Thursday, 18 April 2013

Pouring Fondant Done the Awkward Way

I promised a recipe for pouring fondant, and I have delivered! Pouring fondant is very similar to glacé icing (only less watery and insipid) in that it is runny when made, but sets into a soft, sugary layer of icingy loveliness when it's set; compare it to ganache in this respect. This is the kind of icing found in the tops of Bakewell tarts, or enveloped around French Fancies.

As the title would suggest, this isn't the World's easiest way of making pouring fondant, but I don't like doing things easily. I like finding the most arse-about-face way of making things just to bask in the glory of succeeding at a challenge... I exaggerate: the only complicated thing about this recipe is a sugar thermometer, and you don't even need one. The important thing to note in this recipe, though, is that there are two separate stages of preparation: it's not a case of mix it up and it's done, there's a little bit of kitchen science involved.

When the sugar cooks in the saucepan, it becomes a liquid syrup because the sugar molecules have been dissolved into the water and all the little grains and crystals of sugar have been disintegrated. This is why recipes that require boiling sugar ask not to stir the syrup while it's boiling and to wash the sides of the pans while cooking: if the syrup is disturbed, or any crystals of sugar reintroduced into the mixture, it will start a chain reaction in which all the crystals of sugar are linked together again, and it'll set into a rock because the heat produces the perfect crystal growing conditions.

However, when making sweets such as fondant and fudge, we actually want a certain, controlled level of crystallisation to make the sweets opaque and a tiny bit grainy. This grainy sensation gives the eater the illusion of creaminess and smoothness, instead of full on sticky-sweet sugariness. But in order to control the level of crystallisation, we have to allow the syrup to cool down; this means the reaction won't run away with itself given the slightest excuse.

Don't believe this scientific gobbledigook? Check it out here in the completely unreferenced source of all my sugar-cooking knowledge.

Now, to start:

This will cover one 8 inch (20 centimeter) round cake, 7x9 (17x24 centimeter) rectangle cake, or 12 fairy cakes

  • 8 ounces (225 grammes) caster sugar
  • 2 fluid ounces (60 milliliters) water
  • ¼ teaspoon white vinegar, or lemon juice
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon glucose syrup, or light corn syrup

  • Prepare your work area: ready a shallow bowl of water and ice-cubes for sugar testing, and lightly grease a medium sized glass bowl.
  • In a medium-size heavy saucepan, pour the water and stir in the cream of tartar or vinegar. 
  • Pour the sugar into the middle of the water, and add the syrup if using. This makes a ring of water between the edge of the pan and the pile of sugar, reducing the chances of crystallisation.
  • Put onto a medium-low heat and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then allow to come to the boil.
  • Once the sugar is boiling, stop stirring. Don't even touch it. If you see crystals clinging to the pan sides, use a pastry brush dipped in hot water to wash them off, but for the love of God don't scrape anything.
  • Once boiling, attach your handy-dandy sugar thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook to soft ball stage, which is 113 - 115°C (235 - 240°F). Or you can do a cold water test: take the pan off the heat momentarily and take a teaspoon of syrup. Drop it into the bowl of water and ice-cubes. The syrup should be firm enough to be rolled into a ball, but the ball should be flattened easily and shouldn't be able to hold its shape of its own accord.
  • Having reached the appropriate temperature, take the pan and pour the contents into the glass bowl, never scraping the sides under any circumstances. Set on the work surface and allow to cool to about 37°C (100°F), or until the pan is a touchable heat from below.
  • Beat the fondant until opaque and thick but still pourable, as pictured. Pour onto your preferred cake, and spread around to smooth.

  • Beat in 1 ounce of any of strained jam at the end.
  • Make the syrup comepletely with citrus juice, or any fruit juice for that matter.
  • Use half water, half coconut milk.
  • Add a teaspoon of any kind of flavouring essence, like vanilla, peppermint or rum.
  • Add a tablespoon of golden syrup to the syrup, and beat in 1 ounce of softened butter at the end for toffee or caramel flavour.

This is my favourite icing for cake slices and traybakes, as it can be poured onto the pre-cut cake in one fell swoop, and the cake can be cut into pieces once iced. To cut this icing you'll need to cut it while still a little soft and with a hot knife, like I explained in my coffee and raspberry slice recipe.
This is the basic basey base of the fondant icing, and it can be coloured and flavoured very easily. There are a myriad of ways to flavour this versatile icing. For example:

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