Monday, February 11, 2013

Caking in extreme weather

If you live in Sydney, Australia, you will know that it has been a summer of extreme weather. We’ve had two extraordinary heat waves where the temperature has reached over 45 degree Celsius. And then there have been a few occasions when we’ve suffered through extreme monsoon rains.

Both types of weather create conditions for cake baking which change almost everything I know to do in the kitchen. During the heat I left the butter on the bench and it warmed to almost melting, then I used it to bake cupcakes. The result was an incredibly rich, thick cake batter which produced about six more cupcakes than usual – a surprising, good result.

In the monsoon rain I created a selection of cupcakes as samples for a wedding, with four different designs using buttercream, fondant and royal icing. The buttercream never set – never even formed a shell on it which is really necessary to help it hold its form. Mean while, the fondant absorbed the moisture from the air until it became sticky and glossy. The decorations (a fondant bow) absorbed so much moisture they began to lose their form and droop. I noticed the strong colour also began to run.

As a producer of cakes for others, for which I am paid, I have needed to find ways to make sure my cakes can reach my customers in good, food-safe condition. Here are my top tips for dealing with the weather:

1. Keep the butter chilled until 20mins before you need to use it.
2. Bake late at night if you can, and ice early in the morning (seriously I’ve gotten up at 5am to do some jobs in summer).
3. Work additional corn flour into soft fondant to help it firm up. Avoid pure icing sugar - seriously this tip has recently saved me from disaster.
4. Dry decorated cakes in the coolest room in the house.
5. Add about half a cup of extra icing sugar to butter cream to help it keep its form.
6. Pipe in tighter circles to compensate for icing that might “relax”.
7. Make pastillage sugar charms as far ahead of time as possible to help them dry out.
8. If you have air conditioning in your house – use it!

Good luck and happy cupcaking.