Fondant, Gumpaste, Modelling Paste, Modelling Chocolate, Mexican Paste, Porcelain Paste, Pastillage, Marzipan, Ganache and Royal Icing – it can all get very confusing for those new to cake decorating!
So what is each used for and what is the difference between them all?
Before we start note that in some other countries (the UK for instance) fondant is known as sugarpaste and gumpaste is known as flower paste.
Fondant is a smooth and pliable sugar dough that can be rolled out and draped over a cake to create a flawless, polished finish. It usually contains gelatin in some form to give it its pliable and elastic qualities.
It comes in many colors and can also be painted on or tinted using edible gel colors/paste colors. It’s perfect for covering cakes in a smooth layer and can be used to create simple decorations like ribbons, bows, or polka dots. Because of its pliability it’s also create for using in moulds – just remember to dust the mold well with cornstarch first.
(You can also use fondant to make a type of edible glue or royal icing alternative to stick heavier decorations to a cake. Add a small piece of fondant to a cup and a drop of two of water at a time and mash the two together to make what’s known as “gunk”. This can also be used as a type of filler to fill cracks in fondant covered cakes.)
2. Gumpaste/Flower Paste
Gumpaste is very similar to fondant, but with added ingredients like tylose powder or gum tragacanth which give the paste more strength and elasticity to roll very thinly.
It dries much faster and harder than fondant, making it ideal for creating delicate decorations that need to hold their shape, such as intricate flowers and 3D figures. (You can attach these gumpaste decorations to fondant with a dab of royal icing.)
However, gumpaste should never be used to cover a cake because it becomes hard and brittle when dry. And fondant shouldn’t be used other than for very basic flower making because the petals and flower will droop and will not set hard.
(Note: you can turn fondant into gumpaste by adding a half teaspoon of tylose powder per pound of fondant for strength. It’s not of the same quality and doesn’t roll as thinly as the commerically manufactured gumpaste but will do in a pinch.)
3. Modelling paste
Modelling paste is a blend of fondant and gumpaste (usually in a 50/50 ratio) that combines the best qualities of both components. It’s pliable like fondant but has the strength of gumpaste when dried.
Modelling paste is perfect for creating detailed characters, animals and other complex decorations that need to support themselves without losing their shape. It also has the advantage of drying slower than gumpaste allowing more time for complex model making and changes to be made.
4. Modelling chocolate
Modelling chocolate is made from a mixture of melted chocolate or candy melts and corn syrup (or glucose).
It offers a unique texture and taste compared to the other cake decorating materials. It sets firm yet remains flexible enough to form various shapes without cracking or breaking – making it perfect for sculpting lifelike details such as bark texture on tree trunks or facial features on figurines.
Additionally, its inherent chocolate flavor adds an extra dimension to the overall taste of the decorated cake so it works as a covering paste too.
To summarize, while fondant is best for smooth cake coverings and simple decorations, gumpaste excels in intricate and delicate designs that need a solid structure like sugar flowers. Modelling paste provides a compromise between the two and is suited for detailed 3D figures. Modelling chocolate lends itself to realistic textures with added flavor for a more indulgent cake experience and can be used for both modelling sugar figures and covering cakes.
But we’re not finished yet! Here are some more pastes, icings and coverings that you will come across in cake decorating.
5. Mexican paste:
– Usage: Primarily used for making delicate and intricate decorations like flowers and lace.
– Difference: Dries quickly and hard; generally thicker than other pastes.
– Ingredients: Gum tragacanth or CMC (carboxymethyl cellulose), sugar, water, and sometimes food coloring.
6. Porcelain paste:
– Usage: Used to achieve a translucent porcelain-like finish on decorations such as flowers and bows.
– Difference: Extremely fine and smooth texture, allows for very thin applications.
– Ingredients: Sugar, water-soluble gums (e.g., gum tragacanth), egg whites or artificial binders, cornstarch, and food coloring.
– Usage: Used to create hard-drying structural elements for cake decoration like boxes, frames, or tier separators.
– Difference: Dries very hard allowing for strong support; not as flexible as other mediums.
– Ingredients: Powdered sugar, powdered gelatin or gum-based binders (e.g., tylose powder), water and occasionally lemon juice or vinegar.
All of the above type of pastes must be stored carefully in air-tight, plastic bags – the heavier the quality of plastic, the better. Do not use plastic wrap like saran wrap which is too light in quality.
8. Royal icing:
– Usage: Most commonly used for piped decorations such as borders, writing, flowers and intricate designs.
– Difference: Has a firm consistency that holds its shape when piped; dries to a matte finish.
– Ingredients: Powdered sugar, egg whites or meringue powder (pasteurized dried egg whites + sugar), water, and food coloring.
You can buy it in tubs pre-mixed or in powdered form which you then add water to, or you can make it from scratch.
– Usage: Often used for coating cakes or creating decorative objects like fruits and animals due to its smooth and pliable texture. In the UK, the traditional fruitcake (made from dried fruit) is typically covered first in a layer of marzipan followed by a layer of fondant for a luxurious cake for special celebrations and Christmas.
– Difference: Has a distinct almond flavor; flexible enough to be molded.
– Ingredients: Almond meal (ground almonds), sugar or honey, and a binder (e.g., egg whites or corn syrup).
– Usage: Used to fill, coat, frost, or pipe onto cakes; also used for making truffles.
– Difference: Has a shiny, smooth texture when set; made from chocolate and cream.
– Ingredients: Chocolate (typically semi-sweet or dark) and heavy cream.
Each of these mediums serves a specific purpose in cake decorating, and they have distinct characteristics to form various shapes and designs. You can choose the appropriate one for your project based on the desired effect, consistency, and taste as described above.