I have to say...I've never heard so much controversy over buttercream vs. fondant as I have in the past couple of months since our television special "Iced With Sylvia Weinstock". Sylvia...I continue to bow to you. You are the Leonardo DaVinci and Queen Mother of Cake Decorating.
I'm sure this debate has been going on for years and I'm sure the arguments have been heated, but you know what they say...you're never really aware of some things until you are experiencing the events or witnessing up close and personally.
Nothing really beats a smooth, light and silky buttercream as far as taste is concerned, and if applied perfectly...I mean totally smooth....no pockmarks, no swirls...(not getting it perfect is enough to make a grown woman cry!) I mean ice smooth...buttercream is the way to go. It's natural - no preservatives - the real deal. And... if you happen to leave a pockmark behind or two...you can...indeed start all over or in a last ditch recovery...if aesthetically beautiful and part of your overall design concept... you can camouflage it with beautiful flowers, or elegant buttercream piping. Not that that should be your fallback. It should be as perfect as perfect can be...and it better taste amazing.
On the other hand...fondant...allows for that beautiful porcelain look that so many people like...including myself. And...fondant allows for easier manipulation, maneuvering and certain decorating elements you simply can not do with buttercream. (Believe me...after almost dropping the buttercream cake on the show, and creating an indentation on one of the tiers...(I forgot to put my center dowel in! Duh!!! I know!) Do you remember on one of the episodes of Cake Boss when Cousin Anthony dropped the Sweet Sixteen Cake down the stairs...and all of us decorators were screaming at the television...yes you know who you are....where is your center dowel!!! And we all thought it was a set up...Well...my dears....crap like that does happen on reality t.v. I know....You do forget when under pressure!)
But I digress...Back to buttercream and fondant.
Of course...in order to have a perfectly smooth fondant covering, you must have a smooth buttercream foundation. So it does pay to practice practice practice getting that foundation right. It doesn't have to be ice-smooth...after all... Buddy V. "dirty ices" and Toba Garrett spackles.... but they get it smooth, or you will get those dreaded bulges and bumps...Not a very attractive!!!
In order to keep it natural, the best way to go is to make your own. That way you are insured of a pure product. However, when you are in business, and are working pretty much alone, and you have several cakes to do per week and all of the customers are asking for rolled fondant icing, the pre-made commercial stuff is the way to go especially in the summer. And some of them do taste pretty good. I have my favorite. Each cake...needs a minimum of 1 1/2 pounds of fondant...and that's for a 6" cake....Can you imagine the time it would take to make say...7 pounds of fondant for a three tiered cake times three or four or more cakes? Yes...it would be ideal...but honey....if I wanted an upper arm workout I'd go to the gym. It's enough rolling out the stuff. (I don't have a sheeter!)
Each of the icing mediums requires a certain skill set. (Some of us are better at one or the other or the multi-talented...both.) The basic skill to attain is the proper application of buttercream. It is the mother of all skills to master. You might screw up a bit...God knows I have...and believe me...it's really humbling when you've done this on national television, but in the end...with perseverance...and patience, and a love and passion for what you are doing...your end product does come out pretty nice. (Well...at least that's what people tell me about my work.)
The same goes for when you are working with fondant. I've seen some pretty bad fondant jobs. Yah...I'm pretty critical now, (I go to events and affairs and the first thing I do is check out the cake!) after 5 years of paying my fondant dues! Kerry Vincent would come at you like no tomorrow too ! Even though I haven't reached her level yet, I hope to soon. (Remember what I said before? Practice Practice Practice?) You don't just slap fondant on a cake. I'll never forget the first time I worked with it when I went to cake decorating school in London. I was sooo nervous about it....and afraid of being embarrassed in front of the masters of cake decorating there. Seriously, these people were the big guns...the likes of Tombi Peck, Anne Skip, Alan Dunn, Maisee Parish, Debbie Brown were enough to make you wish you were born with a decorating certificate attached to your pinkie toe.) Yet...after the first fiasco, elephant skin....tearing....cracking....thick on one side...too thin on the other...jagged edges....I soon learned how to create a PERFECTLY smooth foundation for my decorating projects.
So, at this point...you're probably wondering...does she like decorating with buttercream icing over fondant icing? I will let you know after I've challenged myself to create the biggest most glorious cake of my career...I'm talking huge....at least 5 feet tall....in buttercream and gumpaste flowers and then one in fondant and gumpaste flowers. If you don't hear from me after I've completed this project...it means that I've collapsed in a corner of my workshop covered in....buttercream or fondant.