Gum Paste and Fondant Essentials

Fondants and gum pastes are often used to decorate cakes. Fondants can be molded into neat shapes and cutouts that can be placed on the cake surface, while gum paste can be shaped into three-dimensional figurines such as flowers, leaves and other decorations. Either way, how well do you know your fondants and gum paste? Read on if you want to learn more.

What's the difference between a fondant and a gum paste

Gum paste, fondant - are they the same thing? Well, they're not. While they may look the same when you're rolling them out, they differ in how they dry. Fondants are generally used in cake decorations to cover the cake. They don't completely harden and cannot support all the weight by themselves. You can use them if they're being placed flat against a base, but when it comes to complex shapes which need to support themselves, use a gum paste. When left to dry, gum paste completely dries out to the specified shape and turns brittle. While it is a great tool to decorate the cake, it isn't as good a choice for cake coverings.

Common gum agents that are used in making fondants and gum paste

If you're whipping out some cake decorations and are unsure about what gum agents to use, here are some gum agents you could try,

  • Gum Tragacanth: This gum is plant based, and when used as a powder, it can act as a thickening and binding agent. It is odorless, tasteless and viscous in nature, along with being water soluble and edible. Its advantages are that it dries quickly, and gives a delicate yet strong finish to its decorations. The only cons it has are, it may not always appear pure white, and it is slightly on the expensive side when compared to other gum agents.
  • Tylose: This is a cellulose derivative which is a superior quality CMC. It acts as a stabilizer and thickener. It can also act as a gelling or emulsifying agent. Gum Tragacanth can be substituted with Tylose in gum paste recipes. From Royal icing to flowers and figurines, it can be used for various decorations. It is an economical option, cost-wise.
  • Gum Tragacenth Compound: This gum paste is a mix of  tragacanth, sucrose, starch and binding agents. The paste dries into a hard consistency, but it can also be rolled out finely. Although it is isn't as malleable while working with a flower paste, it stays white color-wise, and is a lot cheaper.
  • Gum Xanthan: The cellulose present in cabbage or corns is used to make this gum agent. Its functionality is very similar to that of gelatine, and it acts as a stabilizer and emulsifier. Being animal product-free and dairy-free, it is a popular choice amongst vegans. While a paste made from this agent isn't as flexible as ones made from Tragacanth, it's a pretty strong agent that can be incorporated in flower paste.
  • Gum Arabic: This plant-based polysaccharide, has attributes of glue. It is a helpful binding and stabilizing agent. When added to boiled water or rose essence, it takes a glue-like form, that can help in keeping the flower petal decorations in place. You can also incorporate it with royal icing to strengthen it.  Sometimes, it is used while making edible glitter to give it that shine. Although, don't try substituting Gum Tragacanth with it, for it won't work.

How to prepare gum paste at home

Most cake designers face the dilemma of whether they should buy pre-made gum paste from the store or make it from scratch at home. The problem with pre-made gum paste is, it often turns stiff and can crack at times. But with homemade gum paste, incorporating it becomes easier, also, it's cost-effective.

The gum paste recipe uses powdered sugar, egg white, and gum agents such as tylose powder. Although the usual choice of gum agent for these recipes is tylose powder, you can try substituting it with gum tragacanth, in case you don't find tylose powder in the stores. While beating the gum paste mixture, hand mixers won't suffice as they aren't that effective strength-wise, try using a heavy-duty one instead.

Start by mixing powdered sugar with egg whites. The humidity of the environment plays a crucial role in determining the quantity of sugar you need to use. If the environment is humid and dry, use lesser amounts, else use higher amounts. Ensure all of the sugar is neatly mixed with the eggs, by scraping out any powdered sugar that might have stuck to the bowl sides. Continue mixing it until it turns glossy and thick, similar to a meringue. If you don't mix it well, the gum paste will be tougher to handle, later on. Add any edible colors now, when it still resembles a meringue, if you want the whole batch to have the same color. Use a mixer that comes with an attached paddle while working with the gum paste, and sprinkle some tylose powder on to it, while running it at a low speed.

Make sure you don't add all of the powder at once, as it will make the mixture clump up. Scrape off the gum paste from the bowl, getting every ounce of it, for even small amounts can be molded into flowers. Now separate the mixture onto two halves, so you can easily knead them.  Carefully knead the paste, using small amounts of powdered sugar. Don't overuse the sugar, or it'll make your gum paste texture dry. Use plastic wrap to tightly cover the gum paste ball once you're done. Gum paste can be stored in Ziploc bags. Make sure you squeeze out any excess air that may be present before storing it. For the tylose powder to become active, you need to refrigerate it for a minimum of 24 hours.

How to store gum paste?

Most recipes, produce more gum paste than you can use in one go. So you'll probably be stocking it up for the future. If wrapped appropriately, in air-tight bags, it can be stored for about six months. All you need to do is allow it to thaw, while in the refrigerator, and when you want to use it for your cake decorations, let it come down to the room temperature and then start out.

Home-made fondant recipe

From creams to candies, fondants can be used to step up your cake decorations in a number of ways. Here's what you'll need to make that sweet and smooth fondant:

  • 1/2 a cup of water
  • 2 cups of granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of corn syrup

First prepare your counter by neatly placing a large-sized baking sheet on it. Lightly sprinkle it with some water. Place a medium-sized saucepan on the stove, and bring the flame to medium-high. Add the  water, corn syrup and sugar to the saucepan. Stir the mixture until the granulated sugar completely  dissolves. Then place a lid over the pan, allowing it to simmer for the next 2-3 minutes. Then, take off the lid, and let the syrup cook on the open saucepan, without stirring it, till it gets to about 115 Celsius (240 F).

Then, pour out the syrup onto your baking sheet. Let it rest on the sheet for a couple of minutes. Gently use your fingertips on the syrup to estimate how hot it is. You can start working with the syrup once it is warm, rather than hot. Use a metal spatula or a dough scraper to work with the syrup. Dampen it with some water before you get started. With the help of the spatula, start pushing the syrup contents onto the center of the baking sheet to form a pile. Using the spatula, work on your fondant, in figure-eight patterns. Scrape it to the center, coax it into a figure-eight, and scrape it to the center again. You'll notice how your fondant is gradually changing from a clear fluid-like consistency to a creamy opaque one.

In about 5-10 minutes, it should turn stiff and crumbly, so you can no longer work with it. Then, use some water on your hands to moisten them, and start kneading it, like you would with a bread dough. As you continue kneading it, the fondant should turn smoother and softer. Once it as turned into a soft smooth ball without any lumps, you can stop kneading it. Now, you can use your fondant for pouring or melting. If you're making flavored candies with your fondant, let it rest for a minimum of 12 hours, to achieve good texture and flavor. Let it rest in an airtight container and cover it with some plastic wrap as well, so it is right at the fondant's surface. You can let it ripen in the fridge if hot, else, room temperature should do. Once ripened, it can be rolled, shaped and flavored, as you please. If it turns stiff, dust it with some powdered sugar, so you can easily knead it.