If you have never been to or even heard of Singapore… here’s a crash course. It is a small island city (710 square km to be exact) situated 1 degree north of the equator, with more than 5 million people cramped into it. It is home to the biggest man-made ferris wheel, the world’s largest aquarium, the best airport, and the least emotional people on the planet. And to answer the most frequent questions I get about this little red dot, yes we do cane criminals, execute capital punishment, ban chewing gum and are a pretty fine (pun intended) city. But no, we are not part of China.
Okay, you probably didn’t need to know all that except the first bit about the equator since that’s the only piece relevant to handling fondant. Whether you’re in hot and humid Singapore or on the beaches of Cancun, the sad fact is that tropical weather is an enemy of show-stopping fondant cakes. Which explains why it took me a long time before I had the guts to attempt a two-tiered fondant cake. You see, making fondant cakes was a breeze in Vancouver, where I received my pastry training. The cool temperatures and low humidity were ideal for creating elaborate fondant showpieces. But what they didn’t tell me in pastry school is that fondant will sweat and melt in hot and humid environments. I had to learn that the hard way when the fondant butterfly cupcake toppers I made for my niece’s 1st birthday started melting into coloured streaks.
So when my cousin recently approached me to create a special two-tiered fondant cake for my nephew’s 1st birthday, I agreed with fear and trembling. I googled like crazy in the hope of learning how to solve the humidity problem in Singapore, but was surprised to find little information. Well thankfully, the cake was a success and I learnt a ton along the way which I am now going to pass on to all you brave souls who may attempt to deal with fondant in the tropics.
What is Rolled Fondant?
Rolled fondant is cooked mixture of sugar and water with a consistency of a stiff dough. It can be rolled out into a smooth thin layer, then draped over a cake to create a very smooth, flat coating. It is possible to make your own fondant, but I prefer to use a commercially prepared brand like Satin Ice.
General Rules when Using Fondant
Always wear gloves when handling fondant. This keeps the fondant safe to eat, and provides a barrier to slow down the heat transfer from your hands to the fondant.
Always make sure your work surfaces are clean. Fondant will attract anything that it comes into contact with.
Knead the fondant with a little shortening to soften it before rolling it out or shaping it.
If colouring fondant, only use concentrated food colouring for icing such as Wilton’s and knead in a bit at a time until desired colour is achieved.
Always wrap fondant that you’re not working with in cling-wrap to prevent it from drying out or absorbing too much moisture from the air.
How to Win the Battle Against Heat and Humidity in Singapore
1. Always work with fondant in an air-conditioned room and try to make sure the cake is displayed in a place with air-conditioning
2. When rolling fondant out, use cornstarch instead of icing sugar to prevent the fondant from sticking to the table.
3. Try to cover the cake with fondant on the actual day it will be eaten, so as to avoid the need for refrigeration.
4. If you really need to refrigerate the cake after covering it with fondant (which was what I did), place it in a cake box and cling-wrap the box or loosely wrap the cake with cling-film before refrigerating.
5. When removing fondant cake from the fridge, place it in a cool air-conditioned room still in its box or with the cling-wrap still on. You want to make sure the change in temperature is not too sudden or it will start condensing on the surface of the fondant. Also, keeping the cake from being exposed to the air will prevent the sugars in the fondant from absorbing the moisture in the air.
6. For fondant cut-outs, ribbons, and figures, use a 50-50 mixture of fondant and gum paste. Gum paste dries harder than fondant and will speed up the drying process.
7. To apply cut-outs, brush on alcohol or a flavouring that contains alcohol instead of water. Alcohol evaporates quicker and reduces the amount of water in contact with fondant.
If you apply all these tips well, you should be able to achieve success making beautiful fondant cakes in the hot and humid tropics. Good luck and have fun!