There's nothing funnier than receiving an email full of Pinterest links to elaborate, detailed, multi-tiered wedding cakes with notes that the bride wants "the fluffiest, lightest buttercream frosting possible."
Those instructions usually accompany graphically-inspired, very artistic cakes that are clearly made with fondant, not buttercream. Trying to explain the difference to somebody who has never eaten fondant is a challenge.
I tell my brides and grooms that fondant is the consistency of rolled-out marshmallows—very chewy and not always easy to cut with a fork. It's sickeningly sweet and most people don't actually eat it, they just eat the cake out from under it. Some people like it, but they're few and far between. Brides and grooms don't choose a cake with fondant frosting because they want to eat the frosting—they choose fondant because it's the only way to get the texture and form you need for many sculpted cakes.
Fondant is basically just sugar and water cooked to a soft-ball stage, and then beaten smooth. Sometimes flavoring is added to it to make it more palatable, but as a general rule, it's not as tasty as buttercream, or any other frosting. It's not uncommon to hear a wedding guest encountering fondant for the first time ask, "Am I supposed to eat this?"
Buttercream is a softer, more spreadable frosting, and it usually tastes pretty good. To get a pure white color, pastry chefs use vegetable shortening instead of butter. In warmer climates, it tends to have a lot more sugar than butter because it holds up better. Unfortunately, buttercream will never look as smooth or finished as fondant. And you can't get it to stand up and do the things you may want incorporated into your cake décor.
More than one bride has sacrificed form for flavor, choosing a simpler, buttercream-frosted cake that their guests will enjoy eating in its entirety after they've actually tasted fondant. I strongly urge couples who don't know the difference to go taste cake and taste different kinds of frosting, before making a commitment.
It's possible to make a fondant-frosted cake a little tastier by filling in between the layers with mousse, curd, or buttercream. They can also frost the cake heavily with buttercream (rather than just crumb-coating it) before they apply the fondant to decorate the cake, giving your wedding guests bites of frosting even after they've scooped the bite away from the fondant shell.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events, a full-service traditional and destination wedding planning company and Do-It-Yourself wedding planning consulting service for DIY brides and grooms based in the Washington, DC area. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show "Wedding Island," about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques. Sandy's book "How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional," will be released on March 1st, but is available online for pre-orders now where books are sold.