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Tips and Techniques

Blame It On Altitude


Living up a mile high or more causes culinary headaches for aspiring home cooks and restaurant chefs alike. Boiling pasta is a challenge. A restaurant in a Colorado ski resort dropped soufflés from the menu because they collapse. At high altitude, basic cooking skills have to be relearned.

Does this mean you should leave your oven mitts at home on a Western ski vacation or a camping trip in the Rockies? Maybe, but not because of cooking…

Here's the good news. You can make pasta and bake breads, cookies and chocolate soufflés, too. But be ready to adjust your favorite recipes. And you'll need plenty of this ingredient: patience.

Mile-High Kitchen

In a place like Colorado - where Denver stands at 5,280 feet - liquids evaporate more quickly. Also, water boils at a lower temperature, because the air pressure is lower. At 8,000 feet, water hits a full boil at 196 degrees versus 212 degrees at sea level.

What's that mean when you plant yourself in front of the stove?

Pasta takes longer to cook. Just getting the water to resume its boil after you've dumped in the linguine or rigatoni or spaghetti is a trick. Solution: Keep the pot mostly covered to get the water going again.

Because liquids evaporate more quickly, you have to adjust the proportions.

You also have to reduce leavening agents such as baking powder to prevent cake batters from rising too much and collapsing. Revving the oven a bit more helps, too.

Yeast breads rise more quickly. An Italian Ciabatta bread takes just 1-1/4 hours to double in size when rising, versus a typical two hour rising time at sea level.

Here are some high-altitude pointers to make cooking less rocky

  • Be aware that yeast breads rise more quickly.
  • Avoid using extra-fine sugar.
  • When boiling foods such as pasta, keep the pot mostly covered to ensure water boils.
  • Use fresh flour, there's no advantage to using high-altitude flour.
FoodFit Tips

Beat the altitude with these tips:

At 4,000 to 6,000 feet:

  • Decrease sugar 1/2 teaspoon per cup for each 1,000 feet rise in elevation.
  • Decrease baking powder, soda or cream of tartar by 1/4 of given amount.
  • Increase liquid 2 to 3 tablespoons per cup. (Use smaller amount if two measurements are given.)

Higher than 6,000 feet:

  • Decrease baking powder 1/4 teaspoon for each teaspoon.
  • Boost liquid 2 to 4 tablespoons per cup.
  • Reduce sugar 1/4 cup for each cup.
  • Raise baking temperature 10 to 15 degrees.

(Source: "Colorado Cache Cookbook", the Junior League of Denver.)

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