Saturday, February 9, 2019

High Altitude Baking with Chocolate Chip Cookies

Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies at 4500 feet - made dough January 19, 2019
Original recipe not adapted for high altitude baking

Original recipe not adapted for high altitude bakng

When I moved to Reno, one of the things that belatedly occurred to me is I would have to adjust to high altitude baking. Reno is at 4500 feet above sea level. My old baking ground? 72 feet. Yeah, that's different. Plus I had the added incentive that my niece is getting married in Colorado and I promised to bake her wedding dessert bar. Ack, what if my recipes didn't turn out because I'd never baked in high altitude before?
Original recipe not adapted for high altitude baking

Original recipe not adapted for high altitude baking
Obviously, it was time to try my hand at baking in the new location so I could prep and adjust as needed when it was game time for the wedding. Bad enough I wouldn't be able to bake in my own kitchen and oven. I wasn't even going to be able to bake at my own elevation.
Recipe adapted for high altitude baking
When I did some research on the differences with high altitude baking, here's the wisdom from Google and Betty Crocker:
  • Air pressure at higher elevation is lower so foods take longer to bake. Temperature and/or bake times may need to be increased.
  • Liquids evaporate faster so amounts of flour, sugar and liquids may need to be changed to prevent batter that is too moist, dry or gummy.
  • Gases expand more so doughs rise faster.

Even more helpful than these generalized statements were the recommended general adjustments for high altitude baking:
  • Baking powder: for every 1 teaspoon in the original recipe, reduce by 1/8 teaspoon to 1/4 teaspoon
  • Sugar: for each cup, reduce by 0 to 2 tablespoons
  • Liquid: for each cup, add 2 to 4 tablespoons
  • Oven temperature: increase by 25 degrees F.
Armed with that knowledge, I started with the last chocolate chip cookie recipe I'd made and adjusted accordingly. The modified recipe is below. And, being a curious cat whose baking life has been at sea level, I did wonder whether it would really make a difference or not. Would my original recipe cookies come out flat? Dry? Rise then collapse?
Left cookie is non-adapted recipe, right cookie recipe adapted for high altitude baking
I made a half recipe of the original and a half recipe of the one modified for high altitude baking. Guess what? My original recipe turned out just fine. Not dry, didn't spread too thin, was just as good as when I baked it back in the Bay Area. Ironically, the modified recipe also turned out just fine. It didn't taste all that different from the original and it also didn't spread that much and wasn't dry. I'm not sure that in a blind taste test, anyone could really taste the difference. So maybe I just created a new chocolate chip recipe by accident.
Only slight differences in appearances, almost none in taste (Original - L, Modified - R)
I want to try out a few more of my recipes without modifying them and see if I just got lucky with this one or if it's only applicable for cookies. And, with Denver being up to a thousand feet above sea level than Reno, maybe there might be a difference there? Who knows. But it'll be an interesting experiment to conduct over the next few months.

Modified 1/2 recipe
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 5/8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup MINUS 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 cup MINUS 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces milk chocolate chip cookies
  1. Melt butter and let cool slightly.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Add brown sugar and granulated sugar to melted butter; stir to combine. Add egg and vanilla; stir until blended.
  4. Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
  5. Portion into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  6. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space frozen dough balls.
  7. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden and middles are just barely past the raw stage. Do not overbake.

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