We’ve waited long enough but at last the first signs of Summer are here. For cake makers, however, a hot Summer is not always ideal when working with sugarpaste so to help avoid some of the inconsolable sobbing and hand-wrenching, we want to share a few tips from our customers.
The most obvious solution is to use a sugarpaste designed for the heat - Massa Ticino Tropic is developed for use in hotter climates (‘Tropic’ is the clue), while Couture, Saracino Pasta Top and some other premium sugarpastes move to a Summer recipe where the moisture content is ever-so-slightly reduced for the warmest months of the year.
Even so, we’ve had reports from customers about Massa Ticino Tropic feeling sticky and being more awkward to work with than normal, which proves that no matter which brand you use there is no magic solution.
So here are a few ideas that we hope may help a little. Some may seem obvious to one person but may not be to someone else, so see if you can pick up a tip or two . . .
• Heat and humidity are the enemies – you need to address both
• Do whatever you can afford to do to keep the working area cool – ranging from working early in the morning or later on in the evening when it’s cooler, to fitting black-out blinds, to installing air conditioning
• Don’t dismiss the idea of air conditioning because of the expense; for a professional cake maker a de-humidifier or portable air conditioning could be a good investment. Good quality, portable, proper AC units (not just fans) are available for £200- £300
• It’s better to have an air-conditioned kitchen with closed windows than a normal kitchen with open windows as that simply introduces more humidity
• Fans may help you feel cooler (and that’s a good thing) but they only circulate the air that’s already in the room and will not cool the room unless they are blowing in cooler air from outside. In really humid conditions a fan blowing gently in the direction of the cake may help reduce surface humidity
• Be super-organised and have everything ready and remove any distractions like phones, children and bottles of gin - in other words, reduce any 'faffing time'
• If possible, do all your baking in advance or in a different room to your decorating – having the oven on will just make a warm working area even warmer
• Use a good quality brand of sugarpaste – ideally one that automatically moves to a Summer recipe or one that is designed for hotter climates, like Massa Ticino Tropic
• Avoid supermarket sugarpastes – they are designed to be used by occasional cake makers, so they have a much higher moisture content to make them easier to use straight from the pack
• Pop your pack of sugarpaste in the fridge for 15 minutes before kneading
• Keep your work surface, tools and hands as cool as possible – this is where blinds can prove invaluable in shading work surfaces from strong sunlight
• The temperature of your hands is a bigger issue than many people realise – hold your wrists under running cold water to cool your hands and rinse your hands in cold water regularly, drying thoroughly before working with sugarpaste as you don’t want to add any more moisture
• Use cornflour (cornstarch) instead of icing sugar when rolling out sugarpaste. Warm sugarpaste absorbs icing sugar faster than cornflour and this can cause the icing to dry quickly, creating stress points that could develop into cracks and elephant skin
• Don’t over-knead the sugarpaste – knead for a little less time than normal and minimise the amount of handling from those warm hands
• Keep it dry – no water, no splashes, no steam from that kettle you’re boiling for your cuppa! Humidity is just as much a problem as temperature at this stage
• Once the cake is covered and smoothed, resist the temptation to fiddle and leave it alone - the more you handle it, the more heat you re-introduce
• Bubbles can appear naturally – these are air pockets caused by fluctuations in temperature - pierce the bubble with a scribe, gently push the air out and smooth over the spot
• Don’t put it the cake in the fridge. That initial 15 minutes of cooling your sugarpaste was ideal, but if you put the cake in the fridge you could face major problems when you take it back out and it is re-introduced to the warmer, more humid air
• Storing a covered (and possibly decorated) cake is the next challenge – again, air conditioning is the ideal solution but a cool, dark room is the next best choice. Keep the cake loosely covered (eg in a cake box) and keep the room ventilated
• Alcohol . . . not that we’re promoting it as an answer to your cakey problems(!) but alcohol evaporates much faster than water so won't introduce extra moisture into the icing. Consider using in place of water as a means of attaching pieces. Vodka and gin are colourless – either is fine but gin may impart a little flavour
• Use whatever is left over to make yourself a little Martini or a not-so-little G&T to celebrate a job well done against what probably seemed like unsurmountable odds