Monday, July 09, 2007

As requested

There is only one hobby that I have in which I exude confidence. I tend to be a little shy and timid when it comes to most of the others, but this one.... THIS ONE. Well, I rule.


(dah dah dah!)

It is the best feeling to love a hobby, do well at it, and beleive that you do well at it. It's something to be proud of, to share, and to continue to work at. All in all, I LOVE to bake, I love to share the fruits (or pastries... cookies... pies... brownies... cakes... etc) of my labour, and I love to show others that it's not so hard.

This brings me to the newest page of my quest to know everything about baking.

High Altitude Baking*

*Only applicable if performing at 3000+ ft (~900m) above sea level.

If you ever find yourself in a cabin at the top of a mountain with a gas range, 6 varieties of flour, and a cast-iron bundt pan, read on my friends! Also, bookmark this post, just in case. Oh yes, that so-called cabin has internet. And The Joy of Cooking. Hot damn what a fantasy!

So firstly, any good kitchen should have a copy of 'The Joy of Cooking'. It is the cooking bible for North America. Well, the North American version is anyway. It will teach you how to catch, skin, fry, and serve a squirrel. I read this book before I go to bed to manipulate my dreams.

It also holds details for High Altitude Baking (HAB). It is listed in the index, go read it.

Chapter 1: A brief intro to HAB

Most recipes will perform as written at 3000ft or less. If you are in SK, MB, ON, NB, NS, PEI, most of QC and western BC you are fine and have a great day! If you are in Eastern QC, Most of AB, BC and parts of YK, NWT, NU, NL, then read on or SUFFER WITH A FLAT CAKE!!! Muaahahaha!!!!!

The need to adjust a recipe at higher altitudes is because ingredients will not react the same way with each other as they would at sea leavel. That is, they will not rise properly. As we learned in high school chemistry, air pressure decreases as elevation increases. As a result of the low air pressure levening agents will react faster forming air pockets in the batter too quickly and thus bursting them. As many cakes take upwards of an hour to cook, all of the levening will have come and gone by the time the batter is cooked. Do not be fooled as you peer into the oven after 30 minutes to see your cake looking light and fluffy, it will deflate miserably into a pancake once 1 hour has passed. Another side effect is liquids will evaporate quicker. This will cause your cake to be dry, crumbly and more likely to stick to the pan.

Please note that baking your cake as written will not make it inedible, it will however have a different texture and, as stated previously, will not rise very well.

As a side note, water will also boil at a lower temperature so be cautious when cooking anything at high altitudes.

Chapter 2: Well what the heck do I do now?

So you're in your fantasy cabin reading my blog thinking 'Ok, so I'm up here, I want to bake, but I want my fantasy lumberjack to be welcomed home with a chocolate angel food cake that looks as good as it tastes. What now Erica, What now???' Well my friend, the answer is adjust! Your kitchen is equipped with all of the tools and ingredients you need!

The ease of HAB is that you don't need any fancy ingredients, you just need to adjust the ingredients you are already using.

As a side, there are adjustments for different altitudes. That is, the higher you are are, the greater the adjustment.

Some common adjustments:

Eggs: If the recipe calls for egg whites whipped to stiff peaks, only go to soft peaks. This will allow the eggs to still contain air however there will be less to deflate. Many recipes will call for eggs at room temperature, in HAB use your eggs right from the fridge. This will allow them to keep their consistency and once again, allow less air to enter. It will also mean that your eggs will cook slower and thus dissolve slower. (Note: Liquid evaporation in Chap 1).

Flour: Everyone knows that air is dryer at higher altitudes, this means everything else will be dryer. Your skin, your hair, your flour. This means increasing your liquids by about 2 tbsp per cup for every 1000ft above 3000ft to compensate.
or: 1 cup liquid at sea level = [1 cup + 2 tbsp * (your altitude/1000 - 2)] liquid at your altitude (given that its >3000ft.)
As liquid evaporates faster at higher altitude, this extra liquid now plays 2 roles. Not only will it moisten your flour it will also allow any evaporation in your batter to slow down.

Baking soda/powder: In most baking (besides yeast baking) this is your leavening agent. A general rule is that more baking powder/soda results in more rising. As you want your cake to rise slowly, reduce the amount you use by 10% at 3000-5000ft, 20% at 5000-7000ft and 25% at 7000+ft. Another tip for your leavening agent is to increase the amount of flour. This will allow the agent to be dispersed thinner throughout the batter. This small amount of increase in flour will not affect your batter provided you have performed the proper liquid increase.

Temperature: As stated before, water boils at a lower temperature at high altitude, this results in a longer cooking time. To compensate for this, increase your baking temperature by 10% and reduce your baking time equivalently to balance this. This increase in temperature will allow the cake to 'set' before the air pockets burst.

Chapter 3: Additional tips

As your batter will expand quite quickly, look for deeper pans to prevent overflow. Along with this it is also a good idea to remove any racks above the one on which you have set your cake so that the batter does not rise into it. Grease any pans more than usual to prevent probable sticking.

Conclusion... for those that are still reading!

I have written most of my tips with respect to baking a cake. This is because cakes are more likely to fail than most other recipes. Baking cookies don't require as much attention, just be careful that they do not brown too quickly.

There is no sure fire success method with HAB. It is best to start with small adjustments and go from there. Any baking is dependant on your tools and your oven, work with what you have and don't be afraid to fail, it's all in the process. Most baking ingredients are fairly cheap so by all means keep trying.

And so my friends, this ends the requested HAB lesson for today. Now you can all go back to your sea-level homes and bake me a fluffy cake!

and of course, The Joy of Cooking

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