Sugar putty, basically. It’s the white chewy stuff that makes up the inside of bonbons, you know what I mean…the “creams”. But then it’s also the semi-transparent liquid stuff that’s inside those runny-in-the-center chewing gums or chocolate covered cherries. However these days when people say “fondant” they mostly mean a cake covering of some sort, either a thin glaze-like covering for small cakes like petits fours or a thick sheet-like covering for wedding cakes.
Fondant is made, as you might expect, by manipulating (cooking) sugar. It isn’t difficult, though it is rather laborious, or at least it’s laborious from the standpoint of commercial bakeries who use fondant for everything from cake toppings and decorations to fillings and cookie icings. Given the sheer amount of fondant most bakeries go through, it’s far more economical for them to simply buy it versus investing the time and manpower it takes to make it from scratch. This however can lead to certain quality compromises, even though fondant is basically just sugar, as I mentioned.
Since most pastry makers are only concerned with fondant to the extent that it can cover cakes, we’ll start there. This domain is split into to two distinct fondant “styles”, your rolled fondant and your poured fondant. I’m going to do poured first because, well, I feel like it.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how the word “fondant” is pronounced, the more high falutin’ pastry types employ the French lilt: fon-DAHNT. I however use the American-ese pronunciation, FON-dunt. Use whichever one suits you.