Crazy Baking a Mile in the Air: Tips for High Altitude Kitchens

13 Tips for High Altitude Baking

I live at an elevation over 5,000 feet. It is called the “high desert.” There is a mountain range just to the north that is almost 8,000 feet above sea level, but because my town is already so high, it doesn’t look like more than hills. Being so high causes me to have to make a few adjustments when I cook and bake.
 Here are a few interesting things you may not have known about elevated cooking and baking:
The higher the elevation, the lower the temperature at which water boils. The 212 degree mark actually is the temperature that water boils at sea level. This being the case, you’d think that things would cook quicker, but because they are boiling at a lower temperature, it takes longer because the overall heat is lower.
  • If liquids boil at lower temperatures, it stands to reason that they are evaporating faster, too. So we have to add more liquid to recipes. Sometimes adding just one more egg will do the trick.
  • The atmosphere is thinner up here, so gases expand more…as in leavening gases in cakes. So we have to add less to recipes.
  • Have you ever noticed that there are “high altitude recipes” on the back of cake mixes? It’s not only the baking soda and baking powder that behaves differently at high elevations, sugar changes, too. So, we have to add less to recipes.
  • In the cake mixes, you can’t adjust the leavening and sugar, so the instructions have you add more flour to compensate.
  • Fats can pose a problem, too. If the gases are expanding and stretching the structure of the baked good, fats can concentrate, resulting in a bit of glop. Decreasing the amount of fat by even a tablespoon can solve that problem.
  • Another thing we high altitude bakers have to remember is not to over beat our egg whites. Again the air evaporates, the bubbles pop and the result is a baked brick.
  • For some reason, yeast behaves at all elevations and rarely has to be adjusted.
  • Other things to consider when cooking at higher elevations: potatoes and other dense vegetables take forever to cook unless they are cut into small pieces.
  • Beans. You’d think those tiny little things would cook just fine, but their cooking time actually doubles. Pressure cookers solve that problem.
  • Speaking of pressure cookers, canning (bottling) fruits, vegetables and all other things take longer. If you are using a boiling bath method, and the instructions say it takes 10 minutes, plan on 20 if you are at a higher altitude. If you are using a pressure cooker, plan on adding an additional 5-10 pounds of pressure when sealing the jars.
  • One last secret to high altitude baking is to use buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream in place of sweet milk as it raises the acidity of the batter. Acids hold in check some of the funky chemical reactions that the lower air pressure causes.
  • Finally, not all recipes will need to be adjusted. All cooking and baking is a matter of tweaking things here and there for taste as well as texture. If you have a recipe that just won’t turn out, try some changes and see if it works better. However if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

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