Friday, October 7, 2011

The Great Fondant Comparison

It's the biggest question I get about fondant whether I'm teaching class, or just talking cake with people: Why does fondant taste so bad? Well, I don't really have the answer to that. But I know that there are better and worse kinds of fondant. So, I set out to find out which fondant tastes best. Which fondant is easiest to work with. And which fondant is just the best there is.
(If you want to skip through the details, and just see the winner(s), click here.)

I hosted The Great Fondant Comparison. A highly un-scientific fondant taste test in my home with 7 friends (and  myself) doing the tasting.

I started out with five 'contenders.' I bought three national brands (Pettinice, Satin Ice and Wilton), and made two myself (one from scratch, one with marshmallows). I covered a 6" round cake with each kind of fondant, and made small cut-outs for my taste-testers to try it off of the cake as well.

I then had my testers grade each fondant on appearance, taste, texture and give an overall score. I graded each on its ease of preparation, ease of kneading/rolling, ease/success on the cake, and its cost/availability. Each category got a score from 1-5. 1 meant bad and 5 meant great.

Let's get started!

Ease of Preparation:  
Winner: Wilton

Homemade fondant from scratch:
  The homemade fondant from scratch just takes time, energy and a variety of ingredients that I don't have at home most of the time.
Homemade marshmallow fondant:
  It's a lot easier to make than the scratch fondant, in that all you need is marshmallows, sugar and some flavoring. But there's still a margin of error here, and it's not as easy as opening a box!
  Yes, you just unwrap it, but this lost a point because I have to go far to get it. It's not carried at a craft or grocery store, You have to buy it online or from a specialty store. Mine is more than 40 minutes away!
Satin Ice:
  Same as above. Not readily available. 
  Readily available at just about any craft store.

Cost/ Availability:
Winner: Homemade marshmallow fondant 
Homemade fondant from scratch: 4.5
  It's less than $7 for 1.75 pounds. However, you do need glycerine, which you need to buy from a specialty or craft store.
Homemade marshmallow fondant:  5
  It's less than $7 for 1.25 pounds. Nothing too weird needed for this one.
Pettinice: 2
  $9.99 for 1.5 pounds, and not available nearby.
Satin Ice: 3
  $13.50 for 2 pounds, and not available nearby.
Wilton: 4
  $9.99 for 1.5 pounds. Wilton fondant is usually available at craft stores, which around here offer weekly coupons for 40-50% off an item, so you could actually buy this even cheaper than you could make your own.

Ease of Kneading/ Rolling: 
Winner: Satin Ice
Homemade fondant from scratch: 1
  I had a hard time kneading the homemade fondant after letting it rest overnight. I believe I did add a little too much powdered sugar this time when I made it, but it wasn't easy to get back to a good consistency.
Homemade marshmallow fondant: 3
  I had a few issues with rolling the marshmallow fondant. It stared off really hard to knead, but then got a little too soft to roll.
Pettinice: 2
  The Pettinice was WAY too sticky. It was hard to handle and stuck to my rolling mat something awful.
Satin Ice: 4
  The Satin Ice was the easiest to roll and knead. It came out of the tub soft enough to work with. It was great.
Wilton: 2
  The Wilton is always hard to knead at first when you get it out of the box. I hear students complain about this all of the time. However, it does roll well, once you finally get it to a smooth consistency.

Ease/ Success on Cake: 
Winner: Tie between Homemade scratch and Satin Ice
(It's too bad I'm not smart enough to have taken photos of each cake after having covered them.) 
Homemade fondant from scratch: 4
  This one looked very nice on the cake.
Homemade marshmallow fondant:  3
  The marshmallow fondant got a little sticky when it got too soft to roll, so it didn't look quite as nice on the cake.
Pettinice: 2
  The Pettinice was so sticky that a lost part of it when it stuck to the mat, so there was a crack on one side of the cake when I finished it..
Satin Ice: 4
  This one looked really great on the cake, and didn't give me too many problems at all.
Wilton: 3
  I have the most experience working with Wilton's fondant, since it's what I use for my classes, but I wasn't as pleased with how it went on the cake as I was with some of the others.

The Fondant Taste Test:
Now you get to hear what the others thought. Below you see small images of our score sheets. Click on them to see them full size, and see the comments and individual scores. I'll give you an average score for each category below.

I started with the cakes in the center of the table, labeled by number. The testers gave each cake an appearance score. I then cut the cakes, and the testers tried them in a random order, so that not everyone would have #1 first. They gave each the other scores along the way, then chose their favorites and least favorites.

Winner: Satin Ice
 (For your reference, #1-homemade scratch is at the bottom in the photo, and #5-Wilton is at the top. You can click on the photo to see the larger image.)
Homemade fondant from scratch: 4 
Homemade marshmallow fondant:  3
Pettinice: 3
The little "fix" I had to do probably dropped the score on this one.
Satin Ice: 5 
Wilton: 4

Winner: Homemade scratch fondant

Homemade fondant from scratch: 4
 Comments include: "Not too sweet." and "Good balance of sugar & taste."
Homemade marshmallow fondant:  3.5
  Comments include: "Really delicious on the cake!" and "Chalky aftertaste."
  Comments include: "Bad aftertaste - metallic." and "Tastes like melted conversation hearts."
Satin Ice: 3.5
  Comments include: "Not sweet enough." and "No taste." and "Tastes almondy." 
Wilton: 3
  Comments include: "Bland." and "Doesn't taste like much." and "Overall good flavor."

Winner: Homemade scratch fondant
 Homemade fondant from scratch: 4.5
 Comments include: "Very creamy texture." and "Texture was tough to eat."
Homemade marshmallow fondant:  3
  Comments include: "Not too chewy." and "Great texture."
Pettinice: 3.5
  Comments include: "Melts in your mouth." and "Grainy texture." 
Satin Ice: 3
  Comments include: "Chewy texture." and "Smooth throughout." 
Wilton: 2.5
  Comments include: "Very chewy." and "Reminds me of gum." 

Winner: Tie between homemade scratch fondant and Satin Ice
(This is the overall score average from the testers.) 
Homemade fondant from scratch: 4 
Homemade marshmallow fondant:  3.5 
Pettinice: 3
Satin Ice: 4 
Wilton: 3

After tasting them all, each taste tester chose her favorite and least favorite fondant.  
Favorite Fondant:
Winner: Satin Ice
Homemade fondant from scratch: 1 vote
Homemade marshmallow fondant:  2 votes
Pettinice: 1 vote
Satin Ice: 4 votes
Wilton: 0 votes

Least Favorite Fondant Votes:
Loser: Pettinice
Homemade fondant from scratch: 0 votes
Homemade marshmallow fondant: 3 votes
Pettinice: 5 votes
Satin Ice: 1 vote
Wilton: 3 votes

To arrive at the final scores, I simply averaged the scores of all of the categories. Now, perhaps I should give more weight to taste than ease of kneading, but when you're making the cake yourself, I care about all of these categories. So... drumroll, please... 
(To see the sheet in full-size, click on the photo.)
Homemade fondant from scratch: 3.375
Homemade marshmallow fondant: 3.375
Pettinice: 2.8125
Satin Ice: 3.8125
Wilton: 3.3125

To me, this taste test really was great. It showed me that the pre-packaged stuff can actually be good... if you buy Satin Ice. It also reinforced my belief that taste is truly subjective. With the exception of two, each fondant was someone's favorite and someone's least favorite.

Just a few more thoughts and analyses:

I'm still struggling to say Satin Ice is the best when the homemade scratch fondant won all of the taste categories. But, overall, Satin Ice won more total categories (or tied) than homemade did.

Categories Won: 
Homemade fondant from scratch: 4 wins
Homemade marshmallow fondant: 1 win
Pettinice: 0 wins (except least favorite, but I call that a loss)
Satin Ice: 6 wins
Wilton: 1 win

Then, while writing this post, I wondered... even if a cake was covered with the taste-testers favorite fondant, would they actually eat it? Does all of this work to find the "best" fondant really matter if no one is going to eat it anyway?!
Would You Peel Your Favorite Fondant Off of the Cake or Eat It?
Peel it off: 1 vote
Eat some of it, peel the rest: 6 votes
Eat it all: 1 vote

What Does It All Mean?
Well, given the peel or eat answers... I think it means go with the kind that's cheapest and easiest for you to work with, and forget about the taste. No one's eating it anyway!!

But it was telling to me that no one chose the scratch fondant as their least favorite, and no one had much bad to say about it. But it also was only one person's favorite. (To be fair, I normally would use cream or half-and-half to make it, which makes it a little ivory in color instead of white. I used water to keep it whiter. Perhaps the results would have been different if I'd have used cream.) It also lost points for it's difficulty to make, but I suppose if buying some from a nearby store isn't an option for you, then you may rate that differently.

I also noticed that no one chose Wilton as their favorite. I think based on the responses, it was all about the texture. It didn't taste bad, it just was entirely too chewy. (So, if taste/texture isn't an issue, and you can buy Wilton with a coupon, maybe it's the way to go?!)

Let me know what you think. I'd love to hear if this post was helpful to you! Leave me a comment about your experience with any of these kinds of fondant.

In the interest of full disclosure: NO ONE paid me anything or provided me with anything for this test. I am a Wilton cake decorating instructor, but they didn't give me anything either.

Click the Links Below to See:
Fondant 101: What it is and How to use it 
Fondant Recipes and Decorating Ideas

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  1. That took a lot of work and generated fascinating results. Thank you.

    Googling, I see that some are using marshmallow creme and powdered sugar to make fondant, too. There's a part of me that wants to say that that would not be "scratch", but it's something to think about.

    I wonder if a really soft fondant could be draped over a classically shaped Bundt cake? Questions, questions, I always have more of them.

    Thanks again for a fascinating post.

  2. HTom, You could absolutely do the bundt cake with fondant... it would take more- because of the extra heights, I would think, but I bet you could do it!!

  3. This was really fun- having never actually tasted fondant (apparently weddings I go to peel it all off) I was excited to try them all at once. I'll put this link in my post that I mentioned the tasting :)

  4. Very nice article. I certainly love this site. Stick
    with it!
    my website: sem Services

  5. After taking a basic fondant class last week and making a lovely little decorated cake, I watched while my family oohed and aahed over the prettiness, and then peeled off the fondant to get to the buttercream crumb coat! I wondered if homemade, or a different brand of fondant would yield a different result. I stumbled across this post and I think I have my answer... I'm only a home baker and so taste is way more important than looks. I'll stick with buttercream. Thanks for doing this taste test!

  6. this is awesome! I haven't ever tried the Wilton fondant because I've heard it tastes awful so I usually just make MMF. I've been having difficulty with the MMF sticking and not rolling out well and I think most people peel the fondant off, so it probably doesn't even matter.

  7. Thank you for your insightful and well-done article.
    I found it very helpful.

  8. Thank you for all the effort you have done to give good information on fondant. I am new to baking and decorating with fondant. I have made MMF and from scratch. I have only used a little of the pre-made. You saved me so much time with your testing. Thank you. I

  9. Can i ask what recipe you used for the home made fondant?

    1. I don't now why that is not linked above.
      Thanks for asking.


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