Misguided High Altitude Guidelines

measuring glass with flour in a kitchen

Some of my readers share that they have trouble baking at high altitude, whether they are vegan or not. High altitude baking is a challenge for any eater, and I am glad that I can offer tips and recipes for those looking to overcome the inherent problems at higher altitudes.

Throughout my early research I uncovered a multitude of baking suggestions, and I was overjoyed to get hints on how to make my baked goods successful. I was willing to try anything that was relevant to vegan baking, and in doing so I discovered that not all high altitude “rules” were actually correct. Let me discuss those rules now so you don’t have to waste time with misguided information.

Raise your oven temperature by 25 degrees F. I tried this on many types of baked goods and didn’t see a positive effect. At first I thought it could be that my oven temperature wasn’t accurate, so I got an oven thermometer and had the oven adjusted accordingly. My resulting cakes had dry crusty exteriors, although cookies didn’t fare as badly. My guess is that the longer an item is in the oven, the more likely this method will have bad results.

No changes are needed when baking cookies. Speaking of cookies, here is a suggestion that I’ve learned to adapt. Some cookies turn out perfectly without alteration, but many cookies spread too much. In Pie in the Sky, Susan Purdy explains that “the more they spread, the thinner and crisper (or tougher) they get … (To) reduce spreading, strengthen the batter by reducing the sugar, leavening, and very occasionally, fat; sometimes you can also add a little flour.” I have also found that by placing the cookie dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes can give it the strength it needs to form proper cookies.

Reduce oven temperature when using glass baking dishes. Interestingly enough, this seems to contradict the tip for raising the temperature. One of the first recipes I tried to adapt was brownies, and at that time I was baking them in a Pyrex dish. After reading these two opposing suggestions, I decided to disregard them both because they seemed incorrect. Now I no longer bake in glass dishes, so it may be a moot point.

Bake in larger pans to avoid overflowing batter. My test for this was a disaster. The cake baked horribly uneven and the edges burned. My suggestion is to use the pan size listed in the recipe but make sure that the pans are not overfilled. If a sea-level muffin recipe says to fill the muffin cups to 2/3 full, it’s better to make them closer to 1/2 full. Any more and they are likely to rise quickly and spill out of the cups. The same concept holds true for quick breads and cakes.

The high altitude suggestions I follow on a regular basis are mentioned in my post It’s All in the Math. By reducing leaveners and sugars, while increasing liquid, I have been assured of greater success with my baking at altitudes up to 7,000 feet. Admittedly, I haven’t used an oven over that altitude. I have friends who live up at 10,000 feet, and after listening to their baking trials and setbacks I must say that they have far surpassed my efforts. My hat is off to them.

Until next time, happy baking!

photo credit: morgane perraud on unsplash

Becoming a Better Baker

cocoa testing

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 …

Spring Sugar Cookies

Spring Sugar Cookies

Spring Sugar Cookies

Spring has finally won out in the weather where I live. Warmer temps have caused flowers to burst out, so I thought it would be nice to do an homage to the Earth’s beauty. Thinking it would be fun to decorate flower cookies, I got a cookie cutter in the shape of a tulip and went on the hunt for a sugar cookie recipe.

Truth be told, I haven’t done roll-out cookies in forever. I am more of a drop cookie gal, but this was about cookie art. So, I found a recipe that was already vegan to make things easier. The only alterations I had to make were to add water for dryness at high altitude, and to switch some of the tapioca flour to all-purpose flour because the extra water makes very fine flours turn to wallpaper paste. I chose a large Wilton cutter to have a greater backdrop for decorating, but it also made the work go faster. Use any cookie cutters you like; the bake time is a range from small to large sized cookies.

Spring Sugar Cookies adapted from Veg News
1.5 cups vegan margarine
1 cup vegan sugar
6.5 TBS water
1 TBS vanilla
4.75 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 tsp salt
Frosting of choice
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together margarine and sugar until light and creamy. Add in water and vanilla and beat again. Add flours and salt and mix well to form a smooth dough. Cover and chill for 1 hour or until firm.
Preheat oven to 350F. Divide dough in half and work with one half at a time; keep remaining dough covered. On a floured work surface, roll dough out to desired thickness (1/8” for crispy cookies, 1/4” for soft), cut into shapes, and transfer cookies with a spatula to ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8-24 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Cool slightly before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Decorate with frosting once fully cooled. Makes 3-6 dozen cookies.

Until next time, happy baking!

Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookie

Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookie

Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookie

My husband was craving chocolate chip cookies, which is quite the norm. I didn’t feel like churning out the same old cookie so I looked for something I could make into a chocolate chip cookie. The recipe I found was for a bar sugar cookie, but I solved that by baking it in a pie pan. I added chocolate chips and created a big chocolate chip cookie.

For altitude, the only adjustments were less baking powder and more liquid (in the form of added non-dairy milk). The more interesting changes I made were by choosing alternate forms of sugar. The recipe called for powdered sugar, but I found that I was out of the kind of powdered sugar that is used for making frosting. However, I did have several other powdered sugars. They are more expensive but have richer flavors. I tried lucuma powder here for a maltier taste. I also swapped some standard vegan sugar with sucanat for a deeper flavor. I think using mesquite powder or coconut sugar would have equally tasty results. In fact my husband thanked me for the cookie I made him which he took to be a single serving. Or, in his words, “You only made one cookie. What are you going to have?”

Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookies adapted from Vegan Sugar Cookie Bars
2/3 cup vegan buttery spread (not sticks)
3/4 cup vegan sugar
1/4 cup vanilla non-dairy yogurt
1.5 TBS plain non-dairy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 TBS powdered sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350F. Place buttery spread and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on medium speed until fluffy. Add yogurt, milk, and vanilla and mix until combined. Sift together the flour, powdered sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add dry ingredients to the mixer bowl and mix. Mix chocolate chips in with a spoon. If dough looks too dry, add a little more milk. Batter will be a little thick but smooth.
Place dough in a 9” pie plate and press batter evenly down. Bake for 27-29 minutes. Cool in pan for 15 minutes then turn out on a wire rack to fully cool. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

Until next time, happy baking!

Resolution to Try Baking Healthier

Healthy Baking Resolution

Image courtesy of Carol VanHook at flickr.com

As the year comes to an end, people think about things they should do to improve next year. I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s Resolutions because they are usually so absolute and stringent – I will exercise every day; I will be nice to people; I will write a best-selling novel. The pressure is incredible and often leads to disappointment. So, instead of making a black-or-white statement, my vow to myself (and to you) is that I will TRY to make healthier food.

When I tell others that I am a vegan baker, they usually respond with, “So it’s healthy, right?” My answer is not what they expect. “Even if it’s vegan it’s still a cupcake.” A cupcake, or cookie, or cake is still a baked treat and not health food. I have tasted healthy baked goods that reminded me more of dog treats, but I know that you can still have a bit of decadence that is somewhat healthier.

In the coming year I will attempt to make baked treats that are healthier. I will look at healthier fats or fat stand-ins when tweaking recipes. I will also include more whole grains, when feasible, and use less refined forms of sugar. And, I will occasionally throw in a veggie or two.

There, I said it. But I consider it a suggestion, not a steadfast rule. And that works for me.

Have a great New Year, and happy baking!

What is Vegan Sugar?

sugarWhen I started baking vegan, I realized that there were a few new ingredients I would be using – egg substitutes, non-dairy milk, vegan margarine. I thought everything else would be okay until I heard about vegan sugar. My first thought was, “Vegan sugar? Why would sugar NOT be vegan?”

Upon doing research I found out that most sugar in the United States is whitened with charred animal bones. “A bone char filter acts like a crude filter and is most often used first in cane sugar refining… (It is) the most efficient and most economical whitening filter.”

That led me to my search for vegan sugar. I found some at my local natural foods store, but then it disappeared from the shelves. What was I going to use now? Enter organic sugar.

By definition, organic sugar has not been refined with bone char. “To maintain its organic integrity, organic sugar is only minimally processed or not refined at all. Since bone char is not on the National Organic Program’s National List of Allowed Substances, certified USDA organic sugar cannot be filtered through bone char.” Whew.

There are other choices for sugar that is vegan. “Sugar in bags labeled ‘100% Pure Beet Sugar’ was never passed through a bone char filter. Molasses, turbinado, demerara, and muscovado sugars are never filtered through bone char. Evaporated cane juice is also bone-char free.” These sugars are darker in appearance because they have not been whitened, but they generally have a similar sweetness and can replace white sugar measure for measure in recipes.

So, when you see me list ‘sugar’ in my recipes, know that you can try any of the ones I listed above. I usually use organic sugar, but it’s all a matter of taste.