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Fondant vs Buttercream

No you’re not reading an article from Cooks Illustrated.  Fondant vs Buttercream is a weird topic for a clown to write about but not really.  When it comes to cakes I’m really not THAT conflicted. 

You see I come from a family where birthday parties were celebrated either with family or a few close friends.  There were a few traditional party games, some presents, and of course cake.  

I am not a true lover of chocolate and my mom found out early on as a toddler I would spit chocolate cake out as quickly as you could say “See food”.  So for me she quickly moved on to vanilla, confetti, cherry chip or my cake of choice spice cake.  All were made lovingly from scratch out of a Duncan Hines mix.  Each was frosted with her signature buttercream frosting and topped with our family’s “Birthday Monkey Train” that held candles.  All four of the kids in our family couldn’t wait for our birthday cakes with the monkey train and moms frosting and OH the icing roses! 

The icing roses in reality were nothing more than giant pink blobs of extra icing.  My mom never owned a piping bag, or took a cake decorating class.  She did her best however, with her cake decorating thingy with all the tips.  Somehow when she mixed the food colouring with the icing it never turned out to be the right colour.  Red’s turned pink, blues were pastels, yellow were yellow, and green became this bright lime colour.  At Christmas all our shortbread cookies were frosted pink and lime green with red and green sprinkles which we got to help sprinkle.  Needless to say, despite the colour of our cookies or our cakes they were delicious and we always fought over who got the “roses”.  My dad always pronounced in a sticky mouth filled question of confirmation “Good cake eh?”  If I had friends over I showed them the cake and the monkey train and bragged about the type of cake we were having because it was my choice.

When I was around 15 or 16 and my youngest sister was turning 10.  Our mother went back to work, dad started a side business and things seemed to be looking better for our family.  As a result birthdays started to change.  Especially the cakes.  We started getting these fancy store bought cakes.  The best that A&P had to offer. Two and three tiered beauties.  Oh and the roses, they looked like real roses.  Between each cake layer was lemon filling.  We never had layer cakes and our untrained pallets had never tasted the likes of these before.  There are four of us kids in the family.  So by the time my youngest sister got her cake in August we had already had three of these gorgeous looking cakes. 

Her birthday was on a hot day and the 10 & 15 year old sisters had nothing to do but hang out and talk.  “It’s your birthday today.”  I said.  “Wonder what kind of cake you’re gonna get?”  Even then my sister at her young age was never one to mince words replied.  “I hope it’s not one of those lemon cakes!” she said.  “I hate those lemon cakes.”  “I do to!!”  “I know I can’t stand that lemon goop” “And the icing!! Blah you can’t even eat the roses they’re gross!”  Unfortunately it was in evitable.  She was getting a store bought lemon cake and we were both dreading it.

After dinner my mom proudly brought out the cake.  My sister, sitting across from me was wincing.  We sang, she blew out the candles, mom cut and served the cake.  My sister and I pushed the cake around on our plates until she blurted out “When are we gonna’ have a good cake?”  My mom and dad were a little shocked.  This is a good cake my dad said.  “NO!!!!  You know the kind mom makes, with icing and the roses.  Yea we like those cakes.  I like the roses.”  My mom started to laugh.  “THOSE CAKES? 

Those were the ugliest cakes! I always felt bad that I couldn’t get you a nice cake for your birthday.”  She was laughing “Oh those roses!” 

But they were the nicest cakes.  We stood by her side, we cracked the eggs, we licked the bowl and the spatulas of icing, helped choose the type of cake, gathered around in anticipation as she got the “Monkey train down” and fought over every one of the four roses on each 9x11 birthday cake carefully displayed on an inverted cookie tray.   

It wasn’t all about the taste.  Although to this day when I have a slice of cake nothing compares to my mom’s er’ Duncan Hines cake with my mom’s frosting. 

I see so many cakes at so many parties now.  They are gorgeous!  In all shapes and sizes with perfect colouring, and covered in fondant so smooth that they don’t even look like real food.  Some actually aren’t edible they’re just displays and then they bring out cut cake from the kitchen –fake cakes I call them. 

I watch the kids eat the cake, but they never do.  They chew and chew on the icing and spit it out.  Fondant.  They never ask for a second slice – we always asked for seconds AND hastily finished it.  Little babies who are supposed to smash and smush their first cake can’t even make a dent in the icing.  Our cakes always had a finger mark of pre-tasting.  Fondant.   Babies who have a buttercream cake seem to like their first cake a lot! REALLY A LOT!  Most children at a party never even show their friends their cake.  Most I say because the exception to the rule are those kids who chose their own cake or stood by their mom’s side and cracked the egg, licked the bowl, sprinkled the top with sprinkles they carefully picked out. 

So when a parent asks me how they can do something a little more special for their kid I say “buttercream”.  Have a small party with friends or family and bake a cake with your child.  Or if their looking for that one thing that will make their child’s party the most memorable party ever I say ‘buttercream”.  Want your child to grow up with taste sensation they will never forget I say “get in the kitchen, bake a cake with them and don’t forget the “buttercream” frosting – and lick the bowl with them.  It’s not necessarily what the cake looks like it’s all about the taste and the love that was put into the making of it.  The sweet creamy buttercreamy love!   And your child was a part of it and will remember it forever.

My nephews third birthday just passed.  His mom –my youngest sister- lamented about her 9x11 cherry chip Duncan Hines cake with the buttercream frosting and the Monkey Train Candle holder.  “It’s an ugly cake, I tried to fix it up with sprinkles”.  Her son didn’t care he ate two pieces.  SO DID I! 

PS To this day I still frost my Christmas shortbread cookies with pink and lime green buttercream frosting.  Delicious thanks to my mom!


Copyright 2014 Carol Crooks aka CLaroL the CLown www.claroltheclown.com