Some may remember my first-ever foray into fruitcake-making back in November when I got inspired by Deborah Strange Land and her grandmother's Christmas cake. It came out better than I could have dared to hope, perfectly shaped and fragrant, and I wrapped it in layer upon layer of greaseproof paper and tinfoil, and took it down out of the cupboard every week or two to feed it more brandy.
Came the day -- the 42 degree day -- when the decorating of the cake could no longer be put off, viz yesterday. I had been putting it off because the more I read about making and using fondant, the more difficult and fraught with dangers it appeared to be. But the fondant needed to dry for 24 hours before you could put anything else on it. So there was nothing for it but to begin with the icing-sugar mountain.
If I were my mother I would have sifted this three times
I did take a photo of the well in the centre of the icing sugar into which had been poured the dissolved gelatine, glucose and glycerine, but it looks just a bit too much as though a child has been peeing in the snow. I would have taken a photo of the kneaded lump of fondant, but it looked just a bit too much like a giant puffball.
The giant puffball wrapped and put aside for the moment, the next thing was the preparation of the cake for its cloak of fondant. Part of the several hours' reading up on the subject of fruitcake decoration that I'd done was a suggestion that the top edge of the cake should be bevelled with a small serrated knife so that the fondant would not tear on the sharp edge.
Sorry the focus is a bit doolally there, but this bevelled-edge thing is exactly the sort of detail one cannot possibly leave out of a blog post.
Next, a concoction that the sainted Rose Levy Berenbaum, author of The Cake Bible (Her gingerbread cake! Her Piña Colada cake! Her buttercream! Her utter devotion to perfection!) suggests as a 'crumb coating': something to seal the crumby surface of the cake so the crumbs will not come off into the fondant, and to provide a sticky surface for the fondant to, um, stick to. Berenbaum calls it Jewel Glaze, and so it is.
Actually it's just half a cup of apricot conserve and a tablespoon of brandy, warmed and sieved and applied with a pastry brush
Next, you take the big fondant puffball, knead it a bit more to get it smooth and pliable again, and roll it out in a circle whose diameter is the same as the cake's plus double its height plus an extra inch of margin for error. This is where I started to think it really might all work; to my astonishment it looked exactly the way it was supposed to.
As you can see, it's not called 'rolled fondant' for nothing.
And then, as with the pastry for the top crust of a pie, you roll it up loosely around the rolling pin, position it carefully, and unroll it so that it drapes over the cake. This is only about four hundred times as hard as it sounds. And this is the point where, if you're going to blow it, you blow it all. You only get one shot. In this case, I could not have come any closer to the abyss without falling into it.
C'est magnifique, n'est-ce pas? Observe cake plate elevated to near eye level so one can get at it and see what one is doing.
Fondant, fortunately, is forgiving. This one does not stretch, but it is pliable -- we didn't used to call it 'plastic icing' for nothing -- and with a smoothing here and a coaxing there, a nudging and a bumping and a gentling of the fingers, it was made to shift a bit up one side and down the other, drape softly over the bevelled edges, fit snugly down over the sides, and generally do as it was told. Second most brilliant hint in my background reading: trim off the excess fondant with a pizza cutter.
Finish trimming, admire handiwork, marvel at the fact that there seems to have been exactly the right amount of fondant, put cake in box and put box in wardrobe away from marauding cats, for the fondant to dry and set.
24 hours later, make a glue with icing sugar and water and use a matchstick to apply small dobs of it to sparkly things and cement them to cake. Allow to set. Take photo.
And a very happy Christmas to all.
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