High elevation baking
I live in the high desert of Oregon with elevation at nearly 5,000 feet. I know that I need to change recipes (specifically, I'd like to know about cakes and breads) but I don't know the equivalent amounts of liquids, sugars, etc. Can you help me with this? Thank you, Jackie Medill
Deschutes County Oregon
Yes, baking can be a big challenge. Here are some general tips that will help you modify your recipes for success.
This is not an exact science, so you will need to do some experimenting. Besides the altitude change, your oven might not behave ask you expect it. The oven rack placement might be more important, as well. Place the rack lower so the product is in the most middle position that you can find for the most equal air circulation.
Cut your chemical leavening agents (baking powder or baking soda) in half. This will slow down the chemical reaction (creating CO2 and the rising of the product) by making it harder for the chemical reaction to occur. This usually results in the egg coagulating in the baked product at the peak rising of the product and before all of the CO2 bubbles burst and the product collapses. This procedure usually solves most issues related to altitude.
Depending on the recipe, you may need to raise or lower your oven temperature by 25 degrees F, increase or decrease the time by about 10 minutes and/or add a few tablespoons of flour.
When using yeast as the leavening agent, you will notice your dough will rise quite quickly and collapse before you expect it. This will tear the gluten strands that you are tying to develop and the product has a lower quality and less developed flavor. The trick here is to punch you dough down when you SEE that it has risen to the height that you expect. Then, let it rise again. This will develop the flavor and you will have well developed gluten strands.
You may need to make temperature adjustments of 25 degrees F above or below the recipe temperature, but more likely, the cooking time might be different. You might want to compensate by changing the size of your loaf baking pans. If the outside browns too much and the inside is still doughy, try using a smaller loaf pan. The dough should be tacky, not sticky so you might need to add or reduce the flour.
Once you find a strategy that works in one recipe, the changes you make will work for other ones, too. There always seems to be one recipe that surprises you and needs its own special adjustment, though.
Good Luck. This will take time and patience. Be sure to take notes as you go, so when an adjustment works, you will know exactly what you did! And, any adjustments that you make at home might not work at your neighbors home who might be at 500 ft of altitude higher or lower! Just make up you mind to have some fun as you work this out.
Please let me know what worked by calling me at the OSU Extension/Deschutes county office, 541-548-6088 or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.