I took at fondant class at The Brooklyn Kitchen last night, where this month is "cake month". (Quite a nice theme, don't you think?) I was far too intent on learning the steps for covering a cake in fondant to be able to take pictures of the process, aside from the fact that I wouldn't have dreamt of slowing the class down for something like that. But I learned a ton, and the hands-on practice was so worth it. Below, I've written out some general tips I picked up, as well as the steps for covering a cake and some links from the web. These things may prove to be more useful for me than for you, but if you have a little fondant experience, perhaps they'll help to refresh your memory.
You can see that there are several imperfections in my little cake, but I like to think that most of them occurred getting the thing from Brooklyn to upper Manhattan on the subway (for example, that indentation on the bottom was caused by my thumb when I was trying to get the cake into the box for transport). For a first try, though, I'm more than satisfied. I can't say I went with any theme for this one. I was just practicing making different things, which I then kind of haphazardly stuck to the cake. And yes, I am aware that my little bluebird has googely eyes. But we preach tolerance around here, so don't judge him for being different.
* Use a mixture of confectioners sugar and corn starch to prevent sticking, the way you might use flour when kneading and shaping bread.
* Before using your fondant, you must kneed it on a surface lightly sprinkled with the sugar/corn starch mixture until it softens and relaxes enough to be rolled and shaped.
* Keep the fondant you are not working with wrapped in plastic wrap so it doesn't dry out.
* To color fondant, simply kneed in a few drops of food coloring. You don't need much, so be judicious when adding.
* Always use buttercream as the insulating layer between the fondant and the cake. Things like a cream cheese based frosting can eat away at the fondant.
* A rotating cake stand is pretty much indispensable, both for getting a smooth finish on your buttercream layer and for cutting away excess fondant.
* To add fondant decorations, moisten the back of the decoration with water so that it adheres and simply press on.
* Fondant can be molded pretty much like clay. If you can make it out of playdough, you can make it out of fondant.
To lay fondant over a round cake:
* Roll out the fondant to a thickness of about 1/4"
* The fondant should be in a circle quite a bit larger than the cake itself so that it can drape below the cake
* Carefully place the fondant on the cake, starting by laying it on one side so that it touches, and draping it over the other.
* Now, using your paddle tool, smooth and seal the top of the cake
* Using your hands, cup around the top edge of the cake to smooth and seal the fondant on.
* Begin to move down, using your hands, smoothing and sealing the fondant on.
* Smooth out any imperfections
* Using the edge of your paddle, gently push down on the fondant on the bottom of the cake to make a kind of crease between the fondant on the cake's edge and the leftover fondant surrounding the cake.
* Take care not to put too much pressure on the fondant, you don't want it to tear on the top edge of the cake.
* Using a pizza cutter, cut away the extra fondant.
* All of the above steps should be done with the cake placed on a cardboard round the exact size of the cake, which should then be placed on your rotating cake stand.
* Remove the cake from the cake stand and hold it up by the cardboard circle so you can round the bottom of the cake, covering the cardboard circle with the fondant and achieving a smooth edge.
More resources for fondant:
* Chart for how much fondant to use based on the size of your cake from Wilton
* Wilton's step-by-step guide to covering a round cake with fondant, with pictures (although with slightly less detail)
* Guide for covering shaped cakes
* Recipe for marshmallow fondant that has gotten great reviews, although I haven't tried it
* The brand of pre-made fondant that our teacher recommended is called Carma, and is available here
UPDATE: I took this class in order to be able to make my own wedding cake. Well, it's done, and if you want more detailed instructions for fondant and for constructing a tiered cake, see this post.