Turns out that Elissa wants to broaden her cake decorating horizons as do I. Specifically, to try to re-create this aquarium of amazingness here. So we had a cake practice day last Saturday.
Last year, she tried using Wilton's fondant crap-in-a-box, and hated it. I've heard it tastes terrible. So I brought over some marshmallow fondant, and a couple of cakes to play with.
One cake was a White Spice Pound Cake from a recipe in The Cake Bible. (I used elderly egg whites, so the cake was less than exciting. I tasted some scraps.) Made in a loaf pan, and cut down to an even block for easier decorating. We covered that in Neoclassic Buttercream (spiked with Bailey's Irish Cream, which I learned belatedly that Elissa is not fond of) also from The Cake Bible, to which Elissa attached painted fondant fish and similar adornments that she had made.
I planned to cover the second cake, a Velvet Devil's Food Cake from a recipe in Cook's Illustrated's Baking Illustrated book, but the fondant was a little dry and I proceeded to make it drier accidentally. Mental note: add a little water if it's cracking, not more Crisco. This is why I'm practicing now for the wedding in July.
Then I messed around with the Wilton gel colors I had just picked up, trying to get a leather-color into the fondant, like a book cover. It almost worked, sort of. The fondant was toast, though. The gel colors are mostly vibrant enough, fairly concentrated, and you apply them with a toothpick. Elissa mixed the gel colors with water and then painted the colors onto the fondant fish and stuff. She also used the gold luster (pearl) dust. I really like the subtle effect from the luster dust.
I never got around to covering the Velvet Devil's Food Cake, though. Well, that's what Sunday is for.
Bottom line: Luster dust is wonderful. Wilton's gel colors are probably ok for dying and painting. I have to make my fondant a lot less dry. Painted fondant looks good. Don't use elderly egg whites. Not everyone likes booze-spiked buttercream. Although sturdy, White Spice Pound Cake is not what I want in the wedding cake. Cake practice day is useful, but very hectic and tiring.