If you’ve ever tried making a pot of beans or a loaf of bread above 3,500 feet, then you know all too well the frustrating realities of cooking and baking at high altitudes. With lower boiling points, longer baking times, and an assortment of other variables at play, you’ll need to make adjustments to most sea-level recipes in order to get a normal result at higher climes. Here are a few tips to help you succeed.
What’s different about cooking and baking at high elevations?
- Low air pressure: Air pressure is lower at high altitudes, which means foods may take longer to bake.
- Faster evaporation: Lower air pressure (not to mention, dry mountain air) means batters, doughs, soups, and stews may lose their moisture faster.
- Lower boiling points: Water boils at lower temps at high altitudes, which can lead to longer cooking times. You might also have trouble sustaining what’s known as a “rolling boil.”
- Quicker rising times: Gases expand more at high altitudes, which means doughs rise faster. You may need to use less leavening agent (baking soda, baking powder) as a result.
One of the first things cooks notice at higher altitudes is how long it takes to bring a pot of water to a boil. Trying to hard-boil an egg? You’ll need more time than at sea level. Braising or simmering soup, stews, and meats will typically also take longer (about 25 percent more for elevations of about 5,000 feet, so plan for even longer if you’re at a higher elevation). With faster evaporation an issue at higher climes, covering your pots as you bring them to a boil or attempt to maintain a simmer is also recommended.
Roasts for the win
Oven temperatures aren’t impacted by high altitudes, so using the oven (and a traditional sea-level recipe) to roast a turkey, a chicken, a nice pork loin, or whatever else you can think of should be a pretty safe bet at any altitude.
Turn down your fryer
Because water evaporates from foods faster at high elevations, it’s important to fry foods at lower temps so food isn’t overcooked on the outside and undercooked on the inside. Experts recommend reducing your frying temperature by 3 degrees farenheit for 1,000 feet above sea level. Using meat thermometers are also useful when trying to determine safe internal temps for fried foods.
Deal with dough
Rising times for yeasted breads can be unpredictable. Quicker rising times can lead to a slew of undesired outcomes like dry textures, undeveloped flavors, or collapsed or “hole-y” loaves. Typically, decreasing flour and increasing water to get your dough to the right consistency will help. Make sure to monitor your dough frequently during rising times, allowing it to no more than double in size, and punch down your dough to avoid “over-proofing.”
Use high-altitude recipes
Whenever possible, it pays to do your due diligence and research high-altitude recipes or commonly used high-altitude adjustments before embarking on a new recipe. Baking from a box? Be sure to read the instructions first since many brands take the time to include adjustments for high-altitude cooking.
A little trial and error is essential when it comes to cooking at higher altitudes. Make small adjustments as you go, note what works and what doesn’t, and keep a positive attitude. You’ve got this!