Someone more clever than we are could probably make a great joke about this gum paste and this fondant who walk into a bar in some part of the country where cousins often get married. They sit down next to this pastillage, and the bartender says,… well, that’s as far as we can go. Anyone out there clever enough to finish the joke?

All three sugar pastes are closely related, but they are not the same.

Gum paste is essentially the modeling clay of the pastry world. It is a mixture of confectioner’s sugar, glucose syrup, gum tragacanth, gelatin, shortening, and water, which are mixed and kneaded until smooth. It can be rolled very thinly or formed into elaborate flowers and other shapes, and dries to a hard consistency.

Pastillage (pahs-tee-ahj’) is so closely related to gum paste that we’ll tackle it before we get to fondant. Pastillage is made of confectioner’s sugar, gum tragacanth, cream of tartar, shortening, and hot water, also mixed together and kneaded briefly. It is also used for molding shapes, and holds those shape once dried. Without the gelatin and glucose syrup, it is not as elastic as gum paste, cannot be rolled as thinly, and has a bit more tendency to crack when worked finely.

Rolled fondant is made of sugar, corn syrup, glycerin, and water, which are kneaded assertively to produce a very fine crystalline structure. Fondant is most often used to cover a cake, but it can also be used to create certain decorative elements, such as swags, bows, or simple flowers. Once rolled and shaped, the outside will get crusty, but it does not dry out as thoroughly as the other two, and does not stand up as well to gravity. Fondant is also used as the melting center of some filled chocolates.

All three can be purchased premade, but, with little effort (and a little shopping), you can also make your own: