Cooking for your family consists of three main ingredients: love, family and great food! At Summit Mountain Rentals, our rentals properties come with all the kitchen gear you will need to whip up your family’s favorites. Still, when you’re visiting us in the high country and making your beloved recipes, you may feel like something is just not right. Maybe the water is boiling, but your pasta is not cooking? Or your bulletproof recipe for fluffy biscuits is coming out flat and dry?
It’s not jet lag doing you in; it’s the altitude. But no need to worry, I have some tips and tricks to help you get those muffins standing tall again; we’ll also talk about the science behind these high-altitude phenomena. Since most recipes are designed for sea level, high-altitude baking requires a few clever adjustments to ensure everything comes out like it would back home. Finally, I’ve included my "Chewy High Altitude Chocolate Chip Cookies" recipe, sure to please even the most ardent cookie snob. So, put down those store bought cookies and pick up that mixer — together we are going to make something delicious at altitude.
Before we jump into the kitchen, let’s talk air pressure and how it affects the form of our baked goods. As you rise in elevation the air pressure falls. To put it simply, baked goods will rise more easily at altitude and loose moisture faster as well. Moisture is essential for flavor in any baking dish — this is because moisture molecules carries aromas to the nose, a key step in how we discern flavors. Because the evaporation rate up here above 9,000 feet is much faster, water will boil at 198 F, a whole 14 lower than at sea level. This can result in your brownies sticking to the pan more than usual, or cakes either not setting or setting to the point that they are dry and crumbly. This is because the delicate formula that makes the cake rise needs adjusting up here at altitude.
That said, there are of course options out there that solve these issues. Here are some tips to keep that cake looking perfect from Summit County oven to Summit County table:
- The best suggestion to keep your cake looking pretty is to always line or grease and flour your baking pans to help keep your cakes from sticking. (The only exceptions to this rule is angel or sponge cakes.)
- Additionally, to help the sticking problem, some cooks will also add 1 tablespoon more flour per cup flour called for in the recipe to help it set.
- Acidity can also help your batter set quickly in the oven. For example, substitute buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt instead of milk in the recipe.
- Another well-known trick is to decrease baking powder or baking soda by 1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon for every teaspoon called for in cake recipes. You may find that quick breads like biscuits, muffins, coffee cakes, squares and cookies don't need adjusting; this is due to their stronger cell structure.
- The cooking temperature can also be increased 10-25 F to allow batter to set before its cells overstretch, which causes fallen muffins. However, be aware that this can result in cakes baking faster than expected. And, always check your baked goods early and reduce baking time if necessary to avoid dry or crumbly results.
- For the best-formed cakes, I recommend subtracting 1-3 tablespoons of sugar per cup recommended or 1-2 tablespoons of fat per cup recommended for your recipe. This will help keep your cakes from becoming bumpy or uneven.
- One of my favorite tricks to help keep cakes from drying out is adding an egg or egg white to your recipe. This adds more liquid as well as protein, which coagulates and makes the cake set faster.
- Since we are above 9,000 feet, you can also add up to 4 tablespoons of extra liquid to help keep things moist.
- Keep in mind when using egg whites for foam cakes (such as angel, sponge or chiffon) you will want to form only soft peaks to ensure the egg whites are flexible enough to expand and allow the batter to rise.
Now that you have all the tricks of the trade, will be able to adjust even your great grandmother’s famous “Death by Chocolate Cake” recipe and bake the perfect cake at altitude. Just keep in mind that you will not want to adjust an already made “high-altitude recipe” (like the one below).
Now we get to the fun part. Here’s a recipe for some chewy chocolate chips cookies that are perfect fuel for skiing, hiking, biking or any Summit County activities.
Lisa’s Chewy High Altitude Chocolate Chip Cookies
Set Oven to 350 F (175 C)
- 1 Cup Butter
- 1 Cup White Sugar
- 1 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
- 3 1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
- 1 Cup Semisweet Chocolate Chips
- In large bowl combine butter and both sugars until mixture is smooth.
- Mix in one egg at a time, followed by the vanilla extract.
- Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the batter just until blended.
- Finally mix in the chocolate chips. Once batter is combined drop cookies by heaping teaspoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet (2 inches apart).
- Bake in preheated oven until edges go golden brown (12-15 minutes depending on your oven) Allow cookies to cool for a few minutes on baking sheet before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Dunk in milk and enjoy!
Got any tips on baking/cooking at altitude? How about questions? Please post them in the comments section below!