High Altitude

oxygenmaskI have had a few people give me recipes and ask me what I would change to make it high altitude friendly.  Not many people but still, maybe there are more out there.  I’m about to go all Nerd on you.

Let’s start off with altitude.  The higher you are the more adjustments you need to make.  That is why the cookbook Pie in the Sky by Susan G. Purdy gives different adjustments for different altitudes.  Starting with sea level, 3,000 feet, 5,000 feet, 7,000 feet and 10,000 feet.  Take for example my situation.  I live at approximately 8,000 feet elevation when making recipes out of that cookbook I make them under the 7,000 feet column.  Since I feel comfortable at that level as well as it is where I have learned how to cook and bake while making adjustments.

Let’s talk about oxygen, or rather lack there of.  The higher you go, obviously the less oxygen you get.  Hence the climb up to Pikes Peak, they recommend no children under the age of 2 because the lack of oxygen could cause damage to them.  Yikes.  So anyways, less air = a decrease in air density and air pressure, makes sense right?  Less air, less pressure, less “weight”.  Water molecules turn to steam more readily, thus boiling at a lower temperature than at sea level.  Water molecules turn to steam quicker because of the decrease air density and air pressure.  So lets say there is less air to hold the water in liquid form.  Therefore, the water will become vapor a lot quicker.  Still with me?  Foods require longer cooking to compensate for the heat loss.  The higher the altitude the greater the difference.

Times and Temperatures

So lets talk about adjusting times and temperatures.  The general rule is to cook foods at a higher temperature or for longer amount of time.  This is a great rule of thumb BUT when it comes to cakes, and most other baked goods this is not the case.  I’ll explain in a moment….

  • Back to the rule of thumb for most cooking (as opposed to baking) you’ll want to increase your oven temperature by 25 degrees.
  • Expect to boil or simmer food for a few minutes more (or hours more when it comes to beans).  Starting at 4,000 feet expect to simmer stews 1 hour more for every additional 1,000 feet.
  • Baked goods: Lower temp by 25 degrees and cook longer so that the structure can become strong and maintain height after you take the cake or bread out of the oven.  No sunken cake syndrome.

Liquid

Remember, liquids evaporate more rapidly at higher elevations, ingredients will become drier.  The higher the elevation, the greater the loss of liquid.  This is why most of my recipes that have grains in them such as quinoa, rice and barley, I always add one more part liquid.

  • Increase the amount of liquid in recipes, adding 2-4 tablespoons to every 1 cup of liquid.
  • Add several cups more liquid for boiling pasta and legumes.
  • Double-wrap already baked breads and cakes to prevent drying out.

Leavening

Leavening is baking soda, baking powder and yeasts.   All of those leaveners produce gas more quickly at high altitudes.  With less air pressure for baked goods to rise against, they can tower to greater heights.  Sounds good, right?  No…..what goes up, must come down.  Those great heights only equal a greater crater.  The cakes and breads and other baked goods will collapse, hence the sunken cake syndrome.  They lack the time necessary to develop the structure to support themselves.

Sad

  • Decrease leavening by one-fourth the amount required at sea level.
  • Watch yeast dough carefully as it rises.  Punch it down and let it rise one more time than what a recipe calls for (ie if the recipe calls for 2 punch downs, do a third).

Sugar

Sugar is something very interesting.  I always decrease the sugar amounts by a few tablespoons.  Sugar is delicate.  Because of that it will evaporate quicker than lets say flour.  So with cakes, you’ll want to lessen the sugar amount because that can cause your cakes to sink.  Plus, you don’t need as much sugar up here since it evaporates more readily, the sweetness disperses quicker making your baked goods sweet with less.

  • Reduce sugar 2 tablespoons for every 1 cup that is called for.

Flour

Flour is a protein.  Proteins like to stick together, they provide structure for your baked good or bread.  Heat and agitation like to destruct the protein structures.  And with less air pressure and air density this happens more often up here.  Therefore, you need to add more flour to your baking than the sea level folks.

  • I tend to just round up.  For example, if my chocolate chip cookies call for 2 1/2 cups of flour, I do 3 cups.  If a cake calls for 3 cups I tend to do 3 1/2 cups and see how the batter looks possibly adding another 1/4 cup.

I am self-taught.  I am a history major, not a science major so if you see a discrepancy please let me know.  I like to practice humility anyways!  I would rather the right information be passed and have a little ego deflation than for people to get the wrong information.  This is what has worked for me, and that is all I know!

Quick Guide to Adjustments:

3,000 feet:

Flour: increase each cup by 1 tablespoon

Baking powder or baking soda: decrease each teaspoon by 1/8 teaspoon

Sugar: decrease each cup by 1 tablespoon

Liquid: increase each cup up by 2 tablespoons

5,000 feet:

Flour: increase each cup by 2 tablespoons

Baking powder or baking soda: decrease each teaspoon by 1/4 teaspoon

Sugar: decrease each cup by 2 tablespoons

Liquid: increase each cup by 4 tablespoons

7,000 feet:

Flour: increase each cup by 4 tablespoons

Baking powder or baking soda: decrease each teaspoon by 1/2 teaspoon

Sugar: decrease each cup by 4 tablespoons

Liquid: increase each cup by 4 tablespoons

10,000 feet:

Flour: increase each cup by 4 tablespoons

Baking powder and baking soda: decrease each teaspoon by 2/3 teaspoon

Sugar: decrease each cup by 4 tablespoons

Liquid: increase each cup by 4 tablespoons

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