At this time of year, many people are baking more than usual.
People are often frustrated to find that a recipe that works at sea level is a disaster at this altitude. Whether you are boiling eggs, making cookies and candy, baking bread or making rice or noodles, know that the more complex foods require modifications.
This article will skim the surface of cooking at altitude. For more detailed instructions, pick up the “High Altitude Food Preparation” pamphlet at the Colorado State University Extension Office at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave.
At this elevation, preparation requires changes in time or temperature or recipe modifications because of the thinner blanket of air. The decreased atmospheric pressure affects food preparation in two ways: Water and other liquids evaporate faster and boil at lower temperatures; and leavening gases in breads and cakes expand more quickly.
For starters, water boils at a lower temperature (2 degrees for every 1,000 feet), so that sea-level boiling point of 212 degrees becomes about 198 degrees in Durango. Simmering or braising meats requires one-fourth more time; the three-minute egg becomes a five-minute egg; rice needs about 25 percent increased liquid to be soft and fluffy; and pinto beans need to be prepared in a pressure cooker. Even pecan pies and quick breads will overflow a pan if adjustments aren’t made.
Slow cookers simmer at a lower temperature, which makes it more difficult for food to reach a safe temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Start cooking on high for the first hour, then either continue at high or turn to low setting. Do not remove the lid, as it can take 20 minutes or more for the lost steam and heat to be regained.
To successfully deep fry a turkey, lower the temperature of the fat to prevent overbrowning on the outside and undercooking on the inside. A rough guide is to lower the frying temperature about 3 degrees for every 1,000-foot increase in elevation. Using 7,000 feet, this would require a decrease of 21 degrees.
Candy-making is affected by humidity as well as altitude. To prevent excessive water evaporation, you will need to cook to a finish temperature lower than what is given in recipes. If using a candy thermometer, test the temperature of the boiling water and reduce the finish temperature by the difference between 212 degrees and the boiling water temperature – about 2 degrees for every 1,000 feet, which would require about a 14-degree modification.
At this elevation, yeast breads have the most issues with rising time. A shortened rising period can interfere with flavor and gluten development, so using less yeast as well as proofing twice is the typical solution.
When baking cakes and quick breads, prevent their rise and then fall by decreasing the leavening agent by ¼ tsp, increasing oven temperature by 15 to 25 degrees, decreasing sugar by 2 tbsp/cup) and using only large or extra-large eggs. Be sure to fill pans only half way rather than the prescribed two-thirds. This will allow more room for expansion.
Cookies have a high proportion of sugar and fat so slightly increase baking temperature, decrease baking powder, decrease fat and avoid double-layer, insulated cookie sheets.
These are some of the quick and fast modifications needed for many foods we tend to make at this time of year, but most importantly, enjoy the company of your family and friends this holiday season.
Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461.