Popcorn Box Cake, Part 3 – Decorating Day

In Day 1 of my Popcorn Box Cake series, we covered baking the cakes.  In Day 2, we covered building the popcorn box shape out of the cakes.  Today, we tackle phobias:  fear of fondant.

Decorating the Popcorn Box Cake with Fondant

Fondant day took the most time.  Perhaps if I was more experienced with fondant, I would be able to work faster, but this was about 5 ½ hours of work.  Before moving on to the fondant, you have to finally flip the cake so that the smaller end is now on the bottom.  That just required a firm grip on the two cardboard supports and a lot of faith.

Here is what I learned about working with fondant:

  • As a complete beginner, I wasn’t confident enough to make my own fondant. Sometimes you want the security of a manufactured product that will be very consistent. If I was going to do it again, I might try making my own.
  • Fondant comes out of the package feeling almost brittle, like hardened plasticine. You have to rub your hands in vegetable shortening and knead the fondant until it gets soft and pliable like Silly Putty.  It doesn’t taste like Silly Putty. It just tastes sort of blandly sweet.  Too sweet for most people, which is why fondant isn’t generally used unless you actually need it for decorating effects.  As a nice side effect, my hands were beautifully moisturized by all that vegetable shortening, especially given how often I had to keep washing them to avoid transferring colour onto the white fondant.
  • Once it’s been kneaded, fondant rolls very easily. My fears were unfounded.   It didn’t rip or stick to the rolling pin or the silicon rolling mat.  It was easy to pick up and work with to attach to the popcorn box cake.
  • I sprinkled icing sugar on the rolling mat to make sure the fondant didn’t stick. There is a whole online debate about whether it is better to use icing sugar or corn starch for this purpose.  People are passionate on the topic.  The pro-icing sugar forces accused the corn starch people of creating elephant wrinkles in the fondant.  Or maybe I have got it reversed.  I just stuck with what Yolanda recommended and it was fine.
Fingerprints in the fondant. This would never happen to Yolanda.
  • Fondant is extremely impressionable. My fingers left pressure marks on the fondant while attaching it to the cake.  A fondant smoother is an absolute necessity.  Plus, I kept getting the caramel buttercream undercoat all over the sides of my hands and the edges of my fingers which transferred beige splotches to the fondant.  Those all had to be picked out and smoothed.  Yolanda is very neat.  Much neater than me.



  • I did the base coat in white and painted it with pearl dust lustre so that the icing would have a nice shiny gleam. Then I cut the red strips and painted those with lustre before applying them so that the red colour wouldn’t run onto the white.  Yolanda was correct – a silicon brush would have been better because the paint brush did indeed shed paint brush hairs that somehow got themselves incorporated into the fondant just as she predicted.  Those had to be picked out, hair by hair.



  • The lady at the baking store had advised that I didn’t need to buy the special plastic fondant rolling pin and that my normal wood rolling pin would be fine. That’s the only advice she gave with which I disagree.  I discovered in this process that my rolling pin is not absolutely, perfectly straight but is actually slightly bowed in the centre.  Who knew? I may have dodged that whole corn starch elephant wrinkle bullet, but I had rolling pin ripples in my fondant.  If I was going to do another fondant cake, I would buy the plastic rolling pin.



  • Now that I have more confidence with fondant, I wouldn’t feel the need to buy pre-coloured fondant in future. It takes colour very easily.  To do the lettering for Lily’s name, I added a few drops of yellow food colouring to a knob of left-over white fondant and then rolled it into a silicon letter mold.  The mold released easily.  Then I painted gold lustre on the letters so her name would sparkle, and stuck them to the side of the cake by painting a little water on the side.  The letters started to slide down, so I nudged them back up with a ruler a few times to make sure they stayed in a straight line.



  • The last step was to put a thin coat of the remaining caramel Italian meringue buttercream icing on top (it only took about a tablespoon) as a glue to attach a layer of real caramel popcorn to the top of the popcorn box cake so it looked like a real popcorn box!

Was the Popcorn Box Cake Worth All That Effort?

It was a lot of work, but the visual result was spectacular.  In terms of flavour, the cake itself had a nice flavour but a dense texture (remember – 10 pounds is a lot of weight to support so that cake needs to be hefty).  The caramel Italian meringue buttercream icing was tasty.   The fondant is extremely sweet.   In her book, Yolanda says something like, “Some people don’t like fondant.  Don’t worry about it.  They can just peel it off and eat the cake underneath”.  A lot of people did that, although I also saw a couple of kids just inhaling the fondant so it’s obviously a question of personal preference.

The popcorn box cake is massive.  I’ve served it to two groups; given portions away; and have only just now hit the cardboard support at the halfway point the third time it was served. That is a lot of cake.

Question:  How on earth are you supposed to cut the bottom half of the cake that has dowels in it?  You have to reach in and pull them out with your fingers. Is there an elegant way to do this?

“Maybe the bottom half is just decorative and isn’t supposed to be eaten?” asked Mark.

Would I do it again?

If my daughter asked me to.  Next time I wouldn’t be so apprehensive about working with fondant.  The special fondant equipment was expensive, and it would be good to use it again.  It was fun to try, and certainly an impressive appearance, but a lot of the kids left their cake over and quickly moved on to potato chips.  In terms of flavour, I think a good standard chocolate cake  with a dark chocolate glaze would still be my first go-to choice for birthday cakes.

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  1. Helen Patterson

    I love your blog. I realized I posted a message to you vs. a comment! The Popcorn Box Cake is absolutely amazing. Any left-overs? LOL. You are truly an amazing Mom for doing that for a very lucky girl.