Gotta love this Queensland humidity…summer…in Australia, so we are talking 80% humidity… plus?! Cake decorating is great, but there is nothing more stressful than working with fondant in high humidity. I love creating and decorating, but when it sweats, goes too soft and is hard to handle or model – forget it. That’s when my cakes are made on foul language and tantrums and you need to risk your life to enter the ‘decorating zone’ lol! Humidity is moisture in the air. Humidity or moisture will rise if there is cloud cover, rain or impending rain. After having to create a number of cakes in our December heat (and reading every article I could find) I’ve come up with a number of tips that I hope will make your summer decorating a little less stressful.
There are a few things to consider before you even look at the fondant itself. For example, I’m sure you’re all hygienic workers and wash your hands before handling the cake and fondant. If you haven’t dried them completely then quite obviously the fondant is going to be sticky before you even get a chance to make it pliable. When you’re working in a humid room or have an increase in your body temp from working hard, then chances are you’ll even have trouble with sweaty palms – either way, wet hands can be one of your problems. Dusting surfaces with icing sugar rather than cornflour, together with moist hands can create sticky surfaces and fondant. I prefer to use cornflour – which if over used can have the opposite problem; fondant that is too dry (looks like elephant skin!), but I have read plenty of articles that balance this out by mixing the icing sugar and the cornflour for dusting work areas and tools.
When you have trouble covering a cake, look at the filing and texture is it too moist to start with? If your cake is overly moist, or you have filled each layer with a really soft ganaché, buttercream or mousse then chances are your fondant will soak it up. Similarly, if your ganaché is sweaty you’ll have the same problem.
When decorating consider the following tips:
- Shut all doors and windows and turn on air-conditioning or a dehumidifier. If you don’t have this then a fan is great but don’t work directly under it. When working with sugar paste, wait until you have finished modelling (ready for it to set/start drying) before turning on the air con.
- When adding cornflour, use only a small amount (remember the elephant skin texture I mentioned above) and make sure it’s gluten free. Glutinous cornflour will prevent the fondant from firming up and will keep it sticky.
- Use a setting/firming agent like CMC, gumtrag or tylose.
- Refrigeration is questionable. I have read many articles that say never refrigerate fondant or sugar paste. I have; on the other hand, read where some decorators – and professionals – have refrigerated fondant for short periods of time to combat humid conditions and for short term storage (30 min-5hrs). I made a small rocket ship from fondant and had to make most of it in the fridge with door open as it was just too hot to try moulding or handling anything. I think the trick is keep it uncovered in the fridge or it will sweat.
- Store your completed cake/pieces in cardboard or Styrofoam not plastic containers as they can sweat and grow mould or mildew. If you have made a number of sugar paste or fondant toppers, flowers etc. store them in a large well-ventilated area with a ‘Hippo’ or similar moisture absorbent product.
And finally, no matter what lengths you go to to create a masterpiece in humid weather, never forget that poor or incorrect storage and transport (especially if they aren’t your responsibility) can change everything … in minutes.