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Tips for Extreme Weather Cake Decorators: Gum Paste Sugar Flowers

Weather conditions are the main concern for many cake decorators, and to what extent depends on where you live. Heat, cold, and humidity all play havoc in different ways with ingredients, the gumpaste, and finished flowers.

Here I am giving you some ideas on how to handle your gumpaste when it’s cold and difficult to use. You will also find a gum paste recipe that’s good when it’s hot and humid and how to make sure the flowers stay in perfect condition.

Extremely cold weather can make gumpaste challenging to handle. You can spend hours and hours making the most beautiful Gum Paste Sugar flowers only to find that hot/humid weather conditions are out to destroy all your hard work, so I am passing on my own experience and tips from friends that may help you.

I started my gum paste flower making, cake making, and decorating career in England, where it is rarely too hot or too cold, and I can’t ever remember considering humidity.

Weather conditions are a concern for many decorators, and to what extent depends on where you live.
However, since moving to central Europe several years ago, where it can drop to -15C in the winter and rise to over +40 C in the summer, and the humidity can fluctuate, I am now experiencing some of the issues that are a significant problem for a lot of people.

It’s cold outside…

Before I tell you how I cope with making sugar flowers in the heat and humidity, I will tell you how I deal with them when it’s cold.

My kitchen is usually at a comfortable temperature in the winter, but when it’s freezing outside, and the ovens aren’t on, I find that the gum paste can sometimes become very stiff and hard to work with.

It’s fine once the heat from my hands softens it, but to start it off, I often resort to a practice that needs to be carefully done or risk ruining the paste. I give it a blast in the microwave, but only for just 3 seconds at a time, testing it each time until it is soft enough.

Leave it any longer in the microwave between each testing; then, you may not catch it when it is just right, and the sugar will overheat, and apart from burning your hands badly when you try to use it, chances are it will be useless.
I sometimes have cold hands in the winter, even in the warm kitchen, so I frequently put them in warm water to heat them, but I make sure I dry them thoroughly before touching the paste, or excess moisture will ruin its consistency.

Another thing I do is to put a thick towel over the radiator and leave the paste I am not using on that, tightly double wrapping it so it doesn’t dry out.

A special gum paste

I have not had problems in any weather conditions with this Gum paste recipe that I generally use.

However, a friend has given me this recipe she uses to cope with the extreme weather conditions that occur where she lives.

Gum Paste Recipe for Hot and Humid Conditions

The instructions below are for making gum paste with a table mixer. The paste is not suitable for making with a hand mixer because it is very stiff and would most likely burn out the motor.

However, there is absolutely no reason you couldn’t make this by hand if you knead it well to make it smooth.

Ingredients

250g icing/confectioners sugar
3 egg whites – beaten until liquid
150g cornflour/cornstarch
17g Gum Tragacanth or Tylose
130g potato starch (not potato flour)**

Method

Sift the icing/confectioners sugar into the bowl of an electric table mixer, add the egg whites, and beat together on medium speed until smooth and free from lumps
Scrape down the sides of the bowl when necessary and beat for five more minutes on medium speed

Sift the Gum Tragacanth/Tylose and the cornflour/cornstarch together and add slowly to the mix.

Turn the mixer to a slow speed and mix until the ingredients are combined, scraping down the bowl’s sides as required.

Tip the mixture onto your bench and knead in the potato starch until it is smooth and elastic.

Double wrap in food-grade plastic and leave it to rest for 12 hours before using it.
After resting, if you are not going to use it immediately, divide it into smaller pieces, double wrap them in plastic wrap, place them in a freezer bag or box, and store them in the freezer.

To use the paste, leave until it reaches room temperature, then knead well before use.
** If you can’t get potato starch, you can replace it with arrowroot powder or tapioca starch

Making the flowers…

If you are wiring your gum paste flowers, you must make sure that you make a hook at the end of the wire before you attach it to the flower center. Don’t just slide it into the center and hope for the best; you must make sure it is anchored securely into the paste. That way, there will be less chance of it coming out if the flowers are in a humid atmosphere.

Dry the flowers well…

If the atmosphere is likely to be hot and humid on the day you require your decorated cake, you need to make the flowers well in advance so they can be thoroughly dried. The best way to see your flowers collapse is to put them on a cake when the flowers’ centers are not adequately dried, especially if the flower is large.

If you are going to make a cake for a special occasion, e.g., a wedding cake, you will usually have plenty of notice to make the flowers well in advance, so they have plenty of time to dry properly.

However, there will always be a cake needed in an ‘emergency,’ so the best advice I can give you is to have some well dried, white flowers, or flowers in the colors you use most, stored away for those occasions. You can always color them with petal dust when needed or airbrush them with gel paste diluted with vodka, so they dry quickly.

If you continuously experience drying gum paste sugar flowers and make quite a few, a good investment would be a worktop dehydrator.

Placed in a dehydrator on low heat, petals can take as little as an hour to dry, but larger flowers may have to be left overnight to dry thoroughly, depending on how big they are. A dehydrator is not expensive, and it works well.

You could also place your flowers on a tray, put them into an oven set on its lowest setting, with the door slightly open, and leave for several hours until dried right through.

The flowers are dry, so what now…

Once the flowers are dry, there is always the chance that if it is too humid, they will begin to absorb moisture, become sticky, droop, and, worst-case scenario, fall apart.

If I think there is a chance to happen, then I paint each flower with two coats of confectioners glaze, letting it dry between coats. I know you can get the glaze in an aerosol spray, but because I can’t cope with the smell, I prefer to paint it on, and after I have finished, I clean the brush with confectioners glaze cleaner.

It works for me, and I remember reading somewhere that one of the celebrity TV cake makers was suggesting using it, but I can’t remember who it was.

I decided to see how effective it was in extreme humidity, so I painted a couple of flowers with two coats of glaze, letting them dry between each coat and then holding them in the steam of a kettle for a couple of minutes.

They got slightly sticky but didn’t fall apart, and once I removed them from the steam, they dried within a few minutes, and I couldn’t tell that anything had happened to them. That was very extreme, so I suspect they would stand up to a lot of heat and humidity under normal circumstances.

Flower makers usually use confectioners glaze to make their flowers shiny, but some say that it makes white flowers slightly yellow. I have not experienced that, but if you have and need to take precautions against heat and humidity, perhaps the answer is not to make white flowers.

Confectioners glaze an edible, clear varnish made from shellac, a natural substance mixed with alcohol, and evaporates immediately exposed to the air. It‘s sold in a brown-tinted bottle, which keeps the glaze from taking on a yellow tint. Sweets such as M&M’s are coated with shellac, which kids (big and small) eat all the time, so it’s not harmful.

How to store your flowers…

Once your flowers are dry, don’t put them on the cake until the last minute – if you are delivering the cake, if possible, put them on the cake when you get to the venue.

If you are fortunate enough to make them ahead of time, they need to be stored correctly until you are ready to use them.

The easiest way to store them is to place them in a large airtight box with some silica gel sachets, which you can get from a craft shop or Amazon. I usually place the box in a brown paper bag or use a dark-colored box, so the light doesn’t fade the colors.

Don’t store them in a fridge or a freezer; leave them in a cool place until you need them.
The silica will absorb moisture left in the flowers and keep them perfectly dry until you need them. I have flowers I made 30 years ago, and they are still perfect.

I have also read that you can use products such as ‘Hippo Moisture Absorber’’, “Damp-Rid,” or uncooked dry rice scattered in the bottom of the box. In other words, anything that absorbs moisture that works for you is the answer.

Not a good idea…

Someone even suggested using cat litter in the bottom of the box, covered with paper to absorb moisture. Still, because gumpaste absorbs smells, I am not sure if flowers smelling of cat litter disinfectant would be acceptable on a cake.

I hope this information is helpful, but trial and error may be the only way to find out what works for you where you live.

Fillings, frostings, and rolled fondant…

In my blog post about Fillings & Frostings that will stand up better to extreme weather conditions, you will find recipes that are easy to make, are delicious and are easy to use.

In my blog post about using Rolling Fondant in extreme weather conditions, you will find lots of tips and information that I am sure you will find useful.

If there is anything else I can help you with if you live in a place where working with gumpaste is not so easy, please ask your questions in the comments box below, and I will do my best to answer them.

If you have experience working in extreme weather conditions and have any tips, you could pass on, and please put them in the comments box below.

Joyce Freeman

Joyce Freeman

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8 thoughts on “Tips for Extreme Weather Cake Decorators: Gum Paste Sugar Flowers”

    1. Hi Sophia,
      I am delighted that the gum paste recipe worked well for you.
      I have been using that recipe since I started making gum paste flowers.
      It always gives me good results so I have never thought of changing to another one.
      I hope you have many enjoyable hours of sugar flower making.
      Best wishes Joyce

  1. Setp 6, 2020, hello Joyce, thank you for your information, question, if the cake has to be stored in the fridge because of fillings and couple wants it, later on, what can I add to prevent the gum paste from wetness and stickiness after the cake is removed from the fridge. or would pastillage be a better medium? thanks marg

  2. August 16, 2020 I had to deliver a cake only a half mile down the road, but the temp was 99° outside. The cake began to disintegrate the moment I walked out the door! The fondant sides broke and fell off. I did some research and found that adding 2 T of baking powder to your icing really helps the icing to stay in place to hold the fondant!. It works!

    1. Dear Susan,

      Thank you for the tip. I have never heard of it before, but I will try it.

      I have always put the fondant on the cake the day before it’s needed to enable it to dry enough to hold the flowers and not disintegrate when traveling.

      I have, in certain circumstances, added a small amount of CMC or gum tragacanth to the fondant to make it a bit harder. However, I prefer not to do that because the idea of fondant is that it sets but not so hard that it can’t be cut and easily eaten.

      Best wishes,
      Joyce

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