In videos on Instagram and Twitter, an everyday item is presented — it might be an eggplant, a Croc, a roll of toilet paper, or a can of White Claw — and then sliced into, revealing the object to be … made of cake.
This kind of reality-bending, mind-jarring imagery sparked plenty of existential rumination and spawned the nihilistic meme “everything is cake.” But it also unleashed a torrent of hatred toward a scourge that has long lurked in society, in plain sight: fondant.
The sheets of rolled sugar are the key components of the kind of hyper-realistic cakes that made us gasp when their surfaces are pierced with a knife. Bland and blank, they form smooth surfaces on which pastry chefs painstakingly re-create textures with paintbrushes.
To its critics, though, fondant is not a canvas for art. It is “stale frosting.” “Fresh mounting putty.” “Icing’s evil twin.” The spackling-flavored spawn of the devil. In hundreds of posts this week, people raged against it.
Hatred for fondant isn’t new. A Reddit subforum started in 2015 called FondantHate has more than 150,000 members. But what if there was more to this current bubbling-up of fondant loathing than just the Internet’ s love of a food supervillain (see: pineapple pizza and the Aperol Spritz)? Is fondant a proxy for … something else?
Cookbook author Shauna Sever sees a deeper symbolism at play.
This week, Sever joined the anti-fondant chorus, posting a terse evaluation of the confection: “Fondant is rolled-out circus peanut,” she tweeted. That evocation of the spongy nostalgic candy was funny, and the tweet got dozens of likes. But in an interview, Sever had a more nuanced take. Fondant and all its artifice, she says, are seriously out of step with our times.
“After quarantine, we want brown food, we don’t want a hot-pink unicorn on top of our cake,” she says. “These days, I just want an un-iced slice of cake, and I want to eat it on a napkin. Because the world might end, and I don’t want to spend my last moments washing food coloring off my fingers.”
Perhaps fondant is exactly what we don’t need these days. It’s fussy. It is often found at tented weddings and big birthday bashes, and those are relics of the Before Times. Fondant might be the Real Housewife of the confectioner’s pantry: pallid and smooth; nothing but surface.
Tiffany MacIsaac, the owner of Washington’s Buttercream Bakeshop maintains that fondant is merely misunderstood. “I’ve never got all the fondant hate,” she says. “Because, the thing is, you peel it off!”
She allowed that “super-overdesigned” cakes might contain more fondant than is appetizing, but standard wedding cakes might only be covered with 1/8 of an inch of it. And below that, there’s delicious buttercream frosting or ganache on the outside of the cake.
Brides will often initially insist that they don’t want it on their wedding cakes. “There’s a stigma about it,” MacIsaac says. But inevitably, when she asks to see inspiration images of what they’d like, many of them will incorporate the substance.
Vallery Lomas, a winner of “The Great American Baking Show” and the author of an upcoming cookbook, similarly doesn’t get what it is about fondant that riles people up. “I mean, no one is complaining about muffin paper liners,” she says, even though they have to peel them off their baked goods, just like the reviled fondant.
That fondant exists to be discarded, though, is exactly its problem, Sever says. “It’s excess,” she says. “We are living in a brass-tacks time where we’ve spent months stripping down and getting rid of what we don’t need.”
Lomas isn’t about to disagree with those who liken fondant to Play-Doh. But she turns this construction around: What if that’s actually a good thing? Home cooks in quarantine might enjoy making and playing with it, she suggests. “There’s something special about working with it — it’s actually more fun working with it than eating it,” she says.
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One of my most favorite, festive, autumnal treats: muffins wrapped in orange fondant with a cinnamon stick on top (a pumpkin costume! 🎃) // It’s two days until Halloween and I’m still trying to figure out a costume (I’ve been super busy cookbook recipe testing!) Maybe I should wrap myself in orange fondant and be a pumpkin too..
And MacIsaac implores the fondant haters to consider a few things before piling on the bandwagon. Most of the pastry chefs and bakers who specialize in creating the dazzling cakes for weddings and birthdays are out of work right now. Demand for cakes that feed 200 people isn’t coming back anytime soon, she notes.
People who are sharing their fondant-draped creations on social media are mostly doing this for fun, she notes, out of their homes, to entertain the rest of us housebound social media scrollers.
When we do finally emerge from lockdowns and all those festivities resume, fondant will still be there to greet us, which actually might be the reassuring thought we do need right now. While other institutions might fall away, sugar-draped cakes will survive, says Charleston, S.C., corporate chef Kimberly Brock Brown. She’s certain that clients will still want what they’ve always wanted: Women will ask for cakes in the shapes of high-heeled shoes and purses. Grooms will want their wedding confections molded into Corvettes and fish.
“That’s just not going anywhere,” Brock Brown says.
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