Monday, September 27, 2010

Perfect Fondant: Tips for Covering a Cake Flawlessly

UPDATE Jan 3, 2015- Please visit the bottom of the post for answers to frequently asked questions from the comments. :)

When I was first teaching myself to work with fondant, I found one of the hardest parts was actually covering the cake and having it look smooth. I struggled with pleats around the bottom, cracking and tearing fondant and corn starch or powdered sugar spots all over the fondant.

I looked at pictures and instructions, watched youtube videos and read forums. While there is a lot of good information out there, I felt like there was a lack of good suggestion all in once place or the videos went by so quickly. I watched adept hands make quick work of covering a cake with no issues and I struggled to figure out what they were doing.

I'm going to take you through my biggest tips and pointers for getting a nice finish so you can learn to cover your cake without pleating, tearing, holes, or any other frustrating issues that have you beating your head against the counter. This is good for those new to fondant as well, however, I will say that watching videos does help immensely so combine my information with some other videos and information out there.

Tip 1: Start with the right fondant
I originally used marshmallow fondant. While it's easy to make and I've seen other people achieve professional-looking results with it, I found it sticky and hard to work with and I had issues getting it the right consistency. I started making fondant from scratch and the best recipe and the one I use all the time is Michele Foster's Fondant recipe. A half batch (what I usually make) will cover up to one 10-inch round and it's actually not all that hard to make.

One thing I found that really helped me was to buy a package of pre-made, high quality fondant to see what the consistency was like. That way I could better achieve the correct consistency when making it at home. I bought a container of Satin Ice, but I've heard good things about FondeX. Just avoid the Wilton stuff, okay? (Ick!)

Tip 2: Get your icing as smooth as possible
The icing on your cake (under the fondant) should be as smooth and hard as possible. For this reason, many people really like working with ganache under fondant. You can get it as smooth as glass and it sets up as hard as a rock. I like ganache, but it's really rich and expensive so I mostly work with meringue buttercreams under my fondant which also provide a nice smooth surface. I use metal bench scraper and an icing spatula to get my buttercream smooth before I apply my fondant.



Tip 3: Knead your fondant in pieces
I divide my fondant into several pieces to knead it. Then I zap each piece in the microwave for two 5-second increments to soften it slighty (no more than 5 seconds per zap or you'll melt it!) and then I work it on the counter. I keep the other chunks wrapped in plastic wrap so that they don't get dry and crusty while I work.



While I'm kneading each section, I add a dollop of shortening and a dollop of glycerine to soften the fondant and make it smoother and more pliable. The shortening also helps the fondant to be less sticky. That way, you can use less corn starch (or powdered sugar) when you're rolling. Corn starch and powdered sugar leave white stuff everywhere and can dry out your fondant.



Once you've gotten all the chunks kneaded individually, put them together and knead the fondant until it's warm, soft, smooth and pliable. Remember silly putty? It should be a lot like that in consistency.



Tip 4: Put away the spray bottle
I had always read that you should spray the cake with water (after frosting) before putting the fondant on. This never worked properly for me. The coverage was always uneven, with some spots too wet and some too dry, and the fondant was always slipping around and gooey. What a mess!

Then I watched someone apply piping gel with a pastry brush on youtube. Ding! I don't generally have piping gel on hand, but the pastry brush works perfectly. I generally use water with a small amount of tylose powder dissolved in it (which is what I use to adhere pieces of fondant or gumpaste together when making my figures or applying them to the cake). But water works, too. The coverage is nice and even and you can apply it pretty thinly. It also helps do some final smoothing on your cake. Win!



Tip 5: Use your corn starch or powered sugar sparingly
Less is more. My preferred anti-stick is corn starch. Really, you don't need much corn starch to keep the fondant from sticking to your counter and rolling pin. I dust just a slight amount on my slightly flattened disc of fondant, rub it around, flip and do the same on the other side. Then I sprinkle a small amount around the countertop where I'll be rolling.



As I roll, I put my hands under and all around the edges to make sure it isn't sticking to the counter. If need be, I sprinkle just a bit underneath and rotate the fondant slightly to distribute.



Tip 6: Roll it out bigger than you think it needs to be
Measure your cake across the top and sides. Got that added up? Great, add another 2 inches to the dimension. So if you measured 10 inches across the top and your cake is 3 inches tall, that's 16 inches of cake total. Roll out the fondant to at least 18 inches. I actually like a little more. More fondant along the bottom means you have more to work with when it comes to lifting and smoothing around the bottom and less opportunity for pleating and folding along the bottom.

Tip 7: Roll it up
When you're ready to put it onto the cake, roll the whole thing back onto your rolling pin. Don't try to lift it with your arms or your hands and put it onto the cake. You'll get more air bubbles if you try to do it like that. The rolling pin method allows you to roll it slowly over the top of the cake.



Tip 8: Secure the top edges first
Once you've rolled it onto the cake, secure all around the very top first. This will prevent the weight of the fondant from pulling away from the edge and tearing your fondant. The other thing that helps prevent fondant from tearing and breaking is the glycerine and shortening you added when you kneaded the fondant earlier as well as using a scant amount of corn starch (or powdered sugar).



Tip 9: Lift up and in
Now you're going to work your way down from the top, smoothing out the fondant. Work your way around the cake, smoothing a half inch to an inch at a time all the way around, then keep going around until you get to the bottom. Sounds easy, no? This is the moment of truth. The trick? As you smooth with one hand, use your other hand to lift up the excess fondant on the bottom and push in towards the cake just slightly. It sounds completely counterintuitive, but just try it. Up and in. All that excess will help you with this. Keep lifting as you smooth down.



Tip 10: Cut, smooth, cut
Once you've smoothed it all out with your hands all the way around, cut off all the excess with a pizza or pastry cutter.



Then use a fondant smoother to smooth it all down. Push in and move it up and down all around the cake. You'll end up with a little bit more along the bottom edge. Use your cutting wheel to cut it again as close as you can to the bottom edge.




Tip 11: Use a butter knife to get a clean edge
Are you always putting something around the bottom of your cake to hide that ragged edge? I take a butter knife and work my way around, using it to gently remove and/or tuck in any excess underneath and create a nice smooth edge.



If there's still a lot you didn't get, use the pizza cutter again. If it's just a tiny bit stuck to the cake board, you can scrape it off the cake board with the butter knife. If there's some that is uneven, use the butter knife to press it gently up into the cake.



That's it! Now you have a smooth cake with no folds or pleats and a nice clean edge along the bottom. Now you don't have to worry about positioning your decorations to cover up your mistakes!

UPDATE Jan 3, 2015- Thanks so much to everyone for your comments and questions. I had no idea so many people would find this so helpful when I published it a little over four years ago! :)  Here are answers to some frequently asked questions from the comments:

Q. I don't have any glycerine and can't find it! Where do you buy it? (And can I use something else like extra shortening instead?)
A. I'm not aware of anything that provides the smoothness and elasticity of glycerine. You do need to make sure you are purchasing food-grade glycerine (it's commonly used in cosmetics and there are non food-grade versions available). I buy mine locally at Whole Foods Market. It is the Now Foods brand in a 16 oz bottle and it's in the health and personal care aisle (near the shampoos and stuff, but don't worry, it's food-grade). It's available on Amazon.com here. You can also buy it online at various health and vitamin type shops and also at places like Drugstore.com and Soap.com.

Q. What is shortening?
A. Shortening is a kind of fat that is solid at room temperature. It's basically oil that is solid. Some people call it "Crisco" which is a popular brand name in the US. I prefer to use Spectrum brand organic shortening which I buy at Whole Foods. Crisco will work, though.

Q. What can I use to brush on the cake to adhere the fondant? I saw you mention piping gel but I don't have that.
A. I don't use piping gel either so don't worry! If you do happen to want some, you can buy it at most craft stores like Jo-Ann, Michaels, or Hobby Lobby. But it's not necessary at all. You can use a little water on your pastry brush or you can use water with a bit of tylose powder dissolved in. Tylose is great to have around as a cake maker anyway because you can mix it with fondant when you make fondant figures so that they will harden.

Q. What kind of fondant do you use?
A. I make my own. I like this recipe.

Q. Do you cover your cake at room temperature or chilled?
A. Definitely chilled. You want that buttercream (or ganache) as hard as possible. Chill it for at least an hour.

Q. Do I have to put icing under my fondant?
A. Yes. Icing is not optional.

Q. Meringue buttercream sounds intriguing. Do you have a recipe?
A. As a matter of fact, I do! Right here. 

Q. How thick should the fondant be when it's rolled out?
A. I roll it out between 1/8-1/4" thick.

Q. How can I get sharp squared-off edges on my cake?
A. There are a couple of methods to get that crisp squared-off edge. Personally, I put the whole cake into the fridge for a bit to get the fondant to start to firm up. Then I go all around the cake and sort of pinch it between my fingers. I've also watched a youtube video of a lady that used two fondant smoothers to sort of smoosh them against each other towards the edge. Finally, there are some people that actually flip the cake over onto it's top and smooth downward, then let it set in the fridge and chill and then flip it back over. But really, the first, pinching method is my go-to if I want that nice squared off look. Here's an example of one that I used the pinching and you can see it just looks nice and squared-off. You can't tell it was pinched!



67 comments:

  1. Wow!! I just made my first fondant cake yesterday, just to get a feel for it, as I had never used it. I had the same problems you mentioned in the beginning of your article. I plan to make my daughter's first birthday cake in a week and a half and I NEED it to be PERFECT! (My husband is USAF, we live in a small town, hence...no good bakeries, except one, which is closed the last week of this month...GO FIGURE.) So, I've decided to just do it myself, rather than buying a cheap cake from Walmart. I have been watching videos, reading articles, searching tips and tricks...your article, by far, is the best advice I've read so far!! Can't wait to try it! I've bookmarked your page and intend to follow it step by step in the kitchen as I work!! Thanks a heap!! I don't feel as stressed now! Beautifully done!

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  2. I think this is the most helpful post I have read. Thank you so much for all the tips.

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  3. Best tutorial ever! May I ask you something? If I don't have glycerine, is it okay to use shortening alone?

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    1. No, it's not the same at all. Buy some glycerine: http://www.amazon.com/Solutions-Glycerine-Vegetable-16-Fluid-Ounces/dp/B0019LWU2K

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    2. Can you use the crisco and glycerin in plain Satin Ice?

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    3. Yes, I would definitely use the shortening and glycerine with Satin Ice. I find Satin ice in particular far too stiff and dry without it.

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  4. Thank you for this I love to decorate cakes and have difficulty with shop bought fondant I will try your tips. One question what kind of cake recipe can I use. I find most of them get impacted and don't look as good . Heave you any suggestion ?

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    1. I use a lot of different cake recipes. What kind of cake are you looking for? Also, what do you mean by "impacted" are they falling? It's possibility a leavener problem (old, expired baking soda or baking powder).

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  5. I can't find glycerin anywhere locally. Where did you find it?

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    1. If you have one of these: Hobby Lobby, Michael's, AC Moore. Wal-Mart may have it. They have a pretty extensive cake decorating section.

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    2. I buy mine at Whole Foods. You can buy it online as well: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0019LWU2K/?tag=tmitg-20

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  6. Ruky. You deserve a very big hug for this article. I have bookmarked it also. I am trying to learn proper cake making from a wonderful friend and intend to show her this beautiful piece too. Thanks again & again

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  7. Thankyou so much for this tutorial. It will help me greatly in my future attempts to use fondant, thank you again :-)

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  8. Thank you. Great post. I'm hoing to try the glycerin next time as I'm always hetting elephant skin on the edges.

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  9. If you put the cornstarch in cheesecloth you can just dab it on. That also helps to not use a lot.

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  10. I use shortening alone and it is the best thing you can use, hands down. I take a paper towel and glide it all over the surface of my mat and my rolling pin. I used to use cornstarch and/or powdered sugar but my fondant ALWAYS cracked. The shortening also gives the fondant that nice shiny look we all want. And I think it helps cut down on the sweetness too.

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    1. I've tried using shortening alone, but I had issues still with sticking. I find that if I put enough shortening and glycerine IN the fondant, I don't have issues with it cracking if I use corn starch to roll.

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  11. What's shortening? I am due to make a number 7 shaped cake over the next couple of days...any tips for a difficult shape???

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    1. Shortening is a fat (like an oil) that is solid at room temp. Some people refer to it as "crisco" which is a particular brand.

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  12. This is the best fondant covering I ever heard.I'm a convectioner but creating beautiful cakes is my passion.U just helped me a lot,thnk you so much

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  14. What it the piping gel for ? Will it help prevent cracks on the edges? :) and does it work to brush on buttercream?? :)

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    1. I always have that problem with the edges of my cakes , i hurry and smooth the top and edges to prevent from cracking but still happens :/

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    2. As I indicated above, I don't use piping gel, but instead a mix of water and tylose power. This helps the fondant adhere to the cake if brushed on sparingly. If you're seeing cracking, you have an issue with the consistence of your fondant. I recommend adding additional glycerine.

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  15. Hi could u help me wth the fondant recepi since I have the 1......however confused coz thr are 2...so if you could post it....it will be easier n helpful...plz plz thanks
    Pooja

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    1. The recipe is linked above, but here it is again: http://cakecentral.com/recipes/7432/michele-fosters-updated-fondant

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  16. Hi. When is the best time to cover a cake with fondant, a room temp cake or chilled cake?

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    1. Chilled. You want that icing set up firm and hard.

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  17. Hi great cake! I've been told I don't have to put icing underneath fondant but I'm having trouble getting a neat finish. Can you make any suggestions?

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    1. I've never heard of anyone NOT putting icing under fondant. You won't get a nice smooth finish without icing that is smooth and firm.

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  18. Do you have any meringue buttercream recipes?

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    1. As a matter of fact, I do! :) Here you go: http://sugarcoatedchronicle.blogspot.com/2010/08/italian-meringue-buttercream.html

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  19. Two questions:
    1) How thick should the fondant be when it's rolled out?
    2) is it possible to get crisp squared edges on the junction of the top and sides? I like the round too, but am wondering if it is possible to maintain that perfect, crisp edge you had on your frosted cake before applying the fondant. If it is possible, will you comment on the difficulty level? Should we even try that?

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    1. Good questions. I should add these questions as FAQs to the top of this post! :)

      1. I roll it out between 1/8-1/4" thick.
      2. Yes, there are a couple of methods to get that crisp squared of edge. Personally, I put the whole cake into the fridge for a bit to get the fondant to start to firm up. Then I go all around the cake and sort of pinch it between my fingers. I've also watched a youtube video of a lady that used two fondant smoothers to sort of smoosh them against each other towards the edge. Finally, there are some people that actually flip the cake over onto it's top and smooth downward, then let it set in the fridge and chill and then flip it back over.

      But honestly, the first, pinching method is my go-to if I want that nice squared off look. Here's an example of one that I used the pinching:
      https://www.flickr.com/photos/31056658@N08/10384919836

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  20. Thank you so much for the advice and the comments are great too! I made my first fondant cake this week. While it turned out better than expected I can't wait to make another one using your suggestions. Thank you so much!

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    1. You're welcome! Good luck and let me know if you have any further questions. I suspect I need to have a part 2 of this post to address comments and new things that have come up since this was written! :)

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  21. Thank you so much for this tutorial; it helped me tremendously when I covered my first cake using this recipe. But I notice that you mostly use organic or vegetarian products, can I ask what brand you use for the gelatin. Thanks again for this very informative and easy to follow tutorial it is greatly appreciated.

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    1. Hi Tiesha, I'm so glad to hear about your success! I do often try to use more organic and natural ingredients. Fondant isn't exactly natural, especially with all the coloring, but I do what I can! Ha! For the gelatin, I use the Knox brand. Whole Foods carries it so it can't be THAT bad. I buy it on Amazon.com through because I can get a big box pretty cheaply through their Subscribe and Save program: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007Y3HM5C/?tag=tmitg-20

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  22. I know this may sound crazy..but i don't own a stand alone mixer to make the buttercream (can't afford. Lol)..anyway i can improvise :-/..??

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    1. You can use a hand beater/mixer to make a more traditional American buttercream. Could you use it to make a meringue style buttercream (like a Swiss or Italian meringue)? I suppose, but I wouldn't recommend it. Your arm would start to cramp after about 10 minutes of holding the beaters. :)

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  24. Thanks so much for your help! I'm looking forward to trying the fondant recipe this weekend. I typically use Fonderific brand since its the only brand other than Wilton that I can find locally, but in my area its very pricey (about $10/lb.) One problem I seem to always have is working with dark colors. I normally use americolor gels. I read under the recipe you posted that gel colors have glycerine in them and I'm guessing this is my problem. If I add powder sugar to thicken it, then it lightens the fondont, so it seems a catch 22. Should I use reg. food color or maybe less glycerine in the recipe on fondants I know I'm going to color? Also, should I ice the cake beneath the fondant normal or just use a crumb coat? Thanks so much!

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    1. I wouldn't use regular food color. You need to use gel colors to get a nice bright color, but I know what you mean about it getting sort of gooey. Yes, you can use a bit less glycerine. I also find that a bit of corn starch in the roll out actually does help stiffen it up a bit. You can try kneading a bit in.

      In terms of icing the cake underneath, you can do a bit more than a crumb coat, but too much icing and it's hard to get a nice sharp corner (if that's your goal). If you put more on than a crumb coat, make sure it's well chilled. An hour or more in the fridge.

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  25. Hi I'm just about to use fondant for the first time - I was going to use buttercream underneath the fondant. My question is about storage- if I want to make the cake the night before my sons party what is the best way to store it?

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    1. Good question! I know a lot of cake makers say that if you're making a cake with fondant you don't need to refrigerate it. However, I always, without exception refrigerate mine and I feel they hold up better. Now, I live in Texas where it can be 85 degrees in January so it can depend on climate, but I've found refrigeration never hurts a cake whereas leaving it out can.

      Now, if it's a huge cake and you have no room in the fridge, you're safe to leave it out. :)

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  26. Tried your tips...its the best looking cake I've ever made! You are a lifesaver! Thank you

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    1. You're welcome! Thank you so much for the comment. :)

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  28. Can't access the fondant recipe, link doesn't work. Can you post it here? Thank you!

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    1. It appears that the Cake Central website is back up again. The recipe is available now.

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  29. Hi Marla, it appears that the Cake Central website is currently down for an upgrade. Hopefully it'll be back up soon and we can access that recipe again! :)

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  30. whats the best way to keep fondant covered cake in fridge?

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    1. I just have a regular kitchen fridge so I just move my OJ and milk aside and slide it right in. If I have multiple tiers, I often put them in separately and then assemble the cake just prior to delivery. If it's too tall on the cake stand, I have to take it off and just put it in on the cake board.

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  31. Hi Summer. Michelle Foster's Fondant recipe calls for cream but the instruction says milk. Can I use either and what kind of milk or cream is best? I have yet to try this but Thanks a ton!!!!

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  32. Do you coat your cake with fondant after coming out of the fridge or let it to room temperature beforehand ? thank you

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    1. If you let it come up to room temp, the buttercream will be squishing around under the fondant while you're trying to smooth it down. I recommend keeping the cake in the fridge up until right before you're going to put the fondant on the cake.

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    2. The only time I've had that issue is when the completed cake has gone from the fridge to a hot outside temp.

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  33. Thank You for this wonderful tutorials. Please I have never used buttercream, I always use marzipan under the fondant (how i was taught at school). Would like to know if the butter cream will melt when I keep the cake out of the fridge for 3 days after covering with the fondant

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    1. You're welcome! :)

      The stability of buttercream depends on the temperature and humidity. In the winter, you can probably get away with a lot more. In the summer, I would never leave a cake out of the fridge for three days. I'm going to be honest, I've never made a cake three days in advance. I don't ever make a cake more than a day in advance. I just like a fresher product.

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  34. Hi summer and thanks for such a helpful tutorial. Can u pls tell precautions to be followed with fondant covered cakes in summer. I am having orders for baby shower in first week of June and really wanna go for it. Can I use ganache under fondant in summers. Is there any way I can save my cakes from melting, drooping decorations and bleeding colors.can I keep them in fridge before delivering. pls help me out. Temperature would be about 38 to 40 degree centigrade

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    1. Well, if the cake is going to be in the heat, it's going to melt and droop. I don't know that there's really anything that can be done about it. It's the nature of the ingredients. Try to keep it in a cooler as long as possible.

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  35. Can't believe how easy this is! Ok, must try. When am I supposed to make all these awesome things? Must cut down on sleep I suppose. ;)

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