I like cake. I suppose I should, since I bake it. All. The. Time. I like pie and brownies even better... but I digress. I kind of like icing, but I could live without it. I could eat cake all day with no icing, just plain; warm out the oven....mmm... I'm going to my happy place in my mind :) Funny enough though, most of you out there want cake and icing together. That's fine I get it. Makes my job easier. It would be harder to decorate a cake without icing. Yup. Infinitely harder. What's hard for you is that you've got choices to make - buttercream or fondant to make your cake dreams reality, but it seems that not everyone knows exactly what each of those are and what they can do, no matter how many reality cake shows are out there. Welcome to Icing 101!
What is buttercream? Buttercream is a whipped icing that is made with hot sugar syrup, egg whites or whole eggs, and butter. That's it. This is not to be confused with that "buttercreme" stuff they sell in those refrigerated cases, that are made of shortening and confectioners' sugar. If you've never had the real stuff you have been missing out!
It's got a silky texture and can be flavored with everything from vanilla to lemon, and can be used both as a filling, especially when blended with fruits or liqueurs, and as decoration. It can be piped into flowers, textures, and designs. It tends to be the most popular icing choice for wedding and special occasion cakes.
What is fondant? Fondant is a pliable sugar dough. It is made of confectioners' sugar and a sugar syrup. It too can be flavored. It is used only for decoration and not filling. Fondant can be sculpted into flowers, bows, or ribbons, and forms to what shape cake you place it around. Fondant is gaining in popularity because it gives a very clean or realistic finish depending on the cake.
Buttercream vs. Fondant - Buttercream is very sensitive to temperature. It doesn't like warm environments, so buttercream is not a good idea for an outdoor summer wedding reception. - Fondant holds up better to changes in temperature and because it goes on top of a layer of buttercream, helps to keep your cake moist. - People love the way buttercream tastes. It's super yummy. Because fondant is a dough, it's chewy, and folks aren't used to chewing their icing, so a lot of people don't like it. - People love the way fondant looks. When executed well, it is immaculate, with a porcelain finish. You get very true colors with fondant, and it works exceptionally well for 3D and sculpted cakes.
You can get the best of both worlds with a combination of both buttercream and fondant.
No matter what you choose, be sure your cake lady (or man), is skilled at executing in that medium. Buttercream can be made ultra smooth, or fondant could be lumpy and bumpy depending on how experienced your baker is!
Here are some of my most favorite buttercream and fondant decorated cakes!