Who knew there was so much interest in this humble ingredient? But hey, I’ll go with the flow (buh-dum bum). Poured fondant, reader Kellie, was invented in France, probably in the mid-1800?s when granulated sugar was plentiful and the confectionery arts were developing in all sorts of new and interesting directions. The word “fondant” comes from the French verb for “melt”, presumably because of the way fondant melts in the mouth. Indeed, the fine crystal structure of fondant gives it melting qualities that are unique in the candy world.
In those days fondant was made by hand. The syrup was whipped briskly for at least 15 minutes to incorporate the tiny air bubbles that would serve as nucleation points for crystals. Must have been exhausting work. I should add that fondants, being a novelty, were eaten in pieces by themselves in the 1800?s, flavored, colored, poured into molds and left to firm. Ladies in refined households all over Europe, the U.S. and other locales liked to make and serve them as dainties with tea. Fondants weren’t used as cake icings until the mid-20th century.
On which note I should mention that firm “rolled” fondants were invented by our good friends down under, the Aussies. Tired of the rock-hard royal icings that traditionally covered their special occasion cakes, they set out in search of an alternative they could actually cut without a jackhammer. They hit on it around the year 1950 and dubbed it “plastic icing” for the way it could be molded and formed. The innovation didn’t take long to spread to America, where it took off as a covering for formal wedding cakes, providing a smooth base for decoration.
I should add that rolled fondant’s utility extends well beyond cosmetics. Draped over cake layers, it forms an almost airtight container, preventing layers from staling during the building and decorating process, which can take up to several days depending on how elaborate the cake is. Very handy, and it cuts right to the heart of what cake icings have been about from the beginning: preservation. I find that very cool.