Does anyone know if either ready-made fondant or gum paste are easy enough for first-time decorators to use (and have things come out "half decent")?
Ready made fondant is absolutely disgusting stuff and very expensive. You can VERY EASILY and very inexpensively make a marshmellow fondant that is easy to use.
Put a 16 oz. bag of mini marshmellows and 1/4 cup of water in a deep microwaveable bowl. Microwave for one (1) minutes. The mixture will expand and that's why you need a good sized bowl. Stir. Put it in the mixer with about 1 lb. of confectioner's sugar, mix, and then continue adding up to 1 more pound (the remainder of a 2 lb. bag) of confectioner's sugar until the fondant is firm and not sticky.
If you need it all or most of it a color -- add the color now and let the mixer mix it in. Put it in a ziplock baggie or saran wrap and let it rest one hour or more.
If you are covering a cake with fondant, I would invest in a fondant smoother tool. I bought mine in the Wilton section of party goods at a super Walmart. If you are making decorations with the fondant, you may need several WEEKS for them to dry, so do them a month ahead. They keep forever (I'm still using flowers from 3 years ago on my little girl's birthday cake).
I can't answer about gumpaste because I've never used it. This marshmellow fondant is super easy and only takes a few minutes to make. Costs less than $3 per recipe.
I hope this helps!
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