Christian Chefs International High Altitude Cooking Part 1
THE BASICS OF HIGH ALTITUDE COOKING
I have chosen to write on this topic because this is where I have the most experience. I must confess I felt kind of silly after telling you all what an "expert" I am, to find out I had very little "technical" knowledge after all. I realized you need formulas and basic rules for High Altitude Cooking. So we will learn together WHY I have been so successful for these 36 years of cooking at 5,000 to 8,500 ft. As I have researched this topic, I have become fascinated with the "technical" reasons this information I am about to give you works. Come along now, and learn with me.
There is less (or lower) air pressure at high altitudes because the blanket of air is thinner than it would be at sea level. As a result, at sea level water, boils at 212' F; at an altitude of 7,500 feet, however, it boils at about 198' F because there is not as much air pressure to inhibit the boiling action. Foods will take longer to cook because they are actually cooking at a "lower" temperature. We should be aware that "boiling point" is also directly affected by purity of the water and will increase in proportion to the water hardness. It should also be noted that because of the lower air pressure, boiling water "evaporates" much more rapidly, causing the need for more liquid in cooking at higher elevations. This decreased air pressure means we must make adjustments in some ingredients and cooking time and also temperature. We must make adjustments in some of our cooking techniques as well, such as candy making, deep-fat frying and canning. In general, no recipe adjustment is necessary for yeast-risen baked goods, although allowing the dough or batter to rise twice before the final pan rising develops a much better texture and flavor.
You will find that beyond a certain altitude some foods cannot even be cooked without a pressure cooker! For instance, dried beans. The boiling point of water at very high altitudes is simply so low that without a pressure cooker the water will just keep steaming off at a temperature that doesn't even begin to cook the beans.
Some changes we will need to make will include:
* water amounts (as we have discussed already)
* leavening (baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar) expanding more
* yeast dough rising too rapidly and too high
* sugar solutions becoming more concentrated in frostings, candies, jellies and baked products
* faster evaporation of liquids in all cooking processes
* drying out of normal moisture in most food products
Upon visiting several cooking chat room archives looking for High Altitude information, I found one book mentioned over and over. It is called THE NEW HIGH ALTITUDE COOKBOOK by Beverly M. Anderson and Donna M. Hamilton. Published in 1980 by Random House, New York ISBN # 0-394-51308-8. I will be quoting a lot from that publication.
I am going to reprint exerpts from their first chapter entitled: WHY HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING AND COOKING ARE DIFFERENT. I am confident that after reading this, you will see why I am recommending this book to those of you dealing with these kinds of problems.
High altitude has the greatest effects on baking. In baking recipes, each ingredient bears a definite relationship to the others, and the quality of the finished product depends on a delicate balance of ingredients achieved through the proper quantity of each.
The reduction of atmospheric pressure at high altitude allows leavening agents (air, steam and carbon dioxide) to expand more than at sea level. Air can be controlled most easily, simply by not overbeating egg whites. Carbon dioxide and steam, however, get their volume from given weights of their respective sources and depend on existing atmospheric pressure and temperature. One teaspoon of baking powder at 5,000 feet produces 20% more volume than at sea level. Bread rises faster and must be watched. At 5,000 feet, steam expands to an approximately 20% greater volume than at sea level, causing popovers to puff out too rapidly and thereby lose their steam. Cakes rise excessively, which stretches the cell structure and makes the cake coarse-textured or, worse, breaks the cell walls, causing the cake to fall.
It is important to have a correct ratio of sugar to the other ingredients. Liquids evaporate more quickly at high altitudes, and if a solution contains too much sugar (or not enough liquid) it will become overly concentrated during baking, weakening the cell walls of cakes, desserts, quick breads or cookies.
Shortening, like sugar, can be a problem for the high altitude cook. Too much in a rich cake batter will weaken the cell structure. The substitution of margarine for butter or high-grade hydrogenated or emulsified shortening can noticeably affect the texture in cakes as well as produce an inferior taste.
At high altitude, liquids work in two contradictory ways. On the one hand, their rapid evaporation rate creates the problem of overly concentrated sugar solutions. On the other, they offset the dryness of flour, dilute sugar concentration, dissolve and evenly distribute the other ingredients. Because the high altitude air is a thief of moisture, batter requires a greater proportion of liquid than at sea level.
Unless the cook uses extra-large eggs, the batter will be less stable and the final baked product will not be moist enough. Some cakes, especially angel food and sponge, require a greater number of eggs than at sea level.
Furthermore, unless oven temperatures are increased in baking cakes, yeast or quick breads, the batter will not "set" before the air cells formed by leavening agent expand too much.
When baking casseroles or roasting meats, standard oven times and temperatures will fail to produce satisfactory results because the boiling point of water in the foods themselves will never exceed 202.6' F. More cooking time and/or higher temperature may be needed.
When baking yeast breads, the cook must carefully watch that the dough does not rise more than double its bulk. Because dough rises faster at high altitudes, flavor doesn't have time to develop. Punching down the dough twice will improve flavor as well as texture.
I have also been talking to some of my friends who live up here in the high country and one of them gave me the following little "table" she uses at 10,000 ft. elevation:
BAKING ADJUSTMENTS FROM MATI:
Use less sugar, 3 Tbsp per cup
Use less flour, 2-4 Tbsp per cup
Use less fat, 2-3 Tbsp per cup
Use less baking soda and baking powder, 1/8 tsp. per tsp.
Next month I will cover COOKING: Some common problems of cooking at High Altitudes; 'BOILING POINT OF WATER FROM SEA LEVEL TO 14,000 FEET' (a table); 'HIGH ALTITUDE OVEN TEMPERATURE CHART' (Fahrenheit and Centigrade); 'HIGH ALTITUDE FACTS ABOUT THE ELECTRIC SLOW COOKER'; 'HIGH ALTITUDE FACTS ABOUT ELECTRIC SKILLET AND WOK COOKERY'; 'HIGH ALTITUDE FACTS ABOUT MICROWAVE COOKERY'; and 'HIGH ALTITUDE FACTS ABOUT THE PRESSURE COOKER': Using the Pressure Cooker at High Altitudes.
By Diane Boone
About the Author:
I am now retired after working 24 years at High Altitude Camps and Conference Centers and serving as a Cook Supervisor with the "low-land" Sheriff's Department for 10 years. I no longer call myself an "expert" in High Altitude cooking after reading this book. I just praise the Lord, He honored my heart and allowed me to be His Girl in the Kitchen and all my baked goods turned out fine. He showed me to do the things I am telling you about in these articles. (Before I read the book :-) I am now your Fellowship Southern California Representative and will, Lord willing, be visiting your Christian Camp this summer if you are in CCI.