I made a simple olive-oil cake recently, and, when I took it out of the oven, there was a huge crack across half of it. I had forgotten to raise the oven temperature on the sea-level recipe. I topped the fractured cake with a big dollop of creme friche, raspberries and powdered sugar and my guests were no less the wiser. Recently, a frustrated new resident to Santa Fe begged for a comprehensive chart of basic adjustments she could stick on the fridge. She was planning a dinner party and realized that many of the recipes she was using would need to be altered. And so, for all our readers, a cheat-sheet to keep close at hand in their 7,000 feet or above kitchens:
•Oven temperature. Raise the temperature 25 degrees from the sea-level setting for all your baking and roasting — except in the following circumstances: Do not adjust settings if you are using a convection oven or baking in glass dishes or pans (i.e., Pyrex). Do use an oven thermometer to be sure your ovens are accurate.
•Leavening. For yeast-leavened breads, decrease the amount of yeast called for — OR — cut the rising time in half. Whichever adjustment you use, allow the dough to just double in size before baking.For recipes that call for baking powder, decrease the amount used by a quater-teaspoon per teaspoon called for in the recipe. If the recipe also calls for baking soda, reduce it by the same amount as the baking powder.
• Cakes. Add 3 tablespoons of flour per cup called for in the recipe. Add an additional egg, too. The extra moisture helps combat our desert environment. Cakes that seem dry benefit from the addition of 3 more tablespoons of liquid per cup called for in the recipe. For angel food cakes, genoise, meringues and other sponge cakes, under-whip the egg whites so that they only form soft peaks.
•Pies and other sweet, baked goods. Fillings that bubble over can be rescued by cutting back on the sugar by 2 tablespoons per cup called for in the sea-level recipes.
•Cookies. Reducing the baking powder slightly — say by a quarter teaspoon — and increasing the flour as for cakes, above, will prevent cookies from spreading out and becoming flat and hard. Chilling the baking sheets before dropping the cookie dough on them and putting them in the oven immediately also will help. Be sure to chill sheets again before making next the batch.
•Jellies and jams. Reduce the finish temperature called for in any recipe by 14 degrees. In other words, if a sea-level recipe tells you to boil your jam until it reaches 234 degrees, only allow the jam to reach 220 degrees. A good test to see if your preserves are thick enough is to put a spoonful onto a plate and leave it in the refrigerator for 5 minutes. If the jam “sets up,” it’s ready for jarring.
•Candies and boiled frostings. Reduce the finish temperature for fudge, caramels, toffees and brittles by 14 degrees, as above.
•Roasts, chickens and turkeys. Raise the oven temperature 25 degrees and allow an additional 25 percent cooking time, if necessary. (For example, if a recipe tells you to bake a chicken for an hour, you should be prepared to leave it in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.)
•Deep-fat frying. Decrease the fat temperature called for at sea level by 15 to 20 degrees.
•Popovers and Yorkshire puddings. Add an additional egg to the mixture. This creates a stronger batter that will hold the steam to create light, hollow popovers. Creampuff recipes do not require adjustment at any altitude.
•Rice and risotto. Rice can take up to a half hour to cook, and risotto even longer. Plan accordingly.
•Hard-boiled eggs. There’s no such thing as a 3-minute egg in Santa Fe. Soft-boiled eggs take 5 to 6 minutes. Hard-cooked eggs can take up to 25 minutes at high altitudes.
•Some recipes are fool-proof at any altitude. Dense breads and cakes usually can be left unaltered if they are baked in a 25-degree hotter-than-called-for oven. Specific high-altitude cooking and baking challenges can be e-mailed to me directly at ChefJohnnyVee@aol.com.