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How 'bout this weather? (Dealing with humidity)

Written by Sarah-Jane Webb

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Posted on February 10 2020

When I first started decorating cakes, I would refuse to bake for events held at the peak of summer. Anyone who has decorated in Queensland's stormy summer would know the dreadful feeling when beads of water start forming on your perfectly covered cake, or the distress in waking up to a totally wilted sugar figurine that had previously been rock hard. 

I quickly realised it's not the heat that is the problem, its the humidity. 

 

So, what's the problem with humidity?

Humidity is "atmospheric moisture" and it's measured in a percentage amount that translates to how much water vapour is in the air. Most smartphones will have a weather app that will show you the percentage of humidity and you'll notice that in our tropical Queensland climate we can experience highs of... well, 100%. 

Why is this important? Because the beautiful sugar decorations that you've so carefully constructed are made primarily of sugar, which dissolves in water. The wetter the air, the more likely we will run into issues where our fondant decorations wilt, sweat and dissolve. 

Over many seasons of decorating, I've become more comfortable in dealing with the extremes we face in our climate. Cake decorating can still be challenging when it's constantly raining for weeks, but with a few handy tips and the right equipment, you can vastly increase your chances for cake success.

Here are my top tips for decorating in Queensland’s wonderful stormy season.

 

1. USE FROSTING, NOT BUTTERCREAM 

Frosting at Studio Cakes - better for humid environments!

Last year we created a simple blog post that outlined the key differences between buttercream and frosting. You can read that one here, but the most important take away is that buttercream is made on dairy fat (butter) whist frosting is made on vegetable fat (shortening). 

Our preference at this time of year is frosting. To understand why you need to know the key differences between vegetable shortening and butter. 

Vegetable shortening is made through a process of hydrogenation, where vegetable oils such as corn, cottonseed or soybean are converted into a solid. It consists of 100% fats whilst butter contains approximately 80% fats, 16-17% water, and the remainder is made up of milk proteins plus occasional additives such as salt. This higher water content can lead to splitting and sagging of your buttercream, especially if you add even more liquid in the form of food colouring.

In addition to the fact that butter is less stable, it also has a lower melting point and is more susceptible to heat and humidity.  Inherently, this means that buttercream performs worse than frosting in extreme weather.

Frosting is also a crusting icing, which means it sets up firmly and can be lightly pressed without leaving a mark. Don’t worry, the crust is very thin and you don’t notice it when you bite through to the softer icing beneath. Using a crusting icing is like having a little insurance policy against damaging weather conditions.

You can buy our frosting here, or make your own by substituting part or all of the butter in your own recipe with our premium creaming vegetable shortening.

2. USE FLOWER PASTE MADE FOR OUR ENVIRONMENT

Flower paste by Flynn, specifically for our Qld summer.

Delicate decorations such as flowers can be difficult to work with at the best of times, let alone when it’s absolutely pouring outside. I spoke to Flynn (our award-winning, flower-making expert and the creator of Flynn’s Flower Paste) to get the best advice about working with delicate decorations in humidity. Lucky for all of us, Flynn has specifically designed his own brand of flower paste made especially for our climate. Read more from Flynn below: 

“There are a few ways that Flynn’s Flower Paste is specially designed to combat humidity. The first is that it is high in tylose. Tylose is a gum which absorbs water and creates a stretchy flower paste that will dry hard. The more tylose you add the harder your finished creation will be and the faster it will dry. 
 
The second trick is our flower paste is high in starch and low in sugar. Starch is less soluble than sugar and is able to absorb a small amount of moisture whilst sugar cannot. If you try and make sugar flowers out of fondant or a flower paste not designed for a humid climate, your dried flowers will melt and turn into little puddles when exposed to extreme humidity. With our flower paste, they may soften slightly but they will retain their shape and harden again once the weather is fine. It is recommended that you store your dried flowers in a box away from humidity, but should they be out, they won’t be ruined. 

It is important to note these humidity-combating techniques only protect dried flowers. Unfortunately, they will not make wet flower paste dry properly in extreme humidity and thunderstorms. If you can’t avoid making flowers in this type of weather add more tylose (one or two pinches per fist size amount of flower paste) and try and find a dry spot in your house such as an air-conditioned room, a cold oven, or at least not near an open window.” 

 

3. STAY AWAY FROM THE FRIDGE!

Humidity causes condensation on your cakes 

So you've gone to all the trouble of making your beautiful cake, now the key is to keep it safely stored before your event.

No prizes for guessing my key piece of advice in this section - stay away from the fridge!! The extreme difference in temperature between a cool/dry fridge and a hot/wet room is that your cake becomes a sticky mess as it condensates. You’re much better off creating a dry environment in your home than utilising the fridge for storage. This is especially true for fondant, which is even more susceptible to damage from condensation once out of the fridge compared to other icings. 

If you’re lucky enough to have to airconditioning, keep it running to make your room dry and to control the moisture in the room. In our kitchen, the airconditioning runs overnight throughout thunderstorms. Not for the cooling aspect, but for the drying aspect. 

Without airconditioning, you can try a dehumidifier. If none of those options are available, a fan may assist in keeping your cake and/or decorations dry. 

At the very least keep your cake away from open windows and particularly moist areas in your home. 

 

Tell us your tips or ask away!

Feel free to share your own humidity defying tips below, or ask a question and we'll try to shed some light on your cake query. 

 

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