Fact or Fiction: High Altitude Baking

Our campground sits at 5800 feet in elevation, which means we have to follow “high altitude” baking instructions. Or do we?

This is our first experience camping at a higher elevation, although I have not yet noticed anything different. I was curious about what changes are needed in baking, so I decided to do a little experiment. When I make a batch of cookies, I usually bake a dozen or so, and then freeze the rest of the cookie dough (much to Dan’s dismay!).

Since I had some dough in the freezer that I made a few months ago, I thought I would bake that up, and see what happens with the regular baking instructions. Here are the results. The cookies browned nicely, but were flat and a little doughy in the middle.

 

regular cookies

regular cookies

a bit flat

a bit flat

 

I also had a butter braid in the freezer, which is a pastry that my niece sells as a fund-raiser for her school. We have had these in the past, and they are excellent. I noticed the package had instructions for baking at higher altitude, so I decided to follow those instructions. The difference in baking required a shorter time for the dough to rise (6-8 hours instead of 8-12), a higher baking temperature (350 degrees instead of 325) and a longer baking time, by about 6 minutes. The result? Excellent!

Yummy!

Yummy!

Next I made a batch of cookie dough, this time following the “high altitude” instructions. The change in the Nestle’s Toll  House chocolate chip cookie recipe required adding 1/4 cup more flour, reducing the granulated and brown sugar to 2/3 cup from 3/4 cup (this is a 1/12 cup reduction for Dan’s math geek friends) , and adding 2 teaspoons of water to the flour mixture.

Although from the photos below, the “high altitude” cookies don’t look much different, they were crispier than the non high altitude cookies.

high altitude

high altitude

high altitude instructions

high altitude instructions

We also made some biscuits, which didn’t require any changes according to the box.  I forgot to take a photo, but they turned out flat and doughy and took about 10 extra minutes of cooking to make them palatable.  I think I will e-mail that company and advise them to change their directions!

This little experiment had me thinking why we have to adjust the time/temperature and ingredients.  So here’s today’s science lesson:

  • The higher the altitude, the lower the air pressure.  Therefore, food will take longer to bake.
  • Liquids evaporate faster at higher altitude, so flour and sugar is adjusted to prevent the batter from getting too gummy.  If your cookies spread out, there is too much sugar.
  • Gas expands more at higher altitude, so dough rises faster.

Besides baking, we do a lot of cooking in the crockpot.  The first few times of using it here, the food was overdone.  So with a crockpot, I find the food cooks much faster at a higher altitude.  This may be due to the evaporation of liquids at a higher altitude?

Quote for the day:  “Why is a birthday cake the only food you can blow on and spit on and everybody rushes to get a piece?” – unknown

 

 

7 thoughts on “Fact or Fiction: High Altitude Baking

  1. I could be a taste tester at any altitude! By the way Jonell, any chance you will be back in Wisconsin soon? We are planning a simple 10 year reunion and would like you to be there.
    Let me know. Glad to see that you are having fun.

  2. I’ll pass this onto the chemistry teachers- It would be great for them to incorporate kitchen chemistry into their lessons!

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