Mind the Humidity


By Tanya Silverman

Photo by Ashley Rodriguez.

Humidity affects a number of factors in our daily existence: our environments, our health, our mood, our hair. As such, the amount of water vapor that exists in the air also affects the dynamics of the kitchen.

When baking, it is important to monitor the humidity for a number of reasons. Although recipes may not state it, bakers may need to reduce the amount of water they add to mixes when the air is more humid. The hardness of butter also needs to be considered when baking; leaving butter out in a humid room causes it to melt, which is not usually an ideal consistency. The same goes for minding margarine or shortening.

In fact, the majority of ingredients need to be examined before the preparation process of baking even starts. Jeffrey Yoskowitz, the lead pastry chef at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), tells BTR that bakers have to be extremely careful with their dry goods. Items like baking powder, baking soda, and yeast are all subject to soaking up moisture and thus getting damaged.

Yoskowitz stresses the importance of minding humidity when baking bread. Pastries contain sugar, he explains, which is hygroscopic, so they are better at absorbing the water that’s in the atmosphere.

As he bakes and teaches in New York City, Yoskowitz deals with the reality of four seasons–a recurrent theme in his culinary lessons.

“I tell the pastry students it’s actually a different profession in New York baking in the summer than in the winter,” he explains.

Sometimes ICE students come from places like the Philippines or India, which typically have far higher levels of humidity year round. Yoskowitz tells BTR that he has to review the recipes with individuals from such climates and go over how to alter the process and measurements according to the weather.

Yoskowitz says that he teaches all students not only how to bake with humidity cautiously, but how to store finished products in airtight containers, plus the ways to wrap them properly. Freezing techniques are also important storage lessons, as when food items get taken out into warmer air, the exposure can significantly alter their state.

Cooking technology is developing ways to avoid humidity damage, Yoskowitz explains. At times, when bakers put materials on display that seem to be sprinkled in confectioner’s sugar, that white ingredient is actually a sugar that’s coated with a humidity-resistant protein.

Fernanda Capobianco, founder of NYC bakery Vegan Divas, tells BTR that the staff has to be extra careful minding the humidity when baking.

“We don’t use butter… or things like cream or heavy cream, so for us, it’s much more challenging to get the moisture and consistency that all the desserts have,” she explains.

As such, Capobianco realizes that winter trays have to be baked for less time, but summer ones a bit more. Because Vegan Divas bakes their goods fresh daily and offers same-day delivery services, conditional situations always arrive, such as how to adjust a Babka when it’s raining, or measure the right amount of apple cider vinegar for doughnuts so that they do not dry out by the end of the day.

Capobiano states that most of the customers at Vegan Divas don’t ascribe to the plant-based diet, they just happen to like the food or want to eat desserts guilt-free.

“Our challenge here is to make people here think of the taste and not think of whether it’s vegan or not,” she explains.

Of course, when customers receive a bread, cake, or pastry, they probably want to think of the taste and consistency it offers at the moment they bite into it–and not how the complexities of humidity played into it. Nevertheless, water vapor remains an inherent and ongoing baking challenge.