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A clean, smooth finish could turn your next cake into a professional looking celebration cake and it is easy to achieve if you follow a few guidelines. Here are my top ten tips (could I get any more T words in there) for creating a lovely smooth cake.

1. Find fondant that works for you.
There are several brands to choose from and they all handle differently. I have found that some brands dry out quickly, some crack more than others and some are really sticky. You have to do a bit of a Goldilocks thing and find the one that is just right for you. You can usually buy small quantities of fondant just to get a feel for it. If you belong to a sugar craft guild talk to other members to get their tips and advice. Most members are itching to give their opinion - as we all like to, hence this article.

2. Start with a clean working area.
If you are anything like me you will create the sugar version of a volcano eruption when working.

Fondant attracts dust and bits very easily. You don't want to find that when your rolled out fondant is nicely stuck to your marzipan there is a little lump which you will need to cut out.

3. Apply your fondant onto a layer of marzipan.
If you or your recipient hates marzipan (some people do you know) substitute the marzipan with fondant. The reason for this marzipan layer is to provide a sugar undercoat which will enhance your final covering. Ideally leave your marzipan layer for at least 12 hours for it to harden and provide a good base for your final fondant covering. If you leave out this under coat you will end up with something like one of the economy supermarket kids cakes.

These are fine for kids who just want to get stuck into cake but not for your beautiful celebration cake.

4. Prepare your fondant.
You should knead your fondant prior to covering your cake. The amount of kneading will depend on things like temperature - in the middle of summer the fondant will probably be fairly soft and may not need to be kneaded much. If you do not knead your fondant sufficiently you will get a mini work out when you are rolling it. Once your fondant is soft store it in an air tight bag until required.

5. Brush your marzipaned cake with sherry (the cake, not the inside of your mouth.)
Your marzipaned cake should be on the cake board at this point. Please bear with me while I digress a little. One bug bear I have is when people work very hard to create a cake they are really proud of and then display it on an uncovered silver cake board. It takes 15 minutes to cover a cake board with fondant and can be done well in advance to give it time to harden in readiness for the cake to go on. You can colour co ordinate it with your cake and it will add to the overall professional look. Ok rant over.

Use a no loss dark paint brush for coating your cake. This way if any of the hairs do happen to come out you will see them easily on your cake and can remove them. I must say I have never had one of these brushes lose any hairs. When brushing the sherry onto the marzipan do it sparingly but thoroughly. If you drench the brush it will drip down onto the fondant on the board and stain it. It will also pool at the base of the cake and bubble out when the fondant goes on. If you do not coat the cake thoroughly you will end up with air bubbles between your marzipan and fondant. For an alternative to booze you could use rose water or boiled water.

6. Roll out your fondant.
The surface for this should be clean and dry. I use a non stick cutting craft mat for this. You can buy these from art & craft shops and haberdashery shops. Alternatively you can roll out straight onto your clean work top. If your fondant sticks use a little white fat (note the word little - if you use too much you and your fondant will be sliding around the work top.) To determine how big your rolled piece of fondant needs to be use your rolling pin as a guide.

Measure the sides and top of the cake with the rolling pin using your thumb as a marker. once you have the overall length marked out on the pin you will know how wide and deep to roll your fondant. eg if the total length of the sides and top of the cake is half the length of the rolling pin you need to make sure that your rolled fondant encompasses this size. Phew! I hope that makes sense. Your rolled fondant should be app. 0.5 cm thick. You can buy spacers which you place around your fondant to ensure even thickness. Alternatively you could trust your own judgement on this and get an even coating without spending your hard earned cash.

7. Use the rolling pin to lift the fondant onto the cake.
Place the rolling pin on the edge of the fondant farthest away from you. Roll it back towards you so that the fondant rolls over the top. Bear in mind that if you have a really large piece of fondant you will need to roll the pin back so that there is a lot of fondant overlapping. When you pick up your fondant you will know if you have enough overlapping. If you don't it will drop off the rolling pin in big heap. If your lucky you can rescue it before it sticks to itself. If not you might swear a bit and then start again.

8. Apply the fondant to the cake.
Before lifting your fondant onto your cake make sure the cake is near the rolled fondant so that you don't have far to transfer it. Holding each end of the rolling pin lift the fondant and line up the bottom edge with the side of the cake. Allow some extra fondant at the base of the cake. Lower the fondant over the top of the cake working away from you. As you lower the fondant onto the marzipan use your fingers to smooth it down and expel any air bubbles between the two layers. Smooth the fondant on the side of the cake. Once the fondant is smooth on the top of the cake use the palms of your hands to press the fondant onto the marzipan on the side of the cake. Smooth the fondant in a downward movement, again expelling air bubbles as you work down the side of the cake.

9. Trim the excess fondant from the base of the cake.
Put your hands palm down on the side of the cake with your little fingers at the base of the cake. Run your hands firmly around the cake pressing slightly with your little fingers to ensure that the fondant is well adhered at the base of the cake. To remove the excess fondant place a palette knife flush with the side of the cake and run it around the base of the cake. Do not press the palette knife down too hard as you do not want a big line around the fondant on the board. Being able to trim off the fondant without leaving rough edges comes down to practice but don't worry if you have a few 'mouse holes' around the bottom of your fondant. These can be covered with ribbon or piping.

10. Use a cake smoother and hands to finish.
At this point you may spot little cracks or blemishes on your fondant. You can use the heat of your hands to smooth out cracks. If you spot any air bubbles prick them with a small pin. You can then use your hands to smooth the fondant and reduce the size of the pin hole. Once you are happy that you have dealt with any cracks and air bubbles you can use a smoother to get a level and consistent finish. At this point don't be afraid to apply pressure when smoothing. The fondant is still soft and malleable and will withstand pressure. Once you have a flat surface on the sides and top of the cake use the palms of your hands to create a curve around the top edge of the cake.

Finally, after all your efforts watch the party guests tuck in and demolish it in minutes.

Please have a look at my wedding cakes on my website.
Amanda Macleod - Cake Designer, Venus Cakes


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