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High Altitude Baking - A Cooks Guide
High altitude baking can be a real adventure for the cook, with a number of challenges to keep you on your toes. The higher you are in elevation, the less pressure there will be. How does this affect your baking creations? Low air pressure creates increased evaporation of liquids during the baking process and this can cause your cakes to fall. Baking at high altitudes means a few more adjustments so that your baked goods will come out perfectly, ready to tempt the finest of taste buds.
Start by following the high altitude recipes by the letter. For some bakers, this will work out fine. For others, changes will be necessary. Begin with making adjustments to your oven temperature by 15 - 25 degrees F. Next, adjust the ingredients in your recipe. For cakes that are supposed to rise, using either yeast or baking powder, you will need to make some changes.
If you are using yeast during high altitude baking you will have to make sure that the dough rises slowly. For cakes using baking powder make certain not to over-beat the eggs. You will also have to decrease the amount of baking powder used.
A decrease in atmospheric pressure will cause gases to expand easier. For your lovely meringue toppings, meringue (angel) pie shells, angel and sponge cakes, follow the following suggestions: Whip the egg whites to medium-soft peaks instead of stiff peaks. Add more stiffening with a bit more flour and a bit less sugar. Also, with your increase in oven temperature by 25 degrees F, the batter will have a better chance to set before the air bubbles or leavening gases have the chance to become too expansive.
When preparing puddings and cream-pie fillings above 5,000 feet, using a double boiler will not provide you with the maximum gelatinization of starch. You can simply use direct heat rather than a double boiler.
High altitude will affect the rising time of bread the most. At high altitudes, the rising period will be shortened. To maintain the development of a good flavor in your breads, you will need to preserve the longer rising period. Punch the bread dough down twice to give the time for the flavor to develop. Remember that flours tend to be drier and able to absorb more liquid in high, dry climates. Use less flour when bringing the dough to the proper consistency. You may want to experiment a bit with this for best results.
When buying cake mixes, look for the high altitude baking instructions on the box. Your quick breads will vary frommuffin-like to cake-like in structure. The cell structure of biscuits and muffin-like quick breads should be firm enough to withstand the increased internal pressure at high altitudes without the need of adjustment. Be cautious,though, as a bitter or alkaline flavor can result from inadequate neutralization of baking soda or powder. To avoid this, reduce the baking soda or powder slightly and this can often improve your results. The quick breads with a cake-like texture will be more delicately balanced and can often be improved at high altitudes when you follow the adjustment recommendations given for cakes.
You can also take advantage of a variety of charts available for high altitude baking. These will come in handy and help you determine what adjustments to make according to how many feet above sea level you are. The higher the altitude the more adjustments are needed.
The following guidelines may be used as a general rule of thumb. Remember to test each recipe, first, for best results:
3,000 to 4,500 feet:
5000 to 6000 feet:
6000 feet and above:
Altitudes over 10000 feet: same as 6000 feet, but add an extra egg to recipe
High altitude baking can be fun. As you experiment, you will come up with the formula that works for you at your level of elevation. You should begin with the suggested adjustments and then make minor tweaks here and there. Your good efforts will produce quality baked goods, sure to please even the gourmet in all of us.
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