Jan 31, 2009

Working with MMF

I'm assuming of course that you've read all about what MMF is and how to mix the stuff. Which I'm sure, for the first time anyway, was a nightmare. (I know it was for me anyway) So because I usually do things the hard way, I thought I'd save you some trouble by adding in those little tidbits of info that I've learned along the way, some of which others tend to leave out in their "how to" blogs. (p.s...what's the big secret anyway?)

Kneading the fondant-
Now that you now have the fondant mixed, throw a piece of plastic over it to keep it from drying out while you wait for it to cool down, just a bit. Why you ask? Because for one, it may be hot, and two, as the marshmallow concoction cools down, it will "tighten up" a bit. Roll up your sleeves and grease your hands with vegetable shortening- GENEROUSLY - palms, backs and in between fingers, then heavily grease the counter you will be using. (I know, it's gross, but it must be done, I hope you have voice mail btw LOL) Dump the mass of fondant in the middle. Start kneading like you would bread dough. (it's nice to have a bench scraper handy in case it gets too sticky)

It’s also helpful to have a small dish of water, a small dish of shortening and a dish with the rest of the powdered sugar on the counter set to the side before you begin. Trust me, the mixture is NEVER "just right". You'll have to add this and that before it is. After you've kneaded a few times and everything is well incorporated, if the mix is tearing easily, it is to dry, so add water (about ½ tablespoon at a time then knead it in). If it is sticking, re-grease your hands and/or the counter, if it is too soft, then add in powdered sugar.

 It usually takes about 10-15 minutes to get a firm smooth elastic ball so that it will stretch without tearing when you apply it to the cake. It should be a little softer than play dough (for the portion used to cover the cake) or a bit stiffer for cutouts, decorations, flowers etc. I generally will do one batch for the cake, a different batch for the decorations. (one batch is enough to cover a 10" double layer cake with a little left over for small decorations)

Helpful Hint: When mixing MMF specifically for decorations that will be dried out, add some cornstarch instead of powdered sugar. This will give you a more stiff consistency, more like gum paste, and will aid in the drying out time/process.

It’s best if you can let it sit, double wrapped, overnight at room temp (but you can use it right away, if you're in that big of a hurry AND if there are no tiny bits of dry powdered sugar). If you do see them, you will need to knead the fondant more and maybe add a few more drops of water, then let it sit wrapped for at least a couple of hours. (It helps to have freshly sifted powdered sugar to begin with ;))

Storing the fondant:
Prepare the fondant for storing by coating it with a good layer of shortening (this keeps it from drying out or forming a "skin"), wrap in plastic wrap, and then put it in a re-sealable or Ziploc bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible. You can store it for 2 weeks in the fridge, or up to 6 months in the freezer. (actually longer if you have a handy dandy food saver :D)

Coloring the fondant: To add your food coloring, first get the fondant to room temp if it has been stored in the fridge or freezer. Gel or paste food coloring works the best and has little effect on the consistency of the fondant. Liquid food coloring can be used, but you'll have to use more powdered sugar or more shortening, and well, it's just not worth the extra effort. To color, dip a toothpick into the food coloring and drag across the fondant. Use a new toothpick each time to prevent contamination of your gel. (I'm a germ-o-phobe, so yes, I really do this) Add a little at a time, knead in and completely incorporate before adding more. LESS IS MORE. Helpful Hint:If you are doing one batch of fondant. one color for the cake for example, it’s actually easier to add the food coloring to the melted marshmallows during the mixing process, instead of trying to knead it in later. If you are wanting a really dark color, like dark brown or black, whew, it's gonna take a lot. It might be better if you start out with a chocolate fondant first, then color that darker. Or....you could plan on airbrushing later (ok, that's gonna have to be a whole other blog entry)
Colors have a tendancy to darken over time, so if you're planning on storing the fondant keep this in mind. Also, when doing colors such as reds, deep browns or you are matching a specific color, say, to a logo, then make it ahead of time and be sure to make it a tad bit lighter. Golds are a bit tricky too, like when I did a Purdue cake for my daughter and was attempting to match the logo.

Just trust me, darkening fondant later is waaaaaaay easier than trying to lighten it. ;) Oh, and just FYI, always keep a white batch on hand in case you do need to lighten some. This Purdue cake, btw, was my very first fondant cake. I didn't know back then that they actually had "gold dust" powder, that could be brushed on dry or wet, creating a more "true" gold luster (I live and learn) but more on that in another tutorial. Well, this is at least a start in working with fondant. If you're still with me (WAKE UP!), and want to know more, I'll have more topics......If you want to see some of my fondant work, up close and all personal, check out my flickr pages.

What's MMF?

How do I make my own MMF? More importantly, why???
First things first, MMF (marshmallow fondant) is a soft-icing rolled dough that is used to cover cakes rendering a smooth and flawless surface (heh, on a good day). The monkey's bed above is a 13x9 cake covered with MMF, for example. Or, roll it out, cut or mold into shapes, and use it for decorations, or sometimes, to appear as the actual structure of a cake. The bamboo posts on the bed are made from MMF, allowed to dry, then hand painted with a gel food coloring. The little hat on the bed post was shaped over a plastic covered styrofoam ball, allowed to dry completely, then accented with powdered food coloring. You can also use it to cover molded cereal treats (rice krispie treats) like the monkey, blanket, and his little pillow.

You can even make flat plaques or little "do-dads" to spruce up that otherwise plain frosted cake.
This saves a whole lot of time on cake decorating day!
You can mold it, and shape it, similar to play dough (I know! fun huh?). You can achieve very different effects by applying it or shaping it while it's soft, or dry it out on a mold to hold a more "solid" shape...the possibilities are endless....well....almost. It does have it's limitations.

Fondant Daisies on Strawberry Butter cream
For instance, you can use it to mold and shape delicate flowers, with fine frilly edges, almost like the real thing, but it you put them in the fridge, or cover them (airtight) in a cake saver, or set it out in the sun on a hot, humid, summer day....well, you could very well find a melted drooping pool of sugary blob that doesn't even come close to what it was when you first completed your masterpiece. You have to know and remember that any sugary confection is a humectant, meaning, it attracts moisture and hangs on to it, and moisture + fondant = blob. That said, you'll learn that while a smoothly covered fondant cake in the fridge is ok, the fondant do-dads on top are NOT safe. (However, there will be some instances when you'll want moisture to "melt" your sugar and render it gooey for certain affects. That comes a bit later....

Ok, so by now you know you can buy tubs of ready made fondant and you're probably wondering, why in the heck is this chick working so hard making hers from scratch? Right? Well, for a couple of reasons. For one, the pre-made fondant, to put it simply, tastes gross. (ok, I'm an 80's gal, I WAS going to say, "gags me with a spoon") Ask any bride who has swooned over cakes in a magazine for months and goes for a tasting at her local bakery only to find her fiance spitting it out in, not a napkin, but her hand.

Speaking of taste, you're probably wondering what MMF tastes like. When it's covering a cake, with a layer of butter cream underneath, the fondant stays about the consistency of a soft fudge. In fact, it tastes much like fudge (you know, that marshmallow fudge that makes it's rounds every Xmas?) When the fondant is dried out and allowed to become hard, like for flowers and such, it's much like the consistency of candy corn, in fact, some recipes depending on the flavorings used, tastes like candy corn. Keep in mind when choosing a flavoring for your MMF that it will pick up some of the flavor from the icing underneath, so, you'll want to either use plain vanilla or match the two flavors.

Chocolate fondant is a bit more difficult to work with, but the end results make it worthwhile. Chocolate MMF tastes much like the tops of the Hostess chocolate cupcakes...mmmm...need I say more?
The second thing is, unless you're a pro and whipping out 3-4 cakes per day, it's well worth the time and effort cranking out your own sugary dough from scratch considering that it is a fraction of the cost of the "store bought" stuff. Pastry chefs and bakeries will use pre-made fondant because they simply do not have the time to do all the mixing, kneading, and coloring. Besides, that huge tube of preservatives in the storage room could last who knows how long. (Yikes)

Fire Chief Helmet Cake tutorial
Now I do have to emphasize, I am NOT a professional, I only do this for sheer pleasure, as well as entertainment, and as a creative outlet...literally, giving my stuff away to family and friends. I'm NOT in it for profit. I'm sure if I were a pastry chef, owned a bakery, or had a degree to pay for, I'd have a different view. That said, I normally have the ingredients in my pantry anyway, AND I have the time. So why not?
If you want to try it, and don't say I didn't warn that it's addicting, here's a good basic recipe for a quick easy MMF. Roll up your sleeves...it's gonna get messy!

For printable version click here

MMF Recipe

16 oz White mini marshmallows
3 Tbsp Water (maybe more)
2 pounds Powdered cane sugar, sifted (more or less)
1 tsp vanilla (or other flavoring)
1 tsp butter flavoring (opt)
1 tsp almond flavoring (opt)
1/2 C vegetable shortening (for the kneading step only)

In a large bowl, melt marshmallows and 2 Tbsp water in microwave for about 1 minute, stir in flavorings and return to the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until mixture is completely melted. Add about 3/4 of the amount of powdered sugar to the marshmallow and mix in. Dough will be stiff.

After fondant has cooled just a bit and is safe to handle, grease counter top with vegetable shortening, also grease your hands. Knead fondant, adding in the rest of the powdered sugar (you may not use all of it, and yet, you may need more) until a smooth elastic ball is formed. Add more powdered sugar if dough is too soft. Add more water (a tablespoon at a time) if it is too dry and tearing, add more shortening if too sticky.

For chocolate fondant; add a few squares of melted semi or bitter-sweet chocolate to the marshmallow mixture before adding the powdered sugar. Or, replace 1/3-1/2 C of the powdered sugar with powdered cocoa. For a deeper brown color, just add brown food coloring.
Storing the fondant: Prepare the fondant for storing by coating it with a good layer of shortening (this keeps it from drying out or forming a "skin"), wrap in plastic wrap, and then put it in a re-sealable or Ziploc bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible. You can store it for 2 weeks in the fridge, or up to 6 months in the freezer. (actually longer if you have a handy dandy food saver :D)
Once you've made your dough and you want to know how to spend it, check out my other blog entries   ;)