Saturday, October 6, 2012

my tips for baking at high altitude

While selling my goodies at Market Days on Fridays, I'm fielding more and more questions about baking at high altitude.  No, I don't own Pie in the Sky.  I don't use special high altitude recipes because the idea of giving up my all time favorite recipes for new ones at this point in my life is craziness.  I adjust all my recipes for high altitude.  Every recipe is different and it may take time to tweak things before you get it right but here are my rules for adjusting a recipe.

Addis Ababa is at 7500 ft above sea level

For cookies:
Increase the temperature of your oven by 10-15 degrees
Decrease the sugar by 1 Tbsp per 1 cup called for in the recipe
Increase liquids 1Tbs
Decrease baking powders or sodas.  If recipe calls for 1 tsp, I only add 1/4 tsp
Increase flour by 1 Tbsp at 3500 ft and 1 more Tbsp for every additional 1,000 ft
Note: I don't really follow the flour rule all the time. I tried adding the additional 5 Tbsp and it was just too much.  I like to add about 3 Tbsp of flour for my cookie recipes for every one cup of flour called for.

For cakes and other baking goods:
Increase flour 3-4 Tbsp per 1 cup called for in the recipe
Decrease baking powder or sodas by 1 1/2-1/2 tsp  (at my altitude I decrease 1 tsp to 1/4 tsp)
Increase liquid 1 Tbsp per cup called for (sometimes this can be adding an egg)
Decrease sugar by 3-4 Tbsp per cup called for

For yeast breads, dough and bagels: I don't adjust anything

I've cobbled together these rules of thumbs from multiple websites but the tricky part is that every recipe requires slightly different alterations.  Some of my cakes I add a bit of flour and decrease the BP and that's it.  Other recipes require additional liquid.

My advice is to think about your very favorite recipes and just try adjusting a few small things in trials.  Start with decreasing the BP or soda, remove a Tbsp of sugar and add some flour.  For cookies, the increased temp on the oven will help as well.  Just these few things make a world of difference but if you still aren't happy with the results try something different next time.

Paying attention to baking times is key as well.  Notice when your cookies rise and then fall.  Once they fall you need to pay close attention to the moment they are ready to be taken out.  You'll find at high altitude, your baking time may be a bit less because the liquids boil off quicker meaning your baked goods will rise and fall fast and when all those liquids are gone your treats will get dry really fast (hence the addition of more liquids and decrease in BP to compensate).

Baking is a science (which is why I love it-I bet you didn't know I have a B.S. in Chemistry).  Tinkering with your recipe is like making adjustments to your experiments in a laboratory-which in this case, is your kitchen.  Don't be afraid to make a few mistakes.  Worse case scenario is that your cookies are too crunchy and dry or your cake falls and is simply really dense instead of airy.  These items are still tasty and edible.  Crush up your cookies for a pie crust and chop up the cake and mix it in a batch of ice cream.  One time my cupcakes went concave on me and I just used the indentation as a little nest for a pretty flower dollop of frosting  (frosting saves everything).

I also recommend taking notes.  Write down all your adjustments to a recipe and make observations as you go.  Especially when it comes to baking time and temp.  What is the texture?  Did the cookies spread too much?  Did the additional flour make your cake too bland?

It may seem like a very messy way of doing things.  On the contrary, working with your recipes in this fashion is quite scientific!  Good luck and I'm always happy to field any questions.


Mommy said...

Thank you sooo much for these tips! I look forward to trying some of them out :) The ginger cookies with mini chocolate chips that I made were a hit but I felt they were a little dry (I had added the 1/4 cup of extra flour).

Danielle said...

THese tips are wonderful, you've so so so done your homework! I love baking for the science and chemistry too! And it's really fun when you can start tweaking recipes and really understand what you are doing! My greatest baking geekiness comes with bread baking. I make sourdough and love experimenting with different fermentation times, starter and liquid ratios. It's just 3 ingredients: salt, water and flour and yet you can make breads that taste, feel and look so totally different. So much fun.

Sara said...

Sourdough bread is my all time favorite and I am in the works of trying to begin making my own. I need to get a big tub for my dough. Anyhow, I'm kind of nervous to start. Maybe you can share your tips!

Yes, I am a science geek too. I have an educational emphasis in Biochemistry so the fermentation process is my favorite.

Who knew all those hours in organic chem lab would result in assisting my baking technique.