Something that also impressed me watching Ace of Cakes was the notion that old school French icing tip techniques truly are dead. Everything, and I mean everything that the Charm City crew was producing were fondant-covered cakes. Fondant of course is a cooked sugar-and-water paste, almost dough-like in consistency, that can be rolled out in sheets and draped over a cake to produce a perfectly smooth surface. Far firmer than a layer of buttercream, it’s a decorator’s ideal blank canvas. And because it’s fairly dense, it doubles as a zip-loc bag, keeping the interior cake moist over the days it can take to finish a big, elaborate project.
You can color fondant, you can paint on fondant, you can airbrush fondant. You can layer it you can sculpt it, you can emboss it, put decals on it, make hats out of it, whatever you want. Ironically, what you can’t really do with it is make it taste great. It’s nothing but solid sugar, and so is incredibly one-dimensional and overwhelming to the taste buds (some manufacturers actually enhance theirs with fructose, which, being about 20% sweeter tasting once-for-ounce than table sugar, will really curl your teeth). But then what we’re really talking about here are entertainment cakes. Taste is really secondary for these sorts of animals.
The big thing is of course appearance, and nowadays decorators are taking a decidedly structural approach to cakes (they say pastry chefs are frustrated architects, I like to think that architects are frustrated pastry chefs). And it’s about time in my opinion. Western eating culture evolved out of classic French cuisine and into nouvelle cuisine in the 70’s, yet cake decorating has been stuck in the Rococo period for goodness knows how long. I’ve never been good with a star tip anyway, so what the hey? Burn baby burn!