qualified to write a beginner’s guide than a beginner? I make no promises that if you follow my advice you’ll produce professional-quality pieces; I’m a stressed-out mom and a realist and I only promise that you’ll produce something good enough to impress family and friends. And isn’t that really all you want? You’re not coming to me for advice so you can become a professional fondant artist. At least I hope you’re not.

These are the steps and tips that worked for me, after numerous annoying emails to the ever-helpful (and ever-patient) Sara. I have no idea if this is the way the pros do it, but since what I did came out swell and I’m as inexperienced as they get, I’m pretty sure this’ll work for you, too.

So, first up: Tools. You’ll need:

  • An X-Acto knife. A regular paring knife won’t give you a fine enough edge.
  • A smooth, clean surface. I used a flexible cutting board.
  • A rolling pin. For this job, I used Harry’s, which seemed fitting. It’s a 4” silicone pin, which was perfect for rolling out small amounts of fondant.
  • Plastic wrap or bags, to keep the extra bits of fondant from drying out while not in use.
  • A small paintbrush.
  • A small offset spatula, or other thin-bladed spatula. (Doh! I forgot to include it in the picture. Trust me, you’ll need one.)
  • A cooling rack, and a rimmed baking sheet to fit over it.

Next, ingredients:

  • Fondant. I used two multi-packs from Wilton: Primary Colors (yellow, green, red, and blue) and Natural Colors (black, light brown, dark brown, and natural pink), as well as a 2-lb tub of white Satin Ice.
  • Food coloring, preferably gel or paste.
  • Cornstarch, to keep the fondant from sticking to everything.
  • Shortening, to repair small tears.
  • A small bowl of water.

Let’s get started, shall we?

  1. Grab a picture, in color, of whatever it is you’d like to make. I found it helpful to print it out approximately the same size I wanted the finished product to be.
  2. What’s the biggest, least-complicated segment of your picture? Start with that. If you’re lucky, it’s one of your store-bought colors and you won’t have to mix anything. If it’s not, pull off a small hunk of white fondant and re-cover the rest (you don’t want it exposed to air, which dries out the surface quickly). Using cornstarch-covered hands, knead either food coloring (a drop at a time) or small bits of the pre-colored fondant into the white, until it’s fully incorporated and you’re happy with the color. This kneading process will also help make the fondant more pliable—if you’re not mixing colors, spend a few minutes kneading the fondant and warming it up in your (cornstarch-covered) hands.
  3. Sprinkle cornstarch on your rolling surface and rolling pin, and roll out the fondant. Move it around as you’re rolling, to ensure it doesn’t stick to the mat. You don’t want it super-thin, as it’ll tear really easily—aim for thickness somewhere between an emery board and a Popsicle stick.
  4. Now, the fun part: cutting. Before I started, I assumed I’d cut up the picture itself to make stencils, lay them on top of the fondant, and outline with a Sharpie. The plan was to then X-Acto just inside the lines, so there’d be no visible ink. That idea went out the window in about ten seconds—the paper moves around, I had a hard time cutting neatly inside the Sharpie lines, and it just felt like an extra step. My best results came from eyeballing, pretending the blade was a pencil. I’m no artist, and Manny and his tools came out pretty darn good anyway. (Remember, my motto as a mom is Good Enough! The recipient of your efforts will be thrilled, even if the Mona Lisa’s fondant smile looks a little off.) One very important thing to take into account before you start cutting: If you’ll be combining this piece with cutouts in other colors, as I did with most of the individual tools in my Handy Manny tableau, leave enough room for overlap/attachment—you won’t be gluing the edges together like a puzzle. It’s assembled in layers, and it’s much less likely to fall apart if you’ve got ample overlap. And another important thing to note: Don’t tug the blade through the fondant too quickly, or you’ll see tiny pulls and wrinkles along the edge. This stuff is delicate, yo.
  5. Once you’re satisfied with the shape of the piece you’re cutting, gently run your finger along any rough edges to smooth them. Use the offset spatula to move the piece onto the cooling rack while you do the next one. If you’ve got multiple parts of the image in this one color (like my orange monkey wrench and orange-and-blue flashlight), cut out all the pieces now and set them aside. When you’re done with that color, re-roll the scraps into a ball, knead it until it’s smooth again, and put in a plastic bag with as little surrounding air as possible.
  6. Rinse and repeat with each color. Since my project was pretty freaking huge and I had to work after Harry went to bed each night, I did a few tools at a time. The first night I made Manny’s head, Dusty the saw, and Rusty the monkey wrench. (Note that I didn’t follow my own advice about doing the same-colored items all at once. This is why I advise doing just that. It was much more work to go back and re-roll the orange fondant a night or two later.)
  7. For the itty-bitty bits, like those vexing eyeballs and smiles, all I can say is: Be patient with yourself. After trying in vain to X-Acto minuscule black circles, I decided to give myself a break and use the elementary school method: I rolled teeny-tiny black balls in my hand, and squished each one gently between two fingers.
  8. Now for the fun part: assembly. Using the spatula, put the largest piece of the image front and center on your mat. Take the next-biggest piece and lay it on top, in its desired position. If you’re satisfied with the look, great. If you’re not, futz around as little as possible with the pieces until you are—the more you touch this stuff, the more likely it is to break. Once you’re happy, use the small paintbrush to dab a little bit of water onto the back of the smaller piece—if you put water on the larger piece things will get messy quickly, trust me. Confidently lay that piece where you want it to go, and try very very hard not to move it around too much after the fact—water will make the colors bleed and you’ll leave behind ugly streaks.
  9. Now, I forgot all about this idea while I was working so I can’t 100% say it works, but supposedly you can repair small tears by putting a little shortening on your fingers and gently pressing down. If you try it, let me know how it comes out, ok? My solution, crying while cursing a blue streak, really didn’t work.
  10. Again, with the itty-bitty bits, just be careful and have patience. Use the tip of the X-Acto blade to gently pick them up, since your fingers might crush them. Don’t be surprised if they stick to the paintbrush—it’s really hard to dab water onto those suckers. Just keep trying, and you’ll get it. I promise. And when you’re done, you can have a glass (or three) of wine.

Now, storage: If you’re not quite done with the piece you’re working on (for instance, if you have to add a section in a color you’ll be working with later), store it in an air-tight container—it’ll dry out some, but still remain pliable enough to work with another time. Completed pieces, though, you want to dry out. Put those on the cooling rack, and invert the rimmed baking sheet over them—that’s purely for protection. Air circulation is what you want here. And whatever you do, make sure you’re storing the pieces somewhere safe. Breakage is tear-inducing, believe me.

Don’t put the pieces on the cake until the day you’ll be serving it, since the moist frosting will make them soften and bleed. When you are ready to serve, I recommend keeping the recipient of the cake far, far away while you assemble everything, especially if he’s three years old and insanely excited to see his hero on his very own birthday cake. This is a crucial moment, and the dried-out pieces break really, really easily. Both Manny’s head and his arm broke during the transfer, in fact, and a little seat-of-the-pants surgery (keep your paintbrush nearby) was required to put him back together.

Oh, and my last piece of advice: After serving, try not to think about how many hours of work were just demolished by a group of three-year-olds in less than five minutes.

This Post Has 93 Comments

  1. This really great and it turned out perfectly!

  2. These pictures are amazing. I say you are totally qualified and I am inspired, though a bit intimidated.

  3. Wow. What a feat. Looks totally professional and all I can say is…those lucky 3-year-olds!

    Sheryl

  4. Thanks, guys! It was a TON of work, so I'm either retiring from the fondant business or saving up my energy for next year. Stephen's cake will be fondant free, I'm quite sure.

  5. Wow! I'm in awe. Cool post and great idea.

  6. My eldest son is the one that puts me to work each year on his birthday. He always asks for elaborate cakes, in 3D, and working electricity is a bonus. I've toyed with the idea of using fondant.. and now I feel inspired as my princess will turn 4 in November.

  7. I love your idea that beginners are more qualified to teach. You're right, of course.

  8. Oh the joys of parenting! Come November, I'm going to have this guide plastered to my fridge in time for baby girl's birthday party!

  9. Claudine, Peggy: If you *do* end up using fondant come November, please let me know how it goes!

  10. Thank you for your advice. I am going to be making about 15-20 "Jack Skellington" faces for my nephew's 18th birthday. He loves the Nightmare before Christmas stuff…although I would have rather him not gotten an 8 inch tattoo of him on his arm….grrr. Anyway, Jack's face is all white…so I won't have to mix any colors. Thank you again for posting your advice and anguish for the rest of us beginners! WISH ME LUCK!

  11. Good luck, Lindsay! Do come back and tell us how it went–maybe you'll have tips of your own to add.

  12. Thank you! I've been eyeing fondant for months and have had NO idea how to use it! Now I know how to teach myself to do it. Very easy to follow explanation!

  13. Wow. This has given me lots of ideas for my next fondant cake. Thank you so much.

  14. Thank you so much for your easy to follow steps. I've never tried this before and I'm trying to make my mom a 50th birthday cake. I'm hoping all goes well!

  15. I'm impressed and inspired! I stumbled upon your blog, and it seems to be the very inspiration I need! I will attempt to use fondant for the very first time this evening, in hopes of putting the pieces on my great nephew's 1st birthday cake tomorrow… (if it doesn't work I'm not sure what I'll do!). Of course, the 1 year old could care less, but his mom, my niece, has some pretty high expectations for this Great Aunt. We shall see!

  16. Good luck to you, Gail! Please let me know how it goes. I'm sure your niece will love it as much as her son!

  17. Thanks so much for posting this! I have to make a Nascar birthday cake in a few days, and I have no idea how to use fondant! Your guide has given me the confidence that I need to give it a shot! Thanks again, your cake looked great!

  18. Thank you
    thank you
    thank you
    thank you.

    My daughter is having a lego themed birthday party and I've got some fondant to try making clothing for our Lego Figure cookies but I had no idea what to do with it.

    Luckily I managed to find some lego figure cookie cutters so I'm hoping they will help.

  19. Anna, I hope it turned out well!

    And Leechbabe, good luck! Please come back and let us know how it went.

  20. I just made a batch of home-made yellow fondant last night for my 3 year olds Sponge Bob cake this weekend. I will be making some white tonight to use as a base for the other colors I will need. Thanks for the advice about assembly. We will see how it goes!

  21. Good luck, Danielle! I'm impressed that you started with homemade–I'm saving that for next time. If there is a next time…

  22. Debbie, I was wondering how you softened up the fondant? I have made 1 fondant cake and I used the Wilton Fondant and it was hard as a rock when it came out of the package. I didn't know how to soften it up so needless to say my fondant was extremely thick. Any tips on that?

  23. Crystal, mine wasn't hard, like, rock-hard. I kneaded it in my hands for a minute or two and that made it flexible enough to roll out. Tiring, since the stuff is definitely stiff, but it wasn't especially difficult. If it were, I might try putting it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds at a time until it's soft enough to knead. Meanwhile, though, I wonder if yours was stale or dried out?

  24. On average how much did it cost start to finish to buy all your supplies (granted I have most of the kitchen stuff, not the actual cooking stuff…)? I want to get into the craft but I am SO intimidated!!! Any advice would be awesome! Thanks for your help and I think your blog is awesome!
    Heather

  25. Heather, don't be intimidated! Seriously, I'm the uncraftiest person you'll ever meet & I did a great–ok, an acceptable–job. As for cost, do you mean for the fondant itself? IIRC it wasn't terribly expensive, and that big tub will last a good long while if stored properly. I don't think I spent more than about $30 on all of it, and I still have plenty left.

  26. i just watched a how to vid by a pro pastry chef and he said never to use corn starch with any brand of fondant because it causes a chemical reaction. he said to always use powdered sugar

  27. Anon, I'd love to see that video! Do you have a link? I just googled "don't use cornstarch with fondant" and all that came up were dozens & dozens of sites with instructions FOR using it.

  28. Just found your link while searching "working with fondant" in preparation for my first attempt on my 9 year olds birthday cake for this weekend, and I had to comment and tell you how much I LOVED this article! I have so much fun doing my kids cakes, we've had a mermaid, Cat and kittens, a guitar, a fire truck,but I always did regular frosting because I was afraid of fondant-you're whole approach and attitude is tremendously reassuring and I love the Manny cake-I don't usually do comments on blogs and such, but in particular your comment about crying and cursing not helping fix tears in the fondant got me, thankful kids were not around to hear me try to "string" the guitar cake! LOL, love the blog-and thanks so much for the tips!!
    Jennifer

  29. Debbie – LOVE the instructional view on using fondant! I am making a -get this – a Mario Sonic Winter Olympics Dream Ice Hockey (too much Wii for a turning 5 year old.)

    My question is can you mold the fondant together to make the figures, etc…?? Also, how far in advance can I make these? (I am NOT making Mario or sonic – I bought the figures on Amazon – too labor intensive.) I am making the cake in two weeks and figure I better bone up now.

    thanks for the help!!!!!

    Stephanie

  30. Stephanie, I'm 99% sure fondant is used for modeling all the time. So yes, you can make figures! As for how far in advance, as long as you keep it air-tight you should be fine starting now. When you buy pre-made fondant it's sitting on the shelf for god knows how long, right?

  31. You're a hoot! I'm doing a wedding cake this weekend and have to use the fondant (I hate the stuff, but it's fantastic for certain aspects of this cake). I came across your blog and laughed myself silly. I also feel less freaked out now-thanks so much for your advice and the laugh-I really needed both!

  32. Debbie –

    I made the cake using your instructions (it took three hours to construct all the "stuff") and it was a snap.

    My son was thrilled and my husband and family members were impressed.

    Thanks for the tutorial!
    Stephanie

  33. Biscotti Girl, how did it turn out?

    Stephanie, thanks for the report! I'd love to see a picture–wound you mind pasting it on the blog's Facebook page? https://www.facebook.com/wordstoeatbyblog If you'd rather not, how about emailing it to me via the "contact" button on the top right of the blog itself?

  34. Up at 4am fretting about using fondant for the first time for my daughter’s birthday cake. Got up at 5am to look for some help on the internet. Thank you so much for this post! Now I feel a little more confident. 🙂

    1. Good luck, Ginelle! If I can do it, so can you! Let me know how it goes.

  35. Thank you.. I still don’t know if I have the nerve to try for my Mother in Laws 80th.. We are doing a sewing theme..and found some cute pictures but just not sure this is the time to experiment! How far in advance should the cake and fondant be made? The party is in 3 weeks.. The kicker I’d most of the family are pie eaters.. Only she , my husband and I eat cake! Ugh

    1. Tara, you can do it if I can! If you store it really carefully (completely air-tight) you could do it several days ahead, maybe as much as a week. The cake I’d make the day before, or you could do it as soon as tomorrow and freeze it (defrost before frosting/decorating).

      And since you’ve got 3 weeks, you can do a little playing around–buy yourself a tub of pre-made fondant and just have some fun. Get the feel for it. You CAN do it!

  36. what an amazing thread you have going, I love it!

    I’m really into cake decorating but I mostly use buttercream, not fondant. This coming weekend I’m making my niece’s birthday cake, she’ll be 3 and she requested Dora and Boots. I bought figures to use on the cake but I hope to incorporate fondant decorations. Instead of using store-bought fondant I have made a batch of marshmallow fondant (mmf), it rolls out good, was super easy to make, and tastes amazing. Thank you for the tips and for sharing your experience, I’m more excited than scared now to give this a try.

    1. Good luck, Stacy! Next time I have a fondant project, I’m totally making marshmallow fondant–it sounds so easy!

  37. Thanks Debbie, I am about to attempt my first fondant cake… very amateur but for a 70 year old uncle who was a police I’m doing the OPP crest… was going to do the entire cake of fondant but think I’ll just start with a 4″ crest on the top! You made me laugh too, thanks for that!

  38. I was just about to open the fondant – daughter’s birthday party is later today- when I found your post about it. Thanks for calming me down! Just finished some ballet slippers and a tiara- phew… I bought white fondant and tinted it myself with food colouring and now my palms are fuschia. Oh well… 🙂

    1. Woo hoo! So glad I was able to help, Tanya. And happy birthday to your daughter!

  39. Thank you for all the advice. I’ve had an idea for my cousins graduation for awhile (thank goodness I have a year to go) and have been wanting to try fondant since my idea requires it. I was frightened but now I know tricks so I can maybe do some practice projects before taking on her surprise graduation cake. I always have ideas going and want to learn how to do them. Do you have a beginners guide to icing flowers too?

    1. Sarah, I’m glad you found this helpful! I haven’t done a ton of icing flowers, unfortunately–I took a Wilton workshop a while back but I just haven’t practiced enough. With flowers, it seems to be mostly about what tip you use & just making them over and over until you get the hang of it.

  40. these tips will definiteley come in handy. im making cupcakes tonight with flower and butterfly fondant decorations for mother’s day. This will be the first time I’m using fondant.

    1. Seeing this late, Nicole–I’ll bet they turned out great! I hope you’ll report back…

  41. wowww! thank you sooo soo much, i made a great cake! i love you so much <3

  42. Very inspired by your talent! Maybe now my Fondant won’t taste like piss!
    Thank you so much!

    1. Thanks, @scott and @james! I’m tickled that your comments arrived so close together…

  43. This is one of the best posts on fondant, those little tips are perfect and I did not read them in any of the other 10 posts I read. Thank you, thank you!!!!

  44. I absolutely enjoyed reading your How to Use Fondant, for Absolute Beginners. I am a mom of 7 and I have made a few cakes but the tips and ideas you spoke about are sure to make it easier for me on my next cake. Thank you

  45. I loved reading your post! I too stumbled upon it while searching for tips, and it has definently given me more confidence. I had tried to work with fondant once (homemade…bad idea)and gave up in frustration. I am baking a cake for my sister 30th birthday this weekend (Parisian Themed) and will definelty try some of your tips.

  46. Really enjoyed your post. I have done a few cakes with fondant but, still a beginner. It is always a challenge to work with but, I find the molding very relaxing. So I continue to use it. And most times I surprise myself. Beautiful cake.

  47. Thank you for this info! I stumbled on this while looking for how to on fondant. I am making a team umizoomi cake for my three year olds birthday party tomorrow and never have used fondant. This article really gave me some great tips to avoid messing this up with limited time and it doesn’t seem as intimidating anymore! Thank you!

  48. Thank u for ur post my sons birthday isn’t until October but I’ve already been throwing ideas out for how to do his jake and the never land theme and was worried bout using fondant but after reading ur post I feel confidant In making a two tiered theme cake with Captain Hook and smeed

  49. Thank you so much for this! If I’m doing fondant to cover the entire cake, do I do that ahead of time or just wait and do that the day of? This is the cake I’m going to attempt: http://catchmyparty.com/photos/586022

    1. Hi Leigh. What a cute cake! I’ve never covered a whole cake, but my understanding is that the fondant will actually help to keep it fresh. Doing it a day ahead should be fine–and then you won’t feel all that pressure 😉

  50. I’m not a parent but I found this tutorial on Pinterest. I’m making superhero cupcakes for my boyfriend for our 1 year anniversary. I have never used fondant so I am glad I found this. Question, do I frost the cupcakes then put the fondant designs on? Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Preeti! Yes, put a layer of frosting on first. Not too thick, but not too thin either–just a nice even covering. Good luck, and happy anniversary!

  51. party next friday can i put a fondtont cake in frige over night already decarated do i wrap in pastic or what.

  52. somebody i need a answer about putting this cake up help help help what do i do

    1. Darlene, I’m still no fondant expert, but my understanding is that you shouldn’t refrigerate it–when it comes back to room temp condensation could form & ruin the looks. Have you googled “how to store a fondant covered cake”? And are you saying the cake is already made and decorated, a week ahead of time?

  53. You really need to specify that this is an artical that is for small amounts of fondant. This was not helpful for that, and I searched for first time fondant. Thumbs down

    1. Jessi that was unnecessarily unkind.
      you must’ve been really stressed to say something like that.

  54. My wife was almost in tears before I found your site. The cornstarch tip saved the day! Well, night.. lol. Thanks!!

    1. I know the feeling, Matt! Glad I could help. I’m sure it came out great!

  55. Great article thanks. Any advice on how to lay an entire sheet over a cube shaped cake? This is my first real attempt and I’m trying to make a dog house birthday cake? Thanks

    1. Hi Robyn, thanks for writing! I covered last year’s cake with sheets of fondant–you can see it here. Not sure how helpful that’s going to be, though–I mostly Googled for advice! It worked out fine, but not exactly perfect.

  56. Ladies, don’t think it goes away…I’ll be attempting black fondant stars for a Marilyn Monroe cake for my 28-year-old…no decision yet on the photos in the one she asked for but leaning toward laminated prints.

    Please pray for patience..?

    And, thank you for allllllll the helpful hints!

    🙂
    rosemary

  57. Do you have to cover the whole cake with fondant before you add your fondant decorations? Can you just add them to a fairly thin layer of buttercream frosting? Do you need to use “glue” of some sort to keep the pieces from falling off? Have not used fondant before and was going to go the slacker route and buy they kind that is already colored and rolled out!! Please don’t judge me! lol!

    1. Hi Mary. The cake in the picture is frosted, with only the Handy Manny characters in fondant–towards the end of the post I address how to assemble a cake that’s not fully covered.

  58. Hi, I just need to say that this tutorial was the best. It was my first time using fondant and I think I did quite well with it. I just have to say thanks it is much appreciated!

  59. Hi Debbie: My grandson wants an airplane for his birthday which is on May 5th. I have used fondant before (once) and said that I wouldn’t use it again. But after reading you,this tutorial gave me the courage to do it again. I promise to share with you the finish airplane. Thank you.

    1. You can do it, Sonia! I can’t wait to hear all about it.

  60. Wow just read the above comment and it’s uncanny that my son’s birthday is also on May 5th, and I’m also making him an airplane cake! Thank you so much Debbie, for this tutorial-it’s my first time using fondant and after reading this post I don’t feel so stressed out about using it, actually I quite look forward to playing with fondant now! Is that weird?

  61. Thank you for making your post a lot of fun to read. I really enjoyed your humor. I am toying with the idea of making Thomas the Train cupcakes and I saw a great idea on-line but I have never used fondant. I think I will give it a try. Thanks for taking the time to share with all of us.

  62. Hi, Thinking I’m going to give this a try. How far in advance can you prepare the fondant?

    1. Hi Jami. If you let your prepared fondant dry out and harden, it can be done well in advance–a week or more, for sure.

  63. Going to attempt this for my husbands bday on tue!!!
    Thanx for this step by step easy to.follow guide to.rolled fondant

  64. I’m so excited to use fondant for the first time and it’s all because of you. I’m making a Mickey and Minnie mouse cake for our granddaughter’s engagement party. Thank you for all the tips on using fondant.

  65. Awesome article, I made a Halloween cake last week first time to make marshmallow fondant turned out better than I thought it would, now to practise making my sons 21st birthday cake 😀

  66. Thank you very much for having this useful information available for beginners. Didn’t use all of it but used it as a guide. Much appreciated

  67. Thank you for this article! I really wanted to buy a firetruck themed cake for my son’s 3rd birthday, but it’s freaking expensive! After reading your instructions, I can’t wait to attempt it myself 🙂

    1. Good luck, Mary! You can do it! If you decide against trying fondant, I made a fire truck cake with just frosting a few years back.

  68. Loved the tutorial. I am making my daughters wedding cake in October but practicing this weekend with the buttercream fondant. I plan to make a cake a month until then! Fingers crossed you made it seem easier than I imagined.

  69. I am going to try my hand at fondant this week and you helped a lot. Just going to make a little Nemo cutout for the top of a smash cake for my almost 1 year old great-grandson. Thanks for the tips.

  70. I am making a wedding cake for my granddaughter. How far in advance can I make the fondant decorations? She wants a woody/forest theme…tree stump, animals, etc. She wants the cake covered in fondant which I have never worked with.

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