How 'bout this weather? (Dealing with humidity)•
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
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.
2. USE FLOWER PASTE MADE FOR OUR ENVIRONMENT
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 Mattner (award-winning, flower-making expert) to get the best advice about working with delicate decorations in humidity.
Flynn recommends working with gum paste in difficult weather instead of fondant or sugar paste. This is for a few reasons. Firstly, Flynn says "flower Paste is specially designed to combat humidity... 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."
"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."
When using the correct materials, such as a locally manufactured gum paste like our BY Caitlin Mitchell paste, you will be most of the way towards success when creating decorations in difficult weather.
Flynn also adds, "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.”
So the first step is gum paste, and the rest of the equation is keeping your environment as humidity-free as possible, with air-conditioning or a dehumidifier.
3. STAY AWAY FROM THE FRIDGE!
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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