“I’d walk through fire for my daughter. Well not FIRE, because it’s dangerous. But a super humid room. But not too humid, because my hair” – Ryan Reynolds
Some people think I am being overly dramatic when it comes to island humidity, but I assure you, I am not. Humidity is without a doubt the bane of my existence. Like my friend Ryan Reynolds (quoted above), I cringe at the thought of going out in public on a humid day. Oh the embarrassment! Maybe no one will notice the bird’s nest on my head, I whisper to myself. Wait – what am I talking about? A bird’s nest would be an improvement! A friend of mine only last week saw my hair out for the first time and said, “Oh wow! It looks like you stuck your finger in an electrical socket!”
My frizz under control on a very good day, I can live with this. The extreme I will not admit to.
My hair, however, is just a small part of my hate-hate relationship with island humidity. You can find many posts just here on Women Who Live On Rocks that support my stance on humidity, including How to Feel Sexy with Island Swamp Ass, Island Sweating Survival Skills, and When Your Hair Hates the Tropics.
But before I expand on my top reasons for this hatred, let’s first examine the following:
The Collins English Dictionary’s definition of humidity is as follows;
Humidity / (hjuːˈmɪdɪtɪ ) / noun
1. the state of being humid; dampness
2. a measure of the amount of moisture in the air relative humidity, absolute humidity
Larry Wall put it perfectly when he said;
The Harvard Law states: Under controlled conditions of light, temperature, humidity, and nutrition, the organism will do as it damn well pleases.
And finally Urban Dictionary’s definition of humidity leads you to Humidititties;
Underboob sweat girls get when it’s hot and humid. (Also happens to guys with man boobs, or Moobs.)
Omg I have such bad humidititties, it’s so hot out, Fuck my life.
My sentiments exactly.
Ok, enough about humidititties and hair. How about the unintentional wet t-shirt competitions at the grocery store, chaffing from damp clothing, sweat dripping from places you never knew you could sweat from, smelly towels, repugnant smelling newly laundered clothes, and the need to spray everything with perfume before you leave the house. The list goes on and on, trust me.
One thing that did surprise me about the effects of island humidity is one that I still struggle with now, almost 3 years after we moved to this beautiful tropical island: it’s the frustrations of dealing with tropical humidity and cooking. Specifically, baking. Cakes, that is, and pastries, not roast dinners. You see, I’m a cook. Not a fancy, proper one anymore, just a home chef that still occasionally likes to sharpen my knives dramatically and try to cook fancy things, even though I can’t get most of the ingredients here. I know my way around a kitchen, and can usually measure ingredients like Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson – without spoons or measuring cups.
So here I am, a fresh arrival in Mauritius, making a nice fresh banana bread. It’s in the oven and smells delicious. Well, let me tell you honestly, even though it hurts my ego just a bit… it wasn’t delicious at all. It was soggy, and gooey, and absolutely god-awful! On top of this, the bananas here are different to those in Australia. Here they are juicy and firm, rather than the main Australian variety which is creamy and smooth. This alone effected the consistency of my bread.
How my banana bread ‘should’ look
My next island baking incident came a few months later, and it has been my worst experience with humidity in the kitchen to date. Truly an eye opener as to the effect this invisible curse has on my ingredients. Every year I attempt to make cakes for my children’s birthdays. Unfortunately for me, they both celebrate their birthdays during the extreme Mauritian Summer, which spans from November to April. This year, it has been absolutely brutal. Many houses in Mauritius don’t have cooling throughout the main living areas, so the kitchen becomes a sweltering, humid oven. Our house is no exception. Of course, we do have a pedestal fan that we move throughout the house and this does a fantastic job of pushing the hot air around.
Anyway, back to the birthday cake. Trying to be a good mum, I asked my daughter to pick any cake design she wanted. Foolishly, I was absolutely 100% sure she’d choose a fairly simple butterfly cake. I even opened the computer and had already typed in butterfly cake to gently influence her decision. “No Mummy,” she said in a matter-of-fact way, “I want a Beauty and the Beast, Barbie cake with a beautiful yellow dress.”
OMFG! I mean, “Of course darling.” Shit!
“This is a disaster waiting to happen!” I said to my husband that night. The heat in summer is a monster all on its own, but add the unrelenting humidity on top of that when I’m trying to make buttercream frosting? Well, it’s just not going to work. “Don’t do it,” he casually said. “No, I have to!” I exclaimed. “I can do it!” This was met with an exasperated eye roll from my husband. Little Miss Perfect is at it again.
The day arrived and my perfect buttercream was piping on a dream! The beautiful yellow swirl dress looked divine… that was until Beauty’s buttercream dress started sliding off the wretched cake! Oh god, no, no, no! I was adding corn starch and extra icing sugar at a rapid pace, and it was doing squat. Every five minutes, I was putting Beauty back in the fridge to try and firm up the buttercream, but then my darling engineer of a husband got annoyed because I was using too much energy and heating up the fridge. The humidity in the air just clung to my icing and the heat did absolutely nothing to help the situation. Throughout the party, I turned Beauty the Barbie around and pointed the mess away from the camera and strategically hid it during the photos.
Beauty Barbie losing her dress
A few years have passed since then and I still haven’t mastered a way to get buttercream to stand up against the Mauritian weather. Adding more sugar makes it grainy, cornstarch works, but too much will give the buttercream an unpleasantly starchy taste. Cooling the butter doesn’t help because it will just melt again anyway, and at my local shops I’ve been unable to find shortening (a butter substitute similar to margarine). This, unlike butter, contains no water and is less susceptible to the affects of heat and humidity. Placing the cake and icing in the fridge every five minutes, as I mentioned already, just makes my husband grumpy. So I just hope for the best now and try to do slightly less intricate buttercream extravaganzas.
Humidity can also affect the consistency of cake batters, by adding moisture to flour and other dry products. So you can find that you are unwittingly adding in more liquid than required, and it only takes a little extra liquid to completely alter the structure of the finishing product. I have however found that storing dry ingredients in the fridge or freezer in air-tight containers does stop them from taking on moisture. But honestly, who has the space? My fridge is full of wine, and my freezer? God knows what is in there, but there is no space for containers full of flower, icing sugar, and cocoa powder, that’s for sure.
Cooking with kids is challenging enough.
Reducing the wet ingredients works as long as you don’t hold back too much. I mean, how much humidity can be in a cup of flour? Well, more than I thought. I baked my soup of a cake on a lower temperature so the top didn’t burn for almost 30 minutes more than required just so the liquid ingredients could cook off! I find reducing the dry ingredients by a 1/4 cup is a good start and then slowly add more if needed until the consistency is right. Thankfully, a lot of recipes nowadays will explain how the consistency should be.
I, however, have resigned myself to the fact that I cannot control the weather, nor can I banish humidity from my island kitchen. I have become content with grainy, super sweet buttercream, melting fondant, bleeding food colouring, and slightly moist cakes, cupcakes, and breads.
I guess there is no use crying over spilt milk, dropped eggs or humidity – Photo taken by my talented sister Amelia Sawtell, who has perfect humidity proof hair.
Have you found humidity has affected your cooking? Do you have any tried and tested tips and tricks to overcome the moisture in the air? I’d love to hear your stories, pop them in the Comments section below.
All images in this article were taken by and are the property of Keara Cupidon unless otherwise specified