Holidays are fast approaching, and we tend to spend more time baking, entertaining and making special treats and candy for gatherings.
I’m starting to get more questions about tough dinner rolls, candy problems and cake issues. Frustrations turned to success make for a happier holiday. For specific needs, details, recipes and ideas, contact the Extension Office at the La Plata County Fairgrounds for help with anything from bread to baked goods to meringue to candy making.
At altitudes above 3,000 feet, food preparation requires changes in time, temperature or recipe. Because Durango is about 6,500 feet above sea level, it helps to understand a few key principles. (Elevations in the county range from 5,600 to 11,000 feet.) With lower atmospheric pressure, there is a thinner blanket of air. This decreased pressure significantly affects food preparation. With each 500-foot increase in elevation, the boiling point of water is lowered by 1 degree Fahrenheit. In Durango, water boils at about 198 degrees. Foods prepared by boiling or simmering will take longer to cook because of that lower temperature. Low humidity also causes moisture to evaporate more quickly. Covering foods during cooking helps retain moisture.
High altitude makes:
Liquids evaporate faster and boil at lower temperatures, affecting foods such as eggs, rice and candy-making.Leavening gases in breads and cakes expand more, causing them to collapse and making rolls that are less tender.Breads need more time to rise to develop flavor and texture, double rising is essential and less yeast and flour might be effective. For baking, some general guidelines/options include:
Increase oven temperature 25 degrees to set cell walls. Fill bake pans to one-third rather than one-half to allow more expansion.For structure:
Add an extra egg.Decrease sugar by 2 tablespoons per cup. Increase liquid by 2 to 4 tablespoons per cup. Reduce baking powder by 1/8-1/4 teaspoon per teaspoon. Meat and poultry dry out particularly if simmering or braising. Depending on the density and size, meats and poultry cooked by moist heat may take up to one-fourth more cooking time at this elevation. A food thermometer is an effective way to measure safe internal temperature and not overcook your meat. A whole bird is cooked to a safe internal temperature at 165 degrees. Remove the bird from the oven at about 155 degrees, let rest (and continue cooking) for 15 to 20 minutes, then check temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast. If you wait until a pop-up pops, your turkey will be overcooked.
For slow cookers, remember water is essential. At high altitudes, slow cookers simmer at lower temperatures, making it more difficult for the food to reach a safe temperature to destroy bacteria. Start the food on high for the first hour; then either continue to use a high or low setting for the remainder of cooking. Select a setting that will maintain food at 200 degrees or higher. If you remove the lid from the slow cooker, it can take 20 minutes for the lost steam and heat to be regained. Aluminum foil on top of the foods being cooked will reflect heat downward.
At high altitudes, a pressure cooker is a wonderful kitchen tool (particularly the currently popular electric pressure cookers). By cooking under pressure, you are in effect increasing the atmospheric pressure and, therefore, increasing the boiling temperature of water. Food will cook faster and more thoroughly.
High-altitude cooking is a science as well as an art. If you understand some of the basics, you will enjoy a better product.
Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at email@example.com or 382-6461.