When I was a child, there was a bakery near my preschool that made perfect frosted sugar cookies.
First of all, you stepped inside the door and the place had the most magnificent, sumptuous bakery smell you’ve ever encountered in your life—like a terrarium ecosystem purpose-built for children instead of lizards, made of sugar, butter, and flour. They specialized in these smiley face cookies, which had a simple base (not too sweet, not too hard or crispy, not too squishy either) and the most magnificently solid-but-slightly-smudgy sugar icing, topped with little chocolate features that I would, of course, lick off first.
I have spent my entire life chasing some replicas of these cookies. I have tried the classic New York black and white cookie, but I am sorry to say they are too doughy. Every time I walk into a new bakery, I take a deep breath, hoping for that bakery smell—the closest I’ve ever come is Peter Pan Donuts, in Greenpoint—on the assumption that if I can find the smell, perhaps I can find the cookies. Every time I see a frosted sugar cookie, I immediately buy one or two for a trial. Usually, I don’t even make it out the door before pulling this latest experiment from the white paper back and taking a bite. And time and again, I am crushed.
Because those cookies are all too often frosted with GODDAMN FONDANT.
I am not sure how fondant became so popular—I have no fondant memories from childhood, when every cake I encountered was the work of a grocery store, my mother, or an older woman from a small Georgia town, because you really need a specialist for one of those chocolate cakes with the umpteen million thin layers. But I suspect its ubiquity has something to do with food television, specifically, all those shows about elaborate cakes. Also, social media baking/crafting culture. The world’s best-tasting simple chocolate cake isn’t especially visual, and it’s not going to jump out from your Pinterest feed. Hence the imperative toward ever more ridiculous creations (wonderfully parodied by the show Nailed It). It honestly would not shock me to learn that somebody was out there creating a five-tiered cake depicting tentacle porn.
But it has no flavor. It is basically cement. It is utilitarian. I understand that it is much, much easier to work with than other forms of icing, and it’s basically the only way to make a modern wedding cake. And I understand why bakeries opt for fondant over the highly preferable royal icing for cookies specifically, which is an absolute pain in the ass to work with. (I know this because I finally decided I was going to have to learn to make these cookies on my own, although the icing I found still isn’t quite right, but close enough.) Royal icing spreads everywhere, and you have to paint it on or dip it.
But literally what is the point of a baked good that looks cute but tastes bad? Or even tastes boring? The point of baked goods is for them to taste good! Why even put the sugar into your body otherwise?
Put fondant in the trash.