This Memorial Day weekend we welcome visitors who will experience a variety of altitude problems - shortness of breath,bloody noses and faster sunburns. The same things that create these problems also affect our baking.
In this community, altitude as well as low humidity plays havoc with cooking almost everything. Remember that cake
that looked great when you peeked in half way through but a few minutes later it's cratered in the middle? Those
tough-as-a-board biscuits? The flat greasy cookies? The jelly that didn't set up? Or the candy that was grainy or
beyond chewy? Blame it on our elevation.
The crux of the problem is that there is less pressure pushing down on our baking, and things dry out quicker. But
just a few changes to Grandma's hand-me-down recipe can make a world of difference.
The first issue is liquid boils at a lower temperature, about 2 degrees less for every 1,000 feet above sea level.
The elevation in La Plata County varies from 5,100 to 9,100 feet above sea level. Durango is about 6,500 feet so
water boils here at around 201 degrees rather than 212 degree, as it does at sea level.
Because of the lower air pressure, bubbles break the surface sooner and boiling water evaporates quicker and at a
lower temperature. This creates the need for more liquid when baking or cooking things such as meat, rice or noodles.
You should cook foods longer because they are actually cooking at a lower temperature.
You also should be aware that boiling point is affected by water purity and will increase in proportion to water
hardness. Things like beans, rice or eggs take longer and, by the way, don't expect that cup of coffee or tea to be
The next key point is since liquid evaporates sooner (because of the lower boiling point) the product dries out
faster. Keep things like flour in air-tight containers to prevent baked goods from coming out dry and crumbly.
And third, leavening agents (whipped air, baking powder and baking soda) cause the gases in breads or cakes to expand
faster, so baked goods over-rise, causing them to fall. To avoid this, you should use less of the leavening agent and
put less batter in the pan. For example, one teaspoon of baking powder at 5,000 feet produces 20 percent more volume
than at sea level.
Bread rises faster (must be watched) and needs an extra punch down to develop the flavor. Also, increasing the oven
temperature by 25 degrees helps set the cell structure and hold up the fast-rising product.
Do not assume that your sea level recipe will fail. Try it first. If you do need to modify, take one step at a time.
One change might be all that is necessary.
Altitude affects everything but is most noticeable when baking biscuits, bread, cakes, cookies and quick bread, as
well as candy or canning.
If you want more information, stop by the office at the La Plata County Fairgrounds for a free copy of our High
Altitude Cooking brochure. Or you can purchase a copy of High Altitude Baking, a cookbook edited by Extension Food
Science Professor Pat Kendall. The cost is $14.95 at local bookstores or order by phone at (888) 456-3607.
You never need to have that dry, crumbly bread or crater cake again.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County