Homemade French Fancies
Soft, light bites of fluffy vanilla cake topped with creamy, flavoured buttercream, and drenched in fondant icing. These little delights do require some patience but are so much easier than you might think!
Ever since I was a child, French Fancies have been one of my favourite treats! Traditionally named Fondant Fancies, these pretty little cakes are essentially small squares of sponge cake topped with a blob of creamy buttercream and smothered in fondant icing. The traditional Fondant Fancies tend to also involve some form of jam as well as a layer of Marzipan, but my childhood memories revolve solely around the Mr. Kipling "French Fancy" version, which in my opinion are much simpler and tastier - I'm not a huge fan of marzipan!
So I have endeavoured to recreate these fancy Fancies for myself to enjoy at home!
This recipe is "easy" in the sense that each element itself is very straight forward to make, but you do need some patience is assembling - although not as much as other variations of this recipe that you may have seen elsewhere, so don't be discouraged! I promise that your hard work will pay off! This recipe is probably the most simple version of a French/Fondant fancy when compared to others I've seen online, but even so, they really deliver on flavour and texture and for me, they are much closer to the Mr. Kipling style French Fancy which was my inspiration to begin with. Not to mention they look absolutely fantastic and are super fun to make and customise!
For this recipe I use my favourite vanilla sponge. This is a light and supremely moist sponge but with a close, even and velvety crumb which makes it perfect to level and cut into neat and tidy squares which are easier to coat in the fondant.
For those of you who are used to making cakes using the traditional creaming method (beating sugar and butter together as your first steps) do not be alarmed by the recipe - I haven't gone mad I promise! This cake recipe uses the reverse creaming method which involves mixing the butter directly into the flour. In short, this is what gives the cake its even soft and fine crumb that we are looking for for these cakes. For those of you who are baking nerds like myself, you can check out the difference and science behind the two different creaming methods here.
Not to be confused with the thick, sticky, gummy and pliable stuff we usually roll out to cover cakes, this style of fondant is a liquid form of fondant which is typical of many petit four recipes and, of course, our French/Fondant Fancies, and gives a nice glossy and soft finish! The pourable consistency allows small cakes and bakes to be dipped, smothered, or drenched for a relatively thin and even coating - no thick wedges of play-dough-like fondant here!
There are several ways to make your pourable fondant. The easiest of which is to purchase some Fondant Icing Sugar, which can be used in the exact same way as standard icing/ powdered sugar - the only difference between fondant icing sugar and regular powdered sugar, is the presence of dried glucose syrup which gives the fondant a smooth, glossy and soft icing finish. Water is slowly mixed into the sugar until you achieve stick but pourable consistency. I'm from the UK where this stuff is relatively easy to come by in most large stores, and can also be bought online from Amazon. It's certainly the most hassle-free and simple way of achieving pourable fondant, but if you can't get your hands on the goods, do not despair.
The next easiest way to make your pourable fondant, is by buying a block of ready made, white fondant icing, which is usually available in the baking aisle of most stores. I usually prefer Renshaw for flavour but if you are adding flavouring to your fondant, you can generally use any ready-made fondant. This can be broken up and churned in a stand mixer whilst slowly adding water until you reach the perfect pouring consistency! If you can't get hold of fondant icing sugar where you live, this is definitely the next best method.
If you cannot get hold of either fondant icing sugar or ready made fondant block icing, OR you are up for a bit more of a baking challenge, you can also make your fondant from scratch. I will not be including this approach in my recipe and method, as I want to keep this recipe as simple as possible, and I also have not tried it enough times myself to share my lacking experience, but you can find various recipes online when searching for "pourable fondant icing". The process is fairly simple but takes a little more time and care to get right.
Failing all of the above, you can simply use standard icing/powdered sugar and water, although the resulting texture and finish of your Fancies will not be quite the same.
Flavours & Customisation
The classic Mr. Kipling box usually comes with a selection of three flavours - Vanilla, Lemon and Chocolate. The beauty of making these for yourself is that you can totally experiment with your flavourings! Even the Mr Kipling brand brings out amazing special edition Fancies such as Chocolate Orange, Mint Chocolate, and even Irish Creme Liqueur and a Cocktail Fancy Collection!
Personally, I like to stick with a vanilla sponge base and then play around with the flavouring of the buttercream and fondant, because let's face it, vanilla pairs well with pretty much everything! This recipe makes roughly 16 fancies, and by using a plain vanilla sponge base, it allows me to make a variety of different flavoured fancies in just one batch by just switching up the buttercream and fondant flavours, rather than being limited to a specifically flavoured sponge.
If you do want to enhance a specific flavour for your fancies by adapting the sponge, you can definitely swap out the vanilla extract for another flavouring, or add lemon/orange/lime zest for a more zingy citrus flavoured Fancy!
Customising Your Fancies
This recipe is very much a base recipe and method to help you along your way to your favourite Fancies! As mentioned above, if you prefer not to have a vanilla base, you can adapt the flavouring of your sponge base by swapping out the vanilla extract for another flavouring or adding citrus zest, but you can also play around with your buttercream too! My buttercream recipe is a basic sturdy buttercream that will give you a nice stiff but creamy "blob" that holds it's shape, and is adaptable with different extracts and flavourings, but you can always use an alternative buttercream recipe if you would prefer to experiment with some other ingredients!
Colouring is also a must for these fancies; not only do they make them even more beautiful but also help indicate the delicious flavours within! Think pinks for strawberry or rose, yellow for lemon, green for lime or peppermint, orange for, well..orange!
Here are some flavour ideas to consider for inspiration:
Coffee - Add coffee extract to your buttercream and fondant. Make your own extract with 3 Tbsp instant coffee granules and 1 1/2 Tbsp boiling water!
Lemon - Use lemon extract or zest in your buttercream and replace some of the water with fresh lemon juice in your fondant for a zingy lemon Fancy!
Orange - Add some orange zest or orange oil/extract to your buttercream, and replace some of the water with fresh orange juice to your fondant mixture!
Lime - Use lime extract or zest in your buttercream and replace some of the water with fresh lime juice in your fondant for a zingy lemon Fancy!
Chocolate - Add a few Tsp of unsweetened cocoa powder to your buttercream and fondant mixture!
Mocha - Use coffee extract in your sponge base and add some cocoa powder to your buttercream. I like to add both coffee extract and a touch of cocoa powder to my fondant mixture for this flavour combo!
Strawberry - Strawberry extract in your buttercream and fondant gives you the flavour of a strawberry flavoured fondant fancy. It also works well in the sponge! If you prefer a more natural and zingy strawberry flavour, try a buttercream recipe that uses freeze-dried strawberry powder! I've used this one before!
Raspberry - Use raspberry flavouring in your buttercream and fondant. Again, if you prefer a more natural and zingy raspberry flavour, try a buttercream recipe that uses freeze-dried raspberry powder! Try pairing with a lemon sponge base!
Rose - Rose water adds a perfect floral note to your buttercream or sponge base. Note, if using rose extract, add very little at a time as it is much more potent than rose water and!! You don't want to feel like you're eating a whole flower! Works well with lemon sponge or lemon fondant!
Baileys/Irish Creme Liqueur - For an indulgent, boozy kick, add baileys or your favourite Irish Creme Liqueur to your buttercream instead of milk! Works well with coffee sponge or chocolate fondant!
Peppermint - Add peppermint extract to your buttercream! Works well with chocolate sponge or chocolate fondant!
I could go on...the options are endless! But I'll let your imagination and creativity do the work!
Important Tips for Assembling
Cutting your cake - Use a sharp, serrated knife to cut and level your cakes and cut with determination and precision. This will help for a cleaner cut with less stray crumbs on the edges which can affect the final finish when pouring the fondant. The cake crumb is thankfully quite tight anyhow, which helps.
Measure your cakes - Try to measure your cake when cutting into squares for equally sized fancies and a more professional finish to your batch. I typically trim off the edges of the whole cake first and level off the top using a cake leveller or sharp serrated knife. I then use a tape measure or ruler to work out the length of the trimmed cake and divide by 4 across so I know where to make my cutting marks. I then cut into 4 equally sized strips of cake, and repeat the process for each strip, until I have 16 equally sized squares. You can always trim up your cut squares afterwards if you've cut them slightly unevenly.
Don't let your cakes dry out - Make your buttercream and fill your piping bag before cutting your cake so everything is ready to go as soon as the cake is divided up. Once we have cut the cake, it is being exposed to the air which can cause the edges to dry out, if left too long, so you don't want to increase the amount of time the crumb is exposed after cutting by letting your cakes sit out whilst your prep your buttercream. Once you have piped your buttercream blobs, pop the cakes on a tray and cover the whole tray with some clingfilm before chilling so they do not dry out in the fridge.
How to drench your Fancies :
DIP:The quickest method is to stick a fork through the bottom of the cake and then dip directly into the fondant and move around gently until the top and sides are coated. If you choose this method, you will have to ensure your fondant is not too thick as you will end up with half the cake stuck in the fondant!
SPOON/POUR: Personally, if I have more time, I prefer to slowly pour/spoon the fondant coating on top and gently ease/wiggle the fondant over the tops and down the sides of the cakes with a pallet knife or back of a spoon. This avoids getting any crumbs stuck in the bowl of fondant mixture which sometimes occurs when dipping, and avoids those crumbs accidentally being transferred to the next cake and ruining the smooth finish. This method also means I can use an ever so slightly thicker consistency of fondant which I prefer for my Fancies, but you do have to be gentle when easing the fondant so it doesn't tear away from the cake. This method does take more time and patience but I find the result looks better. Make your fondant in a microwavable bowl so that you can ping it in the microwave for a few seconds to thin out again if it starts to dry out!
Homemade French Fancies
Hands on: Approximately 45 mins
Bake time: 35-40 mins
275g Cake flour or a low protein flour (see notes)
275g Caster sugar or granulated sugar
2 1/4 Tsp baking powder
1/4 Tsp baking soda
170g Unsalted butter, softened
210ml Whole milk (divided)
65g Flavourless oil
2 Large eggs (approx. 115g of beaten egg)
3/4 Tsp vanilla extract
80g Unsalted butter, softened
120g Powdered sugar, sifted
1 1/2 Tbsp milk
Your choice of flavouring
1.5 Kg Fondant icing sugar, sifted
1.5 Kg Ready-made white fondant, cubed
100g dark, milk, or white chocolate, chopped
If you cannot purchase cake flour, look for an all purpose flour brand with the lowest protein content. Cake flour typically has between 7-9g protein per 100g flour, so the closer you get to that, the better. In the UK, Doves Farm Plain Flour is widely available and contains 7.9% protein. The low protein content of the flour makes for a more tender and light cake.
Instead of using chocolate to pipe over the top of your fancies, you can also decorate by using another contrasting colour of fondant - make sure your decorating fondant is thick enough to pipe without running.
It is important that your ingredients are all at room temperature to allow them to combine properly, and your butter is soft but not melted!
Preparation: Preheat your oven to 170C and grease and line a 9x9 " square cake pan with parchment. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together your flour, baking powder, soda and sugar and set aside. Combine 85ml of the milk with 65ml oil and set aside. Combine the remaining 125ml of the milk with the 115g beaten egg and vanilla extract and set aside.
Sponge: With your stand mixer set to low, and using the paddle attachment, slowly add the softened butter to the flour mixture until the butter has rubbed into the flour and resembles a breadcrumb-like texture. You can use your fingertips to rub in any larger butter lumps that remain.
Pour in the oil and milk mixture and, with your mixer set to medium-high speed, beat for 1.5-2 minutes. This is important as it will help to give structure to the cake - don't worry, it will not over-mix the batter as the reverse creaming method helps to prevent gluten formation by coating the flour in fats. Once the 2 minutes are up, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure there are no buttery-flour lumps left in your final batter.
With the mixer set to medium-low, slowly add the egg, vanilla and milk mixture to the batter, stopping half way through to scrape the bottom of the bowl. Mix gently until all the liquid is just combined. Do not over mix.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake on the centre rack of your oven at 170C for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden and springy and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean with no wet batter. Leave to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing the sponge from the pan and cooling completely on the rack.
Buttercream: Whilst your sponge cools, use a hand mixer or stand mixer with whisk attachment to beat your softened butter on a medium-high speed until creamy and light. Reduce mixing speed to low and gradually add the sifted powdered sugar, milk, and flavouring until combined before increasing the speed and beating for a further 1-2 minutes. The texture should be fluffy and creamy, but sturdy enough to remain steadily on an upturned teaspoon. Add more milk if the buttercream is too stiff or more powdered sugar if too loose. Spoon into a piping bad and set aside.
Trimming: Once your sponge has cooled completely, use a large, sharp serrated knife to trim the edges to of the cake (you can eat these or save them to make cake pops or cake truffles! YUM!), and use the knife or cake leveller to level off the top if your cake so it is completely flat. Divide into 16 equally sized squares.
Blobbing: With your piping bag set at a 90 degree angle directly over your cakes, pipe a relatively large blob or buttercream on the top of each square. Use your finger tips to flatten out any peaks. Place your blobbed cakes into a large airtight container and chill if the fridge for 30 minutes.
Fondant: With your sifted fondant sugar in a large bowl, slowly mix in cold water a little at a time until you have a thick but pourable icing. Alternatively, put your cubed ready-made fondant in the bowl of a stand mixer, add a little water and churn on a low speed until the fondant begins to break down into a paste. Slowly add more water until you achieve the right pouring consistency. Add your flavouring and colouring as desired. If you are choosing to dip your cakes rather than pour your fondant, you will have to ensure the icing is slightly thinner so that the cake does not get stuck in the fondant!
Coating: Remove your cakes from the fridge and set on a wire rack with parchment or foil underneath. Gently spoon or pour your fondant onto each cake, using a pallet knife or back of a teaspoon to ease and wiggle the fondant smoothly over the top and down the sides of the cakes. Optional: Leave to set for 30 minutes and coat in a second layer of fondant for a smoother finish - you may have to pop the remaining fondant in the microwave for a few seconds and mix if it has started to firm up.
Decorating: Place your chopped chocolate or chocolate chips in a microwavable bowl and heat on 30 second bursts, stirring after each, until completely melted and smooth. Pour the chocolate into a piping bag and carefully pipe diagonal stripes across the top of each cake. Alternatively whip up another colour of fondant icing to decorate instead of chocolate. Place each cake in a petit fours paper case, or a cupcake case.
Storage: Allow Fancies to set, uncovered, at room temperature for 1 hour before serving. Best enjoyed the following day. Store in a loosely covered container a room temperature overnight; fondant icing can take 12-24 hours to completely set and air tight containers can cause the fondant to soften and weep when not fully set. These fancies will last 3-4 days in a loosely covered container.