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I’m Louise. Blogger. Wife. Designer of TruLu Couture Veils + Accessories.  If you’d like to know more, check out my bio.

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Thursday
Oct072010

A Wedding Smackdown: Fondant vs. Butter Cream

Today I picked up a Velvet Elvis from Sweet 16th - A Bakery. A Velvet Elvis? It's two layers of red velvet cake plus one layer of chocolate cake with peanut butter cream in between the layers, covered in cream cheese frosting. Yeah, that's right. It's a filthy, hot mess of a cake - one of the 5 we had at our cake buffet and clearly the favorite of all. I cannot tell you how many times I heard, "You and The Candyman had such a lovely wedding....and where did you get that cake?" or "Great shindig. Those cakes kicked ass!" Seriously, the most comments I got on the wedding? All about the cake. No lie.

Why did I pick up a cake? Because I don't think it can be a One Year Anniversary without a Velvet Elvis!That's right, I'm driving to Charlotte tomorrow (with the remains of the 6" cake we cut and the Velvet Elvis safely packed in a cooler) to meet up for a long weekend with The Candyman to celebrate our anniversary, and hopefully find us a damn house to live in.

I was daydreaming about the cream cheese frosting and asked myself if I regretted not having a "traditional" wedding cake. I do not. I do regret not getting some of the tasty Cake Truffles from Covered with Icing as an additional dessert option. Not that I needed it, but those things are so effin' good....

Anyway, back to daydreaming about frosting. I LOVE frosting. LOVE it. Like cake is just a vehicle, an excuse really, for frosting.  I might go so far as to call myself a frosting connoisseur. The problem with me and frosting is that I can't stop eating it. I've made myself sick several times by OD'ing on frosting. It's true. So all the dreaming got me thinking about frosting, specifically the age old-controversy: Fondant vs. Butter Cream.

I went on-line and found countless discussions, and some honestly downright vicious debates, between the two camps. Taste versus appearance being the primary discussion: you must sacrifice tastiness to get a gorgeous cake. The deeper I got into the interweb world of cake bakers, the more confused I got. And you know, you can never trust what the hell people are talking about online or who they claim to be, you know - all that bullshit internet stuff. So, I decided to make a phone call to recent Nashville transplant Lorie Burcham of Crumb de la Crumb.

I met Lorie and her husband at the Nashville Wedding Pros Houston Station Photo Shoot sometime last Spring. I attended her open house not too long ago so figured she'd be a good go-to on all things cake related.  I gave her a call. Good thing I did. I got a lot of great information that I think every bride should know, particularly if you're looking for a great tasting AND a great looking cake. After talking with Lorie, I think you could very well have both!

Now, I have to preface all this with one caveat: I have never had Lorie's fondant. However, I have had her cake, her icing, her cake truffles and her cupcakes (WHAT? It was an OPEN HOUSE. One is totally allowed to gorge oneself at an open house. Check the manual. It says so). The most interesting thing about the cakes at Crumb de la Crumb is that they are infused with flavors. Um, infused? Yeah.

 

Yum, right? And there are like 12 different infusions: raspberry, hazelnut, lemon, strawberry, dolce de leche, pina colada, key lime, cream of coconut, kona, pineapple, pomegranate and southern peach. It's like she marinates her cakes. It gives her cakes a punch of flavor and they are super-duper moist. It's definitely not your standard cake. And again, in all honesty (as is this deal here at T30SB), I have hadtwo people tell me that her cakes are almost too moist. And I think that was really just a texture thing for those freaks (yes, you know who you are) because as frosting as my witness, this is one of the very few open house situations where I was NOT simply licking off the icing and tossing the cake. I swear this fact on the Velvet Elvis in my fridge.

So, let's get down to the butter cream versus fondant facts, shall we? Here are some that I found most interesting:

  • A good chunk of bakers don't make their own fondant. Don't believe me? Look here. I was shocked by this! I honestly had no idea. I can't imagine that pre-made fondant would taste good. According to Lorie, it doesn't. After working with 8 different pre-made fondants and disliking every one, she decided to DIY the fondant for her cakes. Props, babe. Props.
  • There are different kinds of fondant: rolled, poured, marshmallow, white chocolate. Who knew?

So, this is how Lorie makes her wedding cakes.

On Wednesdays she bakes and infuses. On Thursdays she frosts the cake with a layer of butter cream and chills the cake. On Friday she puts on the fondant and decorates the cake. This might also bleed over into a Saturday morning depending on the complexity of the cake and the time of wedding. With this kind of schedule, a bride can be sure she's going to get the freshest cake. She doesn't freeze her cakes, which LOTS of bakers do. How many times have you gotten a slice of wedding cakes that's frozen in the center? It happens and it's gross.

So, how does Lorie feel about fondant? She's all about it. Why? Here are some of her biggest reasons:

  •  Fondant is the most aesthetically pleasing medium. She can create all sort of loveliness with fondant that simply cannot be done with butter cream.
  • She sees fondant as a touch of wedding cake insurance. How? It makes the cake more structurally sound. In her six years of business, she hasn't had one cake disaster (I knocked on wood when she said this...and she said it with such knowing confidence too!).
  • Fondant is a must-have for an outside and/or summer wedding. Butter cream has butter in it (or is supposed to - shortening based butter creams are NASTY -ask your baker which they use.) and will start to get soft and gooey in elevated temperature. You do NOT want your cake to melt.
  • Cost. That's right, cost. Here's the skinny: pound for pound fondant is more expensive than butter cream. But don't expect to get a cheap cake if you go with butter cream. Butter cream is a lot more labor intensive than fondant, particularly if you want a flawless fondant-like finish. And guess what folks? Bakers are business people and though you'd like to believe that your vendors are all about you on yourday, they are working folks and time is money. Smooth, flawless butter cream = same cost as fondant.

So I challenged Lorie in our conversation. How does she handle a bride who wants butter cream, come hell or high water? She said that in nearly every situation where she's had a Butter Cream Bride, she's been able to convert them to fondant, How? By letting them taste it. I thought about my own wedding cake tasting sessions and was scratching my head at this news. Who has fondant samples at tasting? Who has fondant samples at bridal shows? Not any that I ever saw/tasted.  So I asked her if it would be appropriate for a bride to request fondant samples for a tasting. Her answer? ABSOLUTELY.

So then we got down to some facts about the nastiness of fondant.

  • Fondant that has cracked or is really dry: this means that your cake has been sitting out for too long and the fondant has dried out. Meaning, your cake isn't as fresh as it could be and/or the fondant is of a lesser quality (re:cheap).
  • Ever seen a sweating wedding cake? If the cake was frozen or kept in the refrigerator too long, you will start to see condensation on the fondant. That's why Lorie lets her cakes dry from Friday to Saturday - to make sure that her fondant is set and that her cakes are as fresh and moist as possible.

Now Lorie did tell me that some cakes do need to be frozen, or at least really, really chilled - and those are the super-creative structural cakes. The more solid they are, the more accurately they can be sculpted into funky shapes and designs. So if you're planning for something other than you're standard tiered cake, keep that in mind.

 

So when we started talking about all the things that were gross about fondant: how the cheap stuff tastes gross, how it can be even worse after it's dried...I asked her if she would mind if a bride not only requested a fondant sample to taste but to have one take with her to taste in 24 hours. Again, she was all for it. Taste the fondant fresh and after 24 hours. I think any baker worth their salt (or sugar, for that matter) would be more than happy to stand behind their fondant. Remember, the worst someone can say to you is no. Ask for what you would like. If you think your request is reasonable and the vendor balks, it might be time to find a new vendor. You have a right to know what you're paying for.

And listen to your vendors warnings. Crumb de la Crumbgot it's start in the Carolina's. Lorie told me that she would absolutely NOT do butter cream cakes for a Bald Island, NC, wedding. Why? Because you have travel to a ferry location, take a ferry and then travel to the wedding location. Butter cream is less structurally sound than fondant - and she won't take the chance of a cake disaster. A customer challenged her on this one time - questioned her customer service and willingness to accommodate. Her response? She'd rather lose one customer based on her knowledge as a baker than lose several as a result of a cake disaster (word of mouth can be a bitch). The customer went with fondant and was happy in the end. I say listen to what your baker is telling you. If you don't believe them, get a second opinion, but be wary of the "yes-vendors."

So while there are countless articles on the butter cream versus fondant debate, it all comes down to what you want and what your vendor can produce. Don't just taste the cakes, ask the important questions about the ingredients and their processes: Do they freeze? Do they make their own fondant? Can you get a fondant sample? Is the butter cream shortening or butter based? An educated bride is a happy bride.

 

Thank you Lorie, for taking the time to talk to me about cakes, fondant and butter cream!

I really hope that this little bit of information can heko you decide the best route for you and your wedding. So who's gettin' your money in the Wedding Smackdown? Fondant or Butter cream? Why?

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Reader Comments (14)

No joke - that Elvis cake sounds off the hook. And I'm with you 100% - the only reason for cake is to have something to eat with icing.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDancy

I actually hate icing...love cake...hate the icing. Weird I know. We had buttercream icing. We tasted our baker's fondant and it was suprisingly tasty but I liked the buttercream more and since our cake design wasn't super complex it was okay to use. She did use fondant to make the ribbon border around each tier though.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

Fondant can taste good? Who knew?

And BTW, are those your photos?! They looking beauuuutimous!

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGEW

Has it been a freakin' YEAR already? WTF? Oh, and buttercream all the way. Anything you can peel off in a sheet and then write a note on should not be on a cake. But it does make the cake look mighty pretty.

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterliza

Interesting facts on fondant!

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAshley's Bride Guide

The icing thing must be genetic. I have always preferred the icing over the cake. :]

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMom

yay! Great post- very informative and Lorie is kind too. Brides will appreciate this in the planning process!

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

I'm a buttercream fan, the texture and mouthfeel and the way it looks like my mama made it.
Thus I chose a less complex cake and I chose to get married in the Fall so I could have it. Yes, it's that deep...

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Thank you for this post!! Found it to be very helpful. I am currently planning my wedding for next summer and think I'll definitely be going with buttercream. Cheaper and by the sounds of it tastier. BTW, these pictures are awesome! Thanks again for this posting, it gave me a lot of ideas for questions I can ask at the cake tasting appointment :D.

September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoxy

Any chance Ms.Burcham would post her fondant recipe (or infusion technique, for that matter)? I'm making my best friend's wedding cake (Montreal wedding), and could use all the help I can get :)

April 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn

I make my own fondant from marshmallows, confectioners sugar and water. It tastes awesome d and though it takes time to make and cure, I never see people peeling it off the cake. I've never done buttercream because I can never get it to the flat, perfect finish.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

Your recipe sounds yummy! And as for buttercream, sometimes it's the imperfections that make it SO GOOD!

February 25, 2014 | Registered CommenterLouise

Thank you Louise for this awesome information. I'm fairly new to cake decorating & found this info very helpful. I would like to make more fondant cakes for the stated reason it is easier to get that smooth look, however, everyone I have done cakes for always want the butter cream because they don't like the taste of fondant (me included). I did not know there were all different types of fondant. I've only worked with the store bought stuff (I'm assuming that's the rolled?) and YUK. I've seen recipes for the marshmallow fondant which all differ therefore I give up because I have no idea which one to use (& don't have the money to keep buying the ingredients to try them all). I've never heard of poured or white chocolate fondant - do you think, as Kathy (from the April 1st post) requested , that Lorie would share her fondant recipe(s) with us & which ones she would use for which occasions? Sincerely confused, Kim

February 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKim

Hmmm....I have been debating about using fondant, but it looks so fake and tastes even worse. I will have to explore the other options of the medium here that you have described. We are cake decorators and have never used fondant b/c of the taste and cardboard look. We have traveled many miles with buttercream cakes and they have always been fantastic. The base is done before we leave and the piping is done there. Thanks for giving me some food (or icing) for thought!

October 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterShari

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