The Science of Baking: Specialty High Altitude Baking Tips
These are some tips collected by The Elevated Kitchen to help you be better at baking at high altitude!
Baked goods seem to stick to pans more at higher altitudes. Parchment paper will be your best friend. Line cookie sheets and cake pans with parchment paper. For bunt cakes, liberally spray with the flour/oil sprays that are available. I also take a butter knife and loosen each section around the edge. Do this while the cake is still very warm because, though delicate, it is more elastic. You’ll be able to loosen the side and almost see the bottom. Then slip the knife between the center round piece and the cake. Hold the pan with two hot pads and with short, sharpe jerks loosen the cake a small section at a time. Soon it will feel free from the pan, then turn it onto a cooling rack.
- Chocolate burns easily and is a rather fickle ingredient. Treat it well and right and it will delight.
- Chop chocolate into small pieces before melting, or use chocolate pistoles.
- Double boiler: Slowly melt chocolate over simmering water.
- Microwave: slow and steady wins this race. Start in increments of 30 seconds and stir after each time. If the bowl feels hot to the touch, allow it to cool before microwaving the chocolate again. The principle of carryover cooking applies here and by allowing the bowl to cool (i.e.transfer its heat to the chocolate), you’ll reduce the risk of overheating the chocolate. As you near the end of the melting process, reduce the time increments to 10 seconds.
- It may seem counterintuitive to start with a small amount of chocolate, but doing so will help the chocolate melt faster and easier. Once your initial amount of chocolate has started to melt, add another small handful (i.e. What can fit in the palm of your hand) to the bowl and stir. Once the bowl is cool, microwave again.
- Chocolate storage: cool, dry, dark place but NEVER, EVER in the refrigerator or freezer. Moisture and chocolate are arch enemies and do not mix. Sugar bloom will appear and will make the chocolate unusable for melting and dipping. It can be used for baking though. Finished chocolates/bonbons/pralines can be frozen in an air tight container or food saver bag and must be defrosted in the refrigerator.
- Always allow cakes to cool completely (ideally several hours or overnight) before assembling and icing layers. Fresh cakes are very delicate and will easily fall apart or be ripped by stiff icing. Cakes are like lasagne, make it the day before so the flavors have time to meld together.
- Tip for bunt cake at high altitude: butter pan, place in freezer, immediately spray with oil, and fill with batter.
- Apply flavored simple syrup with a pastry brush liberally to cake layers prior to assembly.
- Cakes are done when fingers do not leave an impression or when a toothpick/skewer comes out with 1 or 2 moist crumbs. If you wait until the toothpick comes out “clean” or the cake pulls away from the side of the pan the cake will be overcooked due to carryover cooking after it’s removed from the oven.
- Cookies, especially if you want soft chewy ones, need to be taken out of the oven when the tops look done but the cracks still look moist. At the higher altitudes, the cookies will be barely golden brown around the edges.
Homemade crust is one of the best things that can happen to a pie. Lard, margarine, butter or shortening may be used for pie crusts. Personally, I prefer using butter. And, depending on my mood or the pie, sometimes I will use shortening. I’m not a big fan of the taste of lard in a sweet product but for some you can’t make a decent crust without it.
No matter which you choose, the fat for your pie crust must be very, very cold (frozen works well.) You want to use cold fat because you don’t want it to melt into the flour before the crust hits the heat of the oven which will create the tender, flakey crust desired by bakers everywhere. Keep the fat cold, by using ice water to make the crust.
Another important step for successful crusts is to allow chill in the refrigerator. It will be much easier to roll out. I’ve also found that the crust is less likely to shrink while blind baking if you allow it to rest for a few minutes in the fridge before it gets baked.
At altitude, browning pie crusts can be assisted by using an egg or milk wash and sprinkling liberally with sugar.
Custards that use a water bath will often need additional water added during the baking time.
Custards, like everything else, need a longer cooking time and the altitude causes the water to evaporate faster. Covering the custards will aluminum foil will help speed up the baking process for custards at altitude.
It’s quite important to bake cheesecakes at altitude in a water bath because of the extended baking time required by the lower boiling temperature of water. The water bath will help insulate the outside of the cheesecake so that it cooks at the same rate as the center.
To help prevent cracking, remove the cheesecake from the oven with the temperature of the center reaches 155 degrees F. Carryover cooking will continue cooking the cheesecake.
Also, after the cheesecake has cooled slightly (about 10-15 minutes), run a butter knife or a small off-set spatula around the edge. The weakest part of the cheesecake is the center. With the evaporation of water in the eggs, cream cheese, etc. during the baking there was a loss of volume. As the cheesecake cools, the proteins will contract into their final state and a tug of war will begin between the sides of the cheesecake and the center. Since the sides are stronger, they will win and the center will crack. If the sides aren’t stuck to the pan, the cheesecake will set evenly with no pulling and thus no cracking.
- Always use clean utensils and bowl. Fats inhibit volume.
- Egg whites should be at room temp for text volume
- Add acid once egg whites are foamy and starting to get volume
- Sugar should not be added too soon or too fast
- Allow egg whites to whip to at least 4 x the original volume before adding sugar
- Add sugar in a slow steady stream
- Do not over whip your egg whites. They will lose volume and deflate, and will be hard to incorporate because they become dry and lumpy
Peaks achieved in meringues:
- Soft: too little air, loss of volume, curls when checked
not desirable except when meringue will be incorporated into something
- Medium: proper amount of air- ‘7’ shape when checked
- Stiff- shiny, stand straight when checked
- Dry-over whipped, too much air, loss of volume, looks clumpy, not desirable.
- Air Pressure & Baking
- Milk & Cream
- Thickening Agents
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