Posted by Veronica Hill
My first experience with the perils of high altitude baking happened in the winter of 1992, just a week after moving into our 6,000-foot-elevation home in the L.A. mountains.
A co-worker had just scored the recipe to Mrs. Field’s Original Chocolate Chip Cookies, and I was able to coax her into sharing it with me. That night, I rushed home, stopping at the grocery store for the necessary ingredients: chocolate chips, dark brown sugar, pure vanilla extract.
After mixing everything together, I carefully spooned each drop onto the baking sheet. Twenty minutes later — voila! A giant pancake of gooey melted sugar and chocolate. My husband was not impressed.
Since that day, my skills at high altitude baking and boiling have definitely improved. Some of it requires trial and error; other times simply adding a bit more flour and less oil will do the trick.
Cooks will find that some bread and cake recipes they used in low-altitude regions don’t work above the 3,000 foot level.
One of the first things one will notice is the incredibly long boiling time. The reason? The higher the elevation, the lower the temperature water will boil. That often means having to add more water to beans, pasta, rice and artichokes.
At high altitudes, a large artichoke can take up to 1 1/2 to 2 hours to become soft enough for eating — a long time when you’re dying for a fix of those tender, soft leaves dipped in a creamy Dijon mustard sauce.
High Altitude Baking Tips
Baking is the another challenge. The lower atmospheric pressure causes yeast dough to rise 25 to 50 percent faster.
In some instances, a change in baking temperatures may be necessary, as is a change in the proportions of ingredients used in leavened foods such as cakes and yeast breads.
• For homes at 3,000 feet, increase your oven temperature by 25 degrees F. For each teaspoon of baking powder, baking soda and cream of tartar, decrease 1/8 teaspoon. For each cup of sugar, decrease 0 to 1 tablespoon. For each cup of liquid, add 1 to 2 tablespoons.
• For homes at 5,000 feet, increase your oven temperature by 25 degrees F. For each teaspoon of baking powder, baking soda and cream of tartar, decrease 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon. For each cup of sugar, decrease 0 to 2 tablespoons. For each cup of liquid, add 2 to 4 tablespoons.
• For homes at 7,000 or more feet, increase your oven temperature by 25 degrees F. For each teaspoon of baking powder, baking soda and cream of tartar, decrease 1/4 teaspoon. For each cup of sugar, decrease 1 to 3 tablespoons. For each cup of liquid, add 3 to 4 tablespoons.
• For bread machines, Gold Medal flour recommends using active dry yeast in lieu of bread machine yeast. If the dough is coming out too dry, Fleischmann’s recommends adding a couple teaspoons of water to the dough until it comes out in a tight, shiny ball. If the bread caves in on itself, reduce the yeast by 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon.
Flour loses moisture quickly in a dry climate, and should always be stored in an airtight container. When making breads, grease or lightly oil the exposed part of dough (whether in a bowl, on a board, or in a baking pan) and cover with greased plastic wrap instead of a towel. Store breads and cakes in airtight plastic wrap, bags, or containers.
Cooking Hard Candies at High Altitude
Hard candies should be cooked for a shorter amount of time in high altitudes because of the rapid liquid evaporation. If sea-level directions are followed, the syrup will become too concentrated by the time the prescribed temperature is reached, and the candy will be too hard.
To determine the correct amount of cooking, drop 1/2 teaspoon of boiling syrup into a cup of very cold water.
• The soft-ball stage is reached when the syrup can be picked up and formed with the fingers into a soft ball, but then flattens.
• The firm-ball stage is reached when the syrup can be formed by the fingers into a solid, but not hard, ball that holds its shape unless pressed.
• The hard-ball stage is the last stage where a ball can still be formed.
• The soft-crack stage is reached when the syrup separates into hard, but not brittle, threads.
• In the hard-crack stage, the syrup separates into hard and brittle threads, or breaks like glass when hit against the side of the cup.