Bakers can spend months perfecting a formula only to have Mother Nature drop in a cup of humidity, a dash of freeze and a pinch of uneven heat. Not all is lost, however: Leverage tips from experts who’ve learned to weather the weather.
Record the temperature of shortening, butter and other plastic fats used in baked goods, recommends Katherine Simpson, applications chef at Dawn Foods. If hot weather causes these ingredients to melt, the alignment of their fat crystals changes. “Cookie dough, for example, is one where the temperature of butter is very important,” she says. If a bakery records the temperature of its butter for each batch, it can revisit the log to perfect its cookies and determine a specific range in which the butter should be kept.
Bread dough that’s too cold ferments too slowly, while dough that’s too warm ferments too quickly, says Robert Bennett, head baker for Choc O Pain French Bakery & Café in New Jersey. “Knowing a dough’s desired temperature when it comes out of the mixer determines the temperature of the water you want to use,” he says. Bennett calculates the temperatures of the room and the flour, and the heat generated by the mixer’s friction, to determine his water’s ideal temperature.
After moving from Seattle (which has a humid climate) to New York (which is much drier), Nicole Edelstein, founder and chief macaron maker at Nicole Macaron, realized that if her macarons rested too long before going in the oven in her new city, they became too hard and uneven. To prevent this, she cut down the cookies’ resting time from 30 minutes to 10. Humidity can also affect dough proofing. To maintain product consistency, bakers should actively monitor proof box conditions and adjust settings as conditions vary.
Stella Parks, cookbook author and senior editor at Serious Eats, was previously a pastry chef in a restaurant with a basement kitchen that wasn’t temperature-controlled. Some dry ingredients often needed to be warmed up before use. To bring her sugar to a workable temperature, Parks put 25 pounds of it in the oven at 170 to 200 degrees. The amount of time sugar needs to warm up for recipes depends on the volume of sugar and type of pan used, Parks says, so keep an eye on it. She once forgot about her sugar for five hours, resulting in a caramel creation with a rich taste and color, which she wrote about in a James Beard Award-nominated article.)
Tracking butter’s temperature is one thing—keeping it cold while using it is another. If Parks’ kitchen is heating up, she places her sugar bin in her walk-in fridge so the sugar stays cold and doesn’t melt the butter once they’re mixed. She also lines the base of her work station with ice and places the butter on top so it stays chilled.