Becoming a Better Baker: cocoa test
If you have searched through my blog archives, you will see that I have been writing posts for quite some time. I began by adapting my favorite baked recipes through trial and error —countless trials leading to many errors. There were tips I tried and suggestions that I followed. Many of the strategies were used multiple times and in varying recipes. All of these experiments led to my becoming wiser and my belly getting fuller.
After time I learned to understand my altitude, my oven, and even the brands of products that I used in baking. Each variation had subtle differences that I would not have experienced had I not gone exploring. Sometimes cracks in the surface of a baked good would appear, other times cracks would go away. With some recipes I created a good item, and with other recipes I created real winners. But, my approach to baking always included a bit of guesswork along with the mathematical conversions. So, I decided to up my game.
For the past few months I have been taking an online vegan dessert class at Rouxbe Culinary School. The students are taught the fundamentals of the how and why of dessert creation. We are given basic instruction in the ways of a pastry cook, although I believe I am currently the only one dealing with high altitude. Fortunately I have baked enough at higher altitudes that I can put my spin on my assignments.
What does this mean for you, my hungry reader? My recipes will be more refined as I will be armed with the knowledge I get from the class. I have learned to be more precise (Is dutch process cocoa or natural cocoa best in the recipe? Should a sugar be ground first?), and this will lead to recipes that are easier for you to replicate. My wish is that I can offer recipes that you can successfully enjoy.
Forgive me, but I must go now. I have a cake to bake for class …
Image courtesy of Christa at flickr.com
When I first moved to high altitude, people were excited to hear that I was making exquisite baked treats that were vegan and worked at mountain heights. Now, with the surge of gluten-free eaters, I am constantly asked if my baked goods are gluten-free. My response is usually a sigh as I haven’t reached that lofty goal yet.
In an effort to please several gluten-free friends, I have researched gluten-free recipes. My oven has even seen a test or two. Unfortunately the results have been disastrous. The textures are insanely odd as I have trouble resolving the vegan issues in a high altitude gluten-free recipe. The only thing I have ever baked in my life that went straight into the trash was a high altitude, vegan, gluten-free brownie. It was closer to molten lava than any brownie ever made.
But, if you are gluten-free, don’t give up on me. I enjoy a challenge and have started to explore the particular science of gluten-free baking as it pertains to high altitude. I need to wrap my head around that before I can then try veganizing a recipe because eggs provide great structure that gluten-free takes away from a recipe. Also, gluten-free flours don’t react with liquids the same as their gluten-filled cousins do, thus exacerbating the dryness found at higher altitudes.
If there is one thing I have learned in adapting my baking to being vegan and being successful at high altitude, it’s that chemistry will always prevail. As long as the various scientific aspects are taken into account, then baking can be a piece of cake, or muffin, or brownie.
My first baking memories are from when I was 12 and made cakes from box mixes and slice-and-bake cookies. It wasn’t long before I began to look at recipes as a starting point that could use a special touch. I added M&Ms to cookie dough and mint extract to fudge. My family loved sweets and all experiments were happily gobbled up.
Zip ahead a few decades and you’ll find me into all kinds of gastronomic adventures. When my husband and I first dated I asked him over for a home-cooked meal. He said, “Sounds good. What are you making?” I replied, “I’ll let you know when I’m done.” (Don’t worry—dinner was great).
Present time has me living in Boulder, Colorado. I moved here from Santa Fe, New Mexico and both offered challenges…baking at high altitude in low humidity. I bake vegan for health reasons, so that added another layer to the baking puzzle. I accepted the challenge head-on and started experimenting. After practicing on some recipes I started this blog to share the pleasure and pain as I chart my progress.