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Fond of Fondant

February 29, 1996|AMY HANDLER

The traditional topping for a Napoleon is not royal icing but a thin sheet of fondant. It is extremely difficult to make at home, but if you have a bakery near you that specializes in European pastries, you may be able to persuade someone there to sell you five pounds or so. What you don't use will keep almost indefinitely stored in a covered pail in your refrigerator.

If you insist on making fondant, boil sugar to 300 degrees with a trace amount of acid, such as cream of tartar. Pour it out on a marble slab. As it cools, work it, folding it over on itself and pulling it until it is shiny, white, opaque and 110 degrees.

The commercial product, though made by machines, is every bit as good. If your bakery charges you more than a dollar a pound, someone there is behaving unconscionably.

A good fondant results in a surface that is dry, opaque, smooth and glossy. Fondant is so overpoweringly sweet that you want the coat to be as thin as possible.

Water will ruin fondant. Because it is essentially sugar, fondant will absorb moisture until it turns to syrup. On a humid day, it will absorb the moisture right out of the air. Do not boil water or run the hot water tap more than you must while you are working with fondant or while there is a finished fondant product in the kitchen.

Fondant must be warmed to between 100 and 110 degrees before pouring. If it is not warmed enough, it will not harden; if it is warmed too much, it will lose its shine.

There are a variety of methods of warming fondant, but the one I like best is in a saucepan, directly on the range. I stick my hand right in the icing and turn it over vigorously, touching the inside bottom of the pan often. If the pan gets too hot for my hand, it will be too hot for the icing. When that happens, I move the pan off the heat and continue mixing.

When it is cool, the icing is almost solid, but as I warm it, it begins to flow. The more mixing it gets, the better the shine. When it is uniformly the right temperature (definitely warm to your fingertips but only slightly warm to your wrist), it is time to adjust the consistency.

If you lift your spread fingers through it, they should be well coated, but you should be able to see where the joints and knuckles are. The icing should run off smoothly. If it's too thin, add powdered sugar. If it's too thick, add a few drops of warm water. You will probably have to go back to the heat again after adjusting the consistency. Do not pour the fondant unless you are happy with both the temperature and the fluidity.

Classic Napoleons have a white background with chocolate fondant chevrons, but pastels are also perfectly acceptable for the background. I like to use a white background and alternate chocolate and coffee for the design. I also play with the pattern.

I keep my own coffee extract on hand. Get a small bottle of instant espresso and add warm water to it. When you start to add the water, the powder will immediately begin to dissolve. When the combined contents fill the jar 2/3 of the way, you will have added the right amount of water. Shake it well. It will not all dissolve right away. When it does, the mixture will be about as thick as heavy cream.

To make the coffee fondant, warm about one pound of fondant, but before you adjust the consistency, add a few drops of your coffee extract. Mix it to a color that you like and taste it. It should have a definite flavor. Now adjust the consistency.

Pour some of the coffee fondant into a paper cone made of baker's parchment or waxed paper and close it off. Put it in a warm place so the temperature will be maintained while you mix the next batch. Pour half of the remaining coffee fondant into a plastic container with a lid and set it aside.

While you are making the coffee fondant, melt two ounces of bittersweet chocolate in a double-boiler or microwave oven. Thin the coffee fondant that remains in the pot a little, then add some of the melted chocolate. Mix and taste. Add more if you like. You may want to add a little red food coloring or additional coffee extract to adjust the color, once you like the flavor. You want a rich chocolaty color as much as flavor. Finish by adjusting the consistency, but make the chocolate icing just a trifle thin.

Fill another paper cone, close it off, set it with the coffee cone, pour the remaining chocolate fondant into another plastic container and clean the pot.

To decorate a Napoleon using fondant, warm one to two pounds and pour it in a thick stripe down the middle of the pastry. Use a spatula to quickly spread the fondant to the edges of the pastry in a thin, even coat. It is better to have some fondant run off the edges than to not cover all of the top. You must be careful not to break the top layer of pastry with the spatula.

Cut the tip off the chocolate cone and test the icing to make sure you get a thin even stream when you apply pressure. Quickly run parallel lines about one inch apart over the entire iced surface, holding the cone one to two inches above the surface and letting the stream drop in a line as you move back and forth.

Repeat using the coffee cone, placing coffee lines between the chocolate ones. Use the dull side of paring knife blade to drag lines across the icing stripes at right angles to create the classic chevron pattern.

Fondant cleans up with surprising ease, but after decorating you will probably have a bit of a mess to clean up. Toss out what is left in the paper cones, but add the extra white icing to the coffee. Put a thin layer of cold water on top of the reserved fondants, cover them and put them in the refrigerator. The water will keep them liquid and prevent the forming of a crust, so next time you want to use them you can just pour off the water and warm them up.

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