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Humidity's Effect on Baking Ingredients

Jan 8, 2006 | From the kitchen of Rose

FRED QUESTION

Love your books and just discovered this blog. WOW!

I'm a firm believer in weighing everything, but flour and brown sugar bother me. Since these two ingredients absorb water, how does humidity in the air affect their performance in recipes? In other words, does, say, 1 lb. of flour weighed on a hot and humid summer day actually contain less flour (and more water) than that weighed on a cold and dry winter day? How does a person compensate for this variation other than adding a little bit of flour or water at a time (which seems rather unscientific) as one goes along?

ROSE REPLY

actually the 2 ingredients you mentioned have similar problems as they tend to dry out if improperly stored. they both benefit from airtight storage especially brown sugar that gets very hard when dry. i store mine in canning jars and never have a problem but if it comes in other containers it will dry and then you'll need to put a little foil cup in with the sugar and set a paper towel that has been dampened in the cup and then cover the container tightly. in a few hours the sugar will become soft again.

in very humid or very dry conditions the flour used for bread making will be affected but this can be controlled easily by adding a little flour or water to the dough if the consistency seems to require it. for cakes i don't find much of a difference. i do find a difference in salt that is so hygroscopic some days 1 teaspoon weighs 5.3 grams, other days it weighs 6.6 grams. but even that doesn't seem to make a noticeable difference in the baked product.

in any case, the volume of the flour or the brown sugar will be affected by humidity as well as the weight and weight is always a more accurate way to go because measuring varies from time to time by factors far more significant than humidity!

Comments

Terrie, I live in Hawaii and have had zero issues as you describe. Our humidity isn't that high! i suspect you need to weigh your flour in grams.

i keep my flour in the refrigerator too. taking it out and in of the fridge will create condensation because our air isn't dry and because of the warm weather, just fyi, when you do, keep it in a zip lock bag at all times, and open and close the bag at once.

my bigger bags of fluor are in the fridge WITHOUT zip lock bags, it isn't that important while in the fridge, the humidity is low in there, but taking the bag out to room temp will create condensation, but if you work quickly and put the flour back in the fridge within 10 minutes, there won't be enough time for condensation to happen. After you measure the flour (in grams), let the flour reach room temp before using it, this will allow the flour to stabilize and to dry out any condensation that may had formed when you were measuring (specially noticeable on the outside of the mixer bowl, if you measure on it as i always do).

REPLY

more like a question. I recently moved to Hawaii and I wanted to make biscuits. I mixed everything and then I noticed that the mixed flour looked like cement, gray in color. I thought well maybe its the flour, so i went ahead and baked it and well they came out looking yucky. like little cement pucks!!now im afraid to bake and I love to bake. is it the flour I used, or the baking powder?? the flour and baking powder were purchased just a couple days before I arrived in Hawaii. I keep the flour in the fridge.

REPLY

Woody Wolston
Woody Wolston in reply to comment from owen
04/ 5/2013 09:34 AM

Hi Owen,
As Rose posted in her article, simply storing your flour in an airtight container; if making bread to know what the consistency of the dough should be incase you need to add flour or water; and to weigh for the most accurate measuring.
Certain flours, like 100% whole wheat, should be stored in the freezer to prevent them from becoming rancid. Storing other flours in airtight containers in the refrigerator can help.
Are you baking a recipe from one of Rose's recipes?
Have you confirmed that this recipe rises to the recipe's instructions in a less humid environment?
Have you confirmed that your leavenings are still working properly?
These too should be kept in airtight containers.
Rose & Woody

REPLY

So is that the answer - if my cake won't rise in a high humidity climate - put the flour in the fridge??

REPLY

I'm having the same trouble with my pizzelles, Did you ever find the solution?

REPLY

Cindy, i keep my flour in the fridge, too. what is a pizzelle or a pizzelle iron? I live in Hawaii and never ever complained about our humidity.

REPLY

I, too am having problems with humidity in Hawaii with baking.
I keep my flour in the fridge. I am trying to make pizzelles that are crisp. Once I remove them from the pizzelle iron & they cool they are soft.
Any ideas?????

REPLY

have had so much trouble with cookies since moving to a sub tropical climate (southern china) and am definately going to try and refrigerate my flour etc and see if that helps from now on!

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The only thing I have at my "room temperature" is sugar and unopened canned goods. Fluors is stored airtight in the fridge. Baking powder in vacuum in the freezer. Whole wheat flour and corn starch in the freezer, too.

Baking chocolate in the fridge. High end chocolate for decorations or alone consumption on my wine cellar. Milk and white chocolate in the freezer.

Nuts in the freezer, too

REPLY

I live in on the west coast of Mexico, where not only do I have the humidity to contend with, but the high heat as well. I have noticed that my flour is heavier when damp (of course it would be). This doesn't affect bread baking, because I compensate by using less water. It does affect cake baking very much. I have solved this by refrigerating all my baking supplies: all flours, sugar, salt, baking powder, cocoa. Today's modern, self-defrosting refrigerators maintain a drier environment than my kitchen. (I'm talking about 60-90% humidity in the house.)

I just have to remember to take ingredients out before baking to let them reach room temp., but I wrap or contain them well to protect them from condensation on the cold surface when they come out of the fridge. Otherwise, my dry fridge storage has been for naught.

REPLY

Hi David, i've played around with the stove to see if temperature made a major difference - when i got too hot only the bottom suffered :}

i am going to try again tomorrow with more sugar and maybe a batch with egg topping to see if that helps the look - the taste is fine - its just the enimic look :}

t

REPLY

Tom, could it be a change in oven temperature? 350 deg. in one oven can be quite a bit different in another. Maybe try turning the oven up?

REPLY

Aloha Shawna. I have no idea as it has never ocurred to me and I have baked and lived in several areas of Hawaii. ONE thing I know is that been warmer climate, ingredients expire much sooner. How about baking powder? How old is it?

How about oven temperature! Did you check that? What about altitude? What elevation are you now vs in Idaho?

REPLY

shawna, fellow blogger hector wong (who lives in hawaii) is on vacation just now but i'm sure he'll have lots of helpful suggestions on return

REPLY

HELP!!!! i moved to hawaii 4 years ago from idaho, i am having major trouble baking here, all my cakes and cornbread go flat when i take them out of the oven, they look fine in the oven and i even bake them a little longer then it calls for and they fall flat when i take them out, i have tryed everything i can think of to make it work, anyone have any ideas

REPLY

try honey--it browns a LOT faster than sugar!

REPLY

i've varied the sugar from 1 tbsp to 1/2 cup and the results on the browning is negligible - i've even tried various flour brands and types

so far i've been baking only simple white buns, sour dough and focaccia. i really want to get back to baking old style peasant breads and french & italian loaves but not until i can get the browning back

tom

REPLY

Tom, could it be a change in flour? When I want more browning, one thing I do is add a bit of sugar or honey to the recipe.

REPLY

i moved from alberta canada, a very dry, high altitude (3000 ft) location where i baked bread every couple of weeks and had great success with both the texture and taste. i moved to panama, sea level, very humid climate. i do not live in an a/c home so the temperature and humidy is almost alway 85 degrees and 80% humidity - when i bake buns now the taste and rising is fine but they turn out so much more anemic - they never brown - i've tried dark pans, glass pans and aluminium pans - and i get no browing - the only other change is i've gone from electric to gas -

i love baking - i love sharing my bread but i desperately need it to be browner :}

your help is really appreciated

tom

REPLY

Oh my! I have been baking cookies with no trouble since I was 10 (now 27). I have just recently moved to the coast of Florida from Maryland. The cookies I made in the winter, per my old recipe turned out fine, but I just baked up a batch last night. They were a flat oily mess. I didn't do anything different from my old stand by recipe. I am thinking that might be the problem. How do you alter a recipe to fit a more humid climate? My guy asked for some of my great cookies, and I had disappoint. This is nothing I am used to. PLease help me get my cookie baking confidence back! I don't know what to do.

REPLY

Thanks for the suggestions but, I just need a simple regular frosting. Would Buttercreme melt fast? I have Daisies made out of fondant will those stick to the frosting or will it slide if the frosting starts to melt? I really have no idea how hot it will be.

REPLY

cynthia--i LOVE hearing this. i should reread the book--who can remember all those vital details! thank you.

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by the way, many people opt to rent a refrigerated van so that they don't have to worry about the frosting breaking down if the weather turns really hot.

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yes--cupcakes frosted with lemonn curd and dotted with white chocolate chips.

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I thought about that but the bride and groom do not want fondant :( Is there nothing else that would be ideal? Thank you so much!

REPLY

today was 90F+ in new jersey so as there's no predicting temperature outdoors i would do rolled fondant to be ssafe!

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I'am making a wedding cake for a cousin and the wedding is in may in Kansas. I need a simple vanilla frosting that won't melt in the heat, seeing that it's an outside wedding. A quick reply would be appreciated, Thanks!

REPLY

Hi! I have recently read The Cake Bible, from beginning to end, three times. Not only wot only wonderful in the kitchen, but a great read as well! Humidity has been a factor with my baking. This has helped tremendously!

REPLY

HI! I have posted this problem humidity last night on another well known site with no feedback! This has helped tremendously!

REPLY

I own 2 small bakeries in Pittsburgh and have found that when Spring arrives so do the problems with our cupcakes. Especially our vanilla cakes. They do not rise as well as they do in the Winter. drier months. We have tested a bunch of different things including increasing the leavening. This helps a bit but then makes the cake more spongy. Which we don't care for. For us, it is clear that humidity has an effect of the cakes. But what to do about it is a daily challenge. One thing we do that also seems to help is to keep the temperature over night at a constant 58-60 degrees. The air conditioning helps to dry out the air, reducing the absorption into the flour.

REPLY

I live in New Orleans and the humidity has a huge effect on boiled icings and many other cakes, etc. Less liquid is the key.

REPLY

I am having extreme problems with cakes dipping on the underside, much as described by Terry Dustin. I live in South Africa and bake for a living. My cakes work beautifully from the same recipe I have used for years, and I bake several a week. We are having humidity ranging between 61 and 83 percent this week, and the old problem has returned. Could it really be humidity related. Over the years I have tried changing ingredients including the oil brand I use, the paper I use for lining the pans etc. but regardless I have a string of unusable cakes. They come out the oven fine, but within a couple of minutes they collapse, the texture is oily and the dip is pale and matches the description of the other Terry. If it is humidity related, how do I fix it? Urgent help required. Thanks.

REPLY

i don't find any problems with humidty as i weigh my ingredients and i like a very moist dough but some people find it harder to handle. all they need to do is add more flour when kneading.

REPLY

Nicole Lentz
Nicole Lentz
10/ 8/2008 02:31 PM

what problems do you notice with humidity in bread for when your baking?

REPLY

Patricia Borg
Patricia Borg
03/ 2/2008 10:39 AM

I baked a streusel cake, making every effort with the right weighing of ingredients. I went by the book and let the cake cool in the oven. When I got back to check it after it cooled, I found out the cake had resulted in a hollowed centre. It's all puffed down. It was cooked in a foil disposible tray, in a fan oven. For the rest, the cake tastes good and is moist and nice just how it's supposed to be. Can someone help me? I'm a bit of a beginner in baking stuff. Thank you so much.

REPLY

I just moved from Hawaii to Utah and my favorite cookie recipe now makes only nine cookies instead of 12. I have done a little research on altitude and humidity but have not found any information that has helped. Any ideas?

REPLY

Rob Carpenter
Rob Carpenter
12/21/2007 12:07 AM

I just moved from Hawaii to Utah and my favorite cookie recipe now makes only nine cookies instead of 12. I have done a little research on altitude and humidity but have not found any information that has helped. Any ideas?

REPLY

it has been reported to me that humidity has a real effect on cake batter. i haven't experienced it first hand bc i work in an airconditioned environment.
when cakes dip it is invariably due to lack of structure. have you tried baking at a higher temperature? i don't think the strips would help this problem bc they serve to prevent doming not dipping!
i know how frustrating this must be for you and i don't think it's the mixes--i feel fairly certain it's the humidity. perhaps someone on the blog is using mixes and can report back.

REPLY

Terry Dustin
Terry Dustin
08/14/2007 11:52 AM

I have been prowling the web trying to find out what to do about poor cake performance. We manufacture ranges and ovens and regularly test ours and competitive products. You may not consider this real baking, but we have noted in the last month that white and yellow cakes of all the major brands get large dips and rings. These products performed wonderfully in the same exact oven just three months ago. I'm and engineer, so I tripple checked that it is operating properly. We are even using boxes of mix out of the same cases that previously worked well. The only variables I can think of are the humidity and the room temperature. We are based in southern California, which is basically an irrigated desert, getting less than 4” of rain in the last year. The humidity is usually low and the temperature warm, but not excessively hot as many parts of the country. This morning it is 68°F with scattered clouds and the humidity is shockingly at 94% according to a weather site. We have noted that pan size makes a big difference in the results; 9x13 rectangular pans usually produce good results, while 8” round pans are problem. One of our usual tests does a total of four 8” cakes at once, two cakes per rack, with them staggered so that one is not above another. Reducing the oven temp 25°F, making only two cakes instead of four and positioning the rack a little above center in the oven seems to reduce the problem, but not eliminate the dips. The dips are on the bottom and at minimum are 2” in diameter and ½” deep. Any thoughts? I wonder if your silicone strips would help this condition? I'm really more interested in finding the root cause, and I hate to deviate from the directions on the box.

REPLY

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