High Altitude Cooking & Baking at 9,600 feet
Water boils at a lower temperature at altitude. Instead of the standard 212° F, in Breckenridge it is closer to 194° F. Controlling water is the essence of cooking and baking and so results are disjointed like space and time in pre-Einstein physics. Yes, this is how it feels when you're baking a cake at 9,600 ft.
Beans & Pasta
Miners eating from an opened can of beans pulled right off the campfire. You can imagine this if you've ever found a rusty old can while hiking around ghost towns. The steel can, real steel without poisonous linings, could so conveniently be used to warm its contents. But imagine those miners trying to cooked dried beans. They'd be breaking their precious teeth.
Even more convenient than campfire can cooking is that fact that someone else cooked the beans. Someone, presumably, at a lower altitude. There is no way miners could get dried beans cooked in the mining cabins around Breckenridge. In modern kitchens, you can simply boil beans for eternity and most types will never be completely cooked. Using a pressure cooker is the only way to ensure you can complete the process of softening any bean denser than a lentil.
For other items that require boiling, like pasta, more time is required. Knowing this simple equation saves so much time testing doneness.
To adjust most recipes to high altitude, add more liquid, more structure, less leavening, less sugar.
Cakes rise too quickly with less atmospheric pressure (less and less at higher and higher altitude), and rise past their structural integrity. Raise oven temperature at least 25°F so cake hits maximum rise at the same time it hits the approximately 200° F, gelation point - or doneness. To improve structure, because you can't raise the oven temperature too high or the cake with just burn, add an egg and up to about 3 T more flour.
Rules of Thumb:
- Increase liquid: for every 1000 ft of alt: 3% more water
- Reduce sugar: about 6.25% - 1T per cup per 3,000 ft.
- reduce leavening agent by 3/4 at more than 6,500 ft.
- Increase oven temp 25 degrees for 6,000 ft, (proportionally 40 degrees for 9,600, but unless protection from browning / burning is added, this is probably not feasible
- Add more flour: 1 tablespoon for 3,000 ft, and one more for every 1,500 ft, according to Stella Cullinary videos. Increasing flour should not cause the cake to be dry, especially because extra liquid is added.
- Add an extra egg, the structure of egg will help hold the structure..
Resources for High-Altitude Cooking & Baking:
- Food Safety at USDA
- Culinary Classes: Colorado Mountain College - Summit County
- GE Appliances Advice
- Stella Culinary - does some excellent videos.