Using fondant is one of the best ways to achieve a perfectly smooth finish on cakes, cupcakes and cookies. The taste and texture of fondant is not for everyone, though. There are many instances in which you may want a commercial fondant substitute that gives a similar finish and shine. Substitutes can include more basic homemade fondant, as well as a variety of icings, glazes and other draped coverings.
A common complaint pertaining to fondant is the to-sweet, chalky flavor of many commercially prepared recipes. Counter this with homemade fondant, easily made with marshmallows. Homemade fondant is simple to work with, especially if you allow the completed mixture to rest overnight to set before rolling. It also has a more pleasing vanilla flavor that is easy to tailor. Keep the fondant white for wedding or other special occasion cakes, or knead color in to match the decor of your event. Marshmallow fondant is slightly softer than commercial fondant, so might not form decorations as well. Still, the overall look is similar.
Marzipan is used to mold small figurines for decoration and to cover cakes, both under other frostings or as the final outer layer of the pastry. It is made of a ground almond and sugar paste, and can be used in place of fondant when you are forming larger decorative pieces. Marzipan is traditionally used to make animals and small fruits, but can also be shaped into flowers and abstract forms. To cover a cake, liberally sprinkle your work service with powdered sugar, roll out the marzipan and drape it over the cake as you would with fondant.
Similar in flavor to a Tootsie Roll, rolled buttercream can be used as an alternative to fondant to cover cakes. Rolled buttercream is made with equal parts shortening and corn syrup, then is strengthened with additional powdered sugar. Flavoring and color can be added relatively easily. You must roll the buttercream on plastic wrap, lift the wrap and invert to cover the cake, then peel back the plastic wrap. Unlike fondant's matte finish, rolled buttercream leaves a shiny finish. The mixture is also softer than standard fondant, so doesn't hold up as well when making decorations. If a stiffer texture is important, enrich the covering with gum paste.
On small pastry pieces or cookies, substitute royal icing for fondant. Traditionally, royal icing is a mixture of powdered sugar, egg whites, and lemon juice, though some recipes call for meringue power instead for food safety reasons. Royal icing dries smooth, like fondant, but has a harder finish, a thinner texture and is poured, rather than rolled on. It colors beautifully, and is often preferred when deep or vibrant colors are desired.