I love my children, I truly do. My girls are sweet, affectionate, well-behaved (most of the time) and so hilarious. But I will admit, between our wild transplant to Denver, our questionable living situation, and Ramona’s inability to sleep for more than three hour stretches, there were times when I felt a wee bit crazy as a stay-at-home mom.
Any person who stays at home with their kids full time (if they are honest) knows the job isn’t always snuggles and Pinterest-inspired craft projects. For as many great moments of laughter and joy I had, there were also many times where returning to work with grownups sounded pretty appealing. Like when Ramona went through a phase when she screamed anytime I wasn’t holding her…or when Penny decided to flush a whole roll of toilet paper down the toilet…or when I had just been thrown up on…again.
It’s true, at times, the luxury of staying home full-time did not always feel like a gift.
I had been used to being extremely busy before we had moved. In Portland I had worked part-time, had been an almost full-time student, and co-managed a transitional housing program. We had been active in our church, had a full social calendar, and made time to hang out with our parents and other family members on a regular basis.
When we moved to Denver, all that was gone. Life came to a screeching halt and suddenly it was just me and the kids in a basement, trying to get into the swing of a much slower pace of life.
With all my previous responsibilities, relationships, and job titles gone, I was forced to rediscover who I truly was. I had been used to forming my identity through my job and perhaps even my crazy level of activity. Busyness can make us feel very important, even if we often complain about the stress. If I wasn’t busy, was my life meaningful? Did I have a purpose without a “real” job? I felt as if someone had stripped me down to my bare bones and forced me to stare in a mirror. At first, I could barely recognize my own reflection, but gradually God began to reveal who I was apart from my previous career and responsibilities.
I began to realize I had a tremendous opportunity to rediscover how to live with purpose without any expectations from anyone but myself. I started to do homeschool with Penny, I volunteered at a home for kids with cancer, and I even got a little part-time job at a women’s shelter. But even with all my new activities , I still felt myself tipping toward depression.
And then there was Micah’s birthday.
He was turning 30. Needing some fun in our lives, Penny and I agreed Daddy would like a Spiderman party because he is a huge Marvel geek. I thought making a cake would be a good distraction for me so I delved into google images, flicker and Pinterest to find a good model. But cakes like this scared me:
I felt like frosting-piped images had too much opportunity for failure- one slip of the wrist and Spiderman could look like his head was exploding or he was melting in hot lava. I began to realize all my favorite cakes were made with fondant. But fondant was so intimidating. How was it made? Wasn’t it expensive? Didn’t fondant kind of taste weird? Didn’t you need a pastry degree and/or magical powers to make a cake look that seamless?
Then I stumbled upon this blog: Amanda’s Cookin’. She was a novice baker with no experience with fondant, yet she made her own fondant out of marshmallows and described her trials and eventual success in making this cake:
I was inspired and so began my fondant adventure. I watched countless youtube tutorials, made sketches of my cake design and I carefully set out to buy all my ingredients for my little experiment. I was so excited about making the cake, I would actually toss and turn at night thinking about how I was going to accomplish it. I thought I would try going to a local cake decorating shop so I could grab a couple of supplies and perhaps some advice. I was so excited to visit the cake shop: I thought, these are my people- cake people. Surely they will be helpful and excited to assist me in my project!
So off the girls and I set to Littleton to visit my cake Mecca. After grabbing a fondant smoother, gumpaste and a piping bag, I mentioned to the saleslady that I was going to be attempting to make my own fondant. She frowned and said, in no uncertain terms, it was impossible to make fondant at home. I felt myself go clammy- what about all the tutorials I had watched? But she continued to insist that I would surely break my stand mixer and wouldn’t I rather buy this box of $26 fondant instead….
I guess everyone needs to make a buck, but the experience left me jaded against the snobby cake shop and scared witless to attempt making fondant at home.
However, I was determined and I didn’t have $26 to spend on fancy boxed fondant. Homemade fondant just has four ingredients: marshmallows, water, vanilla, and powdered sugar. After the girls went to bed, I stood in my kitchen with great trepidation with these four little ingredients, just certain I was about to embark on a crazy disaster. I must have beat the fondant in my mixer for over an hour, adding a tiny bit of powdered sugar at a time, waiting to see if my Kitchenaid was going to explode or burn out. I laugh now, because you really can whip up a batch of fondant in about 15 minutes, but that cake lady had really shaken my confidence.
Luckily, the results were magical. The fondant was like edible playdough- smooth and versatile and it tasted like melted marshmallows. So there, snobby cake lady- yes I could make fondant at home! After letting it set overnight, I started to play around and made my first little edible creations:
My Neighbor Totoro Cupcakes: My first fondant creation
Mario cupcakes soon followed
And then came the main event: covering the cake with fondant. First I stacked and filled my cake layers:
Then I did a crumb-coat of frosting on the outside of the layers:
And finally, I covered the cake in fondant. I think I had to try this twice to do it without tearing, but fondant is very forgiving and it wasn’t even as difficult as I thought it might be:
Now the hard part was done and I could start playing around. I ended up with this as my finished cake:
I was so proud of my project and the whole process had given me a huge creative release. I felt I had found a hobby that could be cathartic for me. Decorating cakes was so different than parenting or working- it became way I could truly be creative and have an activity that was just for me. I began to plot my next cake creations, so thrilled with my new hobby that I continued to lose sleep from time to time as I anticipated my next cake project. This really became the turning point in my transplant to Denver and the darkness that had settled over me since our move started to lift as I threw myself into my new expression of creativity.
Who would have thought a little sugar and marshmallows could have such a positive effect on my life? And then I started thinking about how my little cake decorating hobby might be able to have an impact on my community around me. But that’s another story….
For now, I will leave you with my recipe for fondant. I’ve made this countless times and it’s been great for all my cake projects. It tastes so much better than boxed fondant and is WAY cheaper. And no, it will NOT break your stand mixer- it’s no harder on a mixer than making bread dough. However, you really do need a Kitchenaid or similar stand mixer in order to make it.
Homemade Marshmallow Fondant*
16oz mini marshmallows (I always use Kraft)
2lbs powdered sugar, sifted (Kroger brand works fine or C&H)
1 TB pure vanilla extract
Vegetable shortening for greasing
- Use the shortening to grease a large microwavable bowl for the marshmallows, the mixer bowl, your dough hook, and a sturdy spatula.
- Sift the powdered sugar. Reserve one cup to the side.
- Put the marshmallows into the microwaveable bowl and add the water and vanilla. Microwave in 30 second intervals until milted, stirring with rubber spatula in between intervals. Pour the melted marshmallows into the greased mixer bowl.
- Add the powdered sugar to the melted marshmallows. Lock the mixer and cover the opening with plastic wrap to keep the powdered sugar from coming out. Turn mixer on low and mix for several minutes until the sugar seems to have incorporated for the most part. If still sticky, begin adding reserved powdered sugar. (I almost always use all of the powdered sugar and it’s very dry here in Denver). Should feel like clay or playdough and shouldn’t stick to your fingers if they are just slightly greasy.
- Scrape fondant onto a greased counter top and knead a few times by hand with slightly greased hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest for a minimum of 4 hours, overnight is best.
- To add coloring, do not use liquid food coloring. Use paste or gel colorings to a handful of fondant, then mix that piece into a larger batch. You can also color the fondant by adding the color to the melted marshmallows before adding the powdered sugar.
- Cover work surface with cornstarch/powdered sugar blend. Roll out fondant to ¼” thickness.
Yields 3lbs of fondant- enough to cover a 9 inch cake with extra left over.
Notes: If the fondant is very firm, you can warm it up slightly in the microwave before rolling it out to make it more pliable.
If you buy the marshmallows in a 1lb package and the powdered sugar in 2 lb package, you can whip this up quickly because you don’t even have to measure hardly any of our ingredients. Besides, I have found using the freshest marshmallows yields the best results. If you use 1/2 a package of dried out marshmallows, it becomes a guessing game of how much powdered sugar you will need to get the right consistency.
*Adapted from Amanda’s Cookin‘ fondant recipe
Have fun, and don’t let the snobby cake ladies in life crush your dreams!