Whenever I decorate a cake, my daughters eagerly await the moment when I hand over the extra fondant. Within minutes, they look just like kids busy with Play Doh. They roll out the pliant confection and cut out shapes or fashion it into puppies or vegetables or letters.
But fondant is better than Play Doh; it feels silkier and less sticky in your hands, it smells like marshmallows, and, unlike Play Doh, it’s actually designed for human consumption. Strangely, my girls always ask before they start chowing down, which makes me generous with the leftovers.
Their fondant creations often share the theme of the cake I have spent all night decorating. My little helpers invariably present me with small creatures.
“Mommy, I think this jelly fish would look great right here,” they say, jabbing a finger dangerously at the undersea scene on the side of the cake.
The girls look at me sad-eyed when I tell them gently that I’m happy with the cake the way it is. Sometimes I feel like I should relent, but I’m just not that nice. I feel guilty about this, but clearly not guilty enough.
This weekend, though, I came up with a plan to assuage my conscience. I causally asked if anyone felt up for making cupcakes. Every eye in the room lit up.
“I thought I could make some fondant, too,” I added. “Everyone can decorate their own cupcakes.”
As baking cupcakes filled our small kitchen with a warm, chocolatey aroma, I grabbed the ingredients I needed for fondant. Fondant’s smooth finish and fancy French name make it seem rather intimidating, and I’m sure intimidating recipes exist, but my version’s simple: microwave a bag of mini marshmallows and knead–with Crisco-slathered hands–the sticky, gooey mess into a pile of powdered sugar. It’s easy, fast, and much tastier than any fondant I’ve sampled on professional cakes.
I had the idea that we might make Valentine’s cupcakes, but I didn’t have a specific agenda.
In an attempt to avoid my usual control-freakishness around baking projects, I asked my daughters to decide on the colors to work into the fondant. They pulled their favorite colors from my icing dye collection while I kneaded ever more powdered sugar into the stiffening marshmallows. While they were at it, they found my edible markers.
We rolled out and shaped fondant circles using a cupcake-sized round cutter. After spreading a thin layer of buttercream on a cupcake, we’d stick a fondant round on the top, smooth it down, and then start decorating. Mostly, but not exclusively, we used heart cookie cutters. No two cupcakes turned out exactly the same, but they made an awesome collection.
Adapted from Peggy Weaver’s recipe on What’s Cooking America.
16 ounces mini-marshmallows
2 to 5 tablespoons water
2 pounds confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
corn starch, for rolling and shaping
In a large, microwave-safe bowl, toss marshmallows with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water (if your marshmallows are super-fresh, use 2 tablespoons of water; if they’re a bit dry, use 3 tablespoons). Microwave for 30 seconds, open microwave, and stir mixture with a silicone spatula before microwaving again. Repeat heating and stirring at 30 second intervals until the marshmallows are melted. This usually takes about 2 1/2 minutes total.
Pour about one-quarter of the bag of the powdered sugar on the top of the melted marshmallows. Stir until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Grease your counter top, hands, and wrists generously with Crisco. Pour about half of the remaining powdered sugar on top of the greased counter and scrape the marshmallow mixture onto the sugar.
Knead the mixture as you would bread dough, adding more Crisco to your hands as needed; it will be very sticky. Continue to add powdered sugar and knead until the mixture becomes stiff but remains pliable. If the mix begins to tear, it is too dry; add water about 1/2 tablespoon at a time and then knead it in.
Use immediately or store in plastic wrap coated with Crisco inside a Ziploc bag, squeezing out as much air as possible. Store fondant unrefrigerated for up to a week.
Knead in icing color as desired. To roll out, dust counter top and rolling pin generously with corn starch to prevent sticking. Roll to 1/8-inch thickness. Apply a thin layer of buttercream frosting to cake or cupcake surface to hold the fondant in place. Dust off remaining corn starch with a pastry brush or soft towel.