A cake decorated with fondant is a thing of beauty, but it can be a challenge to work with. Sometimes it tears, and sometimes it sweats and gets sticky. Today, we will look at all the reasons your fondant is sticky and how to prevent it.
Fondant can become sticky for various reasons, but the main reason that fondant sweats is because of its high sugar content and how the sugar reacts with water. The more moisture there is in the air, the more likely you will have a problem with sticky fondant.
If you want to learn how to deal with sticky fondant and how to avoid it in the first place, then read on.
Why Is My Fondant Sticky?
Fondant is extremely sensitive to environmental factors such as heat, humidity, and moisture. This is because of the high sugar content in fondant.
As we all know, the enemy of sugar is water, or in the case of fondant, humidity in the air. So, naturally, you will encounter different humidity levels depending on where in the world you’re based.
In higher above sea level and the further, you are from the equator, the drier the air. This can make it easier to work with fondant, although if the air is too dry, you might encounter some issues with tearing and “elephant skin”.
On the other hand, the closer you are to the equator and sea level, the more moisture there is in the air.
When the fondant begins to melt, it becomes soft and sticky. Next, it will become shiny, almost as if it has a layer of oil on it.
With more exposure to humidity, it begins to sweat. Different colors may start to bleed into each other, and moisture may actually drip down the side of the cake.
On the subject of color, if you are coloring your fondant, avoid using a liquid food colorant and instead use gel or powder colors to avoid adding too much moisture to the dough.
Now that we have dealt with the main issue for this sticky issue, it is good to get a deeper understanding of fondant.
What Is Fondant?
Fondant is essentially a “dough” used to decorate cakes. The sugar, which is why we sometimes battle with stickiness, helps the fondant set and seal the cake underneath.
The other ingredients found in fondant include water, glucose, gum and usually, gelatine. If the ratio of wet to dry ingredients is correct, the dough will be pliable.
If the liquid content in the fondant is too high, the fondant will be too soft to work with. If, however, there is too much gum or dry ingredients in the dough, the fondant will be too dry, crumbly, or even rubbery.
A sticky layer of buttercream icing or ganache is applied to the cake, which helps the fondant to adhere to the cake. The fondant is usually rolled into a thin layer, around 1/8 inch thick, and is laid over the entire cake.
The cake itself is very important. Generally speaking, a standard white, vanilla, yellow or chocolate, or pound cake will hold up well and is perfect for use under fondant.
Light cakes such as chiffon or angel food will not hold the heavy weight of the fondant very well. Also, cakes such as carrot and similar, with heavy mix-ins, may have an uneven surface and show through the fondant.
How to Avoid Sticky Fondant
Don’t stress if your fondant looks like it is starting to sweat. Instead, start by working out where the humidity is coming from and whether there is something immediate you can do to change the environment – a different room, using a fan or air conditioner or wrapping it to reduce the damage.
Below are a few more suggestions to avoid sticky fondant issues:
Try Different Brands
Not all fondant brands and recipes are the same, so trying out different brands to find one that works for you is essential. Some brands are formulated for specific climates.
To make sure that you have a workable fondant, purchase a small package to try before attempting a big cake project. Experiment with it by kneading, rolling, moving and tasting it to see if it will work for you.
Because fondant is so sensitive to climate, if you’re not sure what to go with, you could always ask other cake decorators in your area for recommendations as to what they use. You could also ask your local cake decorating store if they could share any samples with you.
Another top tip: when using a new brand of fondant for the first time, roll out a small piece and leave it to sit out for about 30 minutes to see if it starts sweating.
Work in a Cool, Dry Environment
A cool, dry environment is essential for working with fondant. If the weather is rainy, then close the window and doors.
If the weather is hot, it is ideal to work in an air-conditioned environment.
Keep your hands cool by running them under cold water and then drying thoroughly before handling the fondant. Do this often while working, but don’t forget to dry them thoroughly each time.
Generally, it is cooler in the evening than during the day, so it is sometimes a good idea to do your fondant work at night.
Powdered Sugar and Corn Starch
Powdered sugar or corn starch will reduce stickiness, but this comes with a warning not to use too much. Adding too much of either of these could result in the opposite problem – fondant that is too dry and cracks or tears.
Corn starch appears to dry out fondant less than powdered sugar. As a general rule, to prevent sticky fondant issues, corn starch works better in high humidity climates, and powdered sugar is best for drier climates.
Corn starch, however, also adds a bitter taste if you use too much. Therefore, only use as much powdered sugar or corn starch as is necessary to make the fondant easy to handle.
Some cake decorators combine 70% powdered sugar with 30% corn starch, which will work well to reduce the stickiness of the fondant without adding bitterness.
CMC and Tylose Powder
This tip applies to fondant being used for cake decorations and not fondant that you will be rolling out as a cake covering.
Instead of using powdered sugar and corn starch for making cake decorations, you could add a tiny amount of CMC or Tylose powder to help firm up the fondant.
Usually, Tylose powder or CMC are used to harden the sugar paste to make flowers and other cake decorations as sugar paste on its own is quite soft and doesn’t hold its shape.
CMC stands for and can also be used to make edible glue, just by adding a little water. Carboxymethyl Cellulose is the main ingredient in Tylose Powder, and they both work in the same way.
How to Use and Store Fondant
If you live in an area with a dry climate, you shouldn’t have too many issues with the storage of your fondant. If, however, you are in a very wet or humid environment, here are some tips for you. These tips apply to cakes, figurines, flowers and other cake decorations.
How to Use and Store Fondant
Working and storing your fondant in a permanently climate-controlled room will help immensely to avoid issues with sticky fondant. Unfortunately, this may not be the most practical solution if you don’t want an air conditioner running 24 hours a day.
Another way to reduce the effect of humidity on your fondant is to work in front of a fan with a dehumidifier running. This option works well when there is a small amount of moisture in the air.
When you’re not working on your cake decoring project in a particularly humid climate, try storing it in a closed cardboard box. This should help to minimise contact with the humidity in the air.
Never store the fondant project in an airtight container. If the moisture doesn’t have anywhere to go, it will cause the fondant to start sweating.
Can You Store Your Fondant or Cake in the Fridge?
One would imagine that storing a cake in the fridge will help keep it fresh, but a refrigerated environment will not do your fondant cake any favours. The fondant basically seals the cake, allowing it to maintain its freshness.
The fridge is a very moist environment which will cause chaos with the sugar content in your fondant. If you need to store the cake in the refrigerator, you must make sure that it is properly wrapped and sealed in the fridge to protect it from any moisture in the fridge.
If you are putting a fondant covered cake in the fridge, store it in a covered box and then in a big plastic bag, for example, a bin bag, before placing the cake in the refrigerator.
When you remove the cake from the fridge, the sudden temperature change could cause the cake to start sweating. Therefore, when you take it out of the fridge, allow it to return to room temperature, preferably in an air-conditioned room, before unwrapping it.
Troubleshooting Sticky Fondant Issues
Before the Fondant Is Applied to the Cake
The quickest way to deal with sticky fondant is to knead icing sugar or CMC or tylose into the fondant to get it to a good working consistency. This obviously won’t work if the fondant is already on the cake.
Perhaps you are using the wrong brand of fondant or – try using a different brand in the future.
You could have overworked the fondant – perhaps due to warm hands. You can wrap the fondant allow it to ‘rest’. Try again in about 30 minutes.
If fondant has already been applied to the cake, below are a few solutions for you, depending on what stage of sweating or melting your fondant is at:
Stage 1: Soft and Sticky
Consider moving your project into a cool room. Whatever you do, avoid touching the fondant – you could land up leaving fingerprints on your creation.
Placing your project in front of an air conditioner or fan will help dry it out.
Stage 2: Soft and Shiny
The same tips as the stage above apply. In addition, for a light coloured project, you can dust a thin layer of corn starch or powdered sugar over the problem area. This will help to soak up some of the moisture.
Stage 3: The Fondant Is Wet to Touch
Aside from the tips above, you could try placing the fondant project in a closed box and then wrap the box in a large bag and put it in a fridge.
Stage 4: The Fondant Is Dripping Water or Melting
If your fondant is dripping water or melting, it is very like it is not suitable for your environment.
Blot away the excess moisture with a paper towel to prevent further damage.
On a light coloured project, dust a little corn starch or powdered sugar over the wet areas to soak up any further moisture.
Place the fondant project in front of a fan or air conditioner to dry it, and then place it in a closed box. Wrap the box in a large bag and put it in a fridge.
Sometimes You Need to Start Over
For serious melting fondant damage, you might need to redo the icing or find a way to hide it under another design element. We don’t’ suggest you reuse damaged fondant as it may have bits of icing and cake stuck to it, which will make it even messier.
We hope that this guide will help you avoid any sticky fondant messes. Always use a good brand of fondant suited to your climate, and avoid moisture. If you follow these golden rules, you should avoid most of the common fondant issues. Good luck!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.