Expats that come to live in Cuenca, Quito, Loja or any other city of the Andes in Ecuador often find ourselves with a challenge, even for baking.
This challenge doesn’t allow us to enjoy our favorite cakes or baked goods because the dish may come out flat or dry. So the question is: “Why does this happen to my cake?” “What can I do to avoid this from happening?”
It has even been a challenge for me as a professional chef. However, I have found these tips and some ideas that will help you bake better dishes in altitude.
Baking: Different Products, Different Places
Many of the products we find here in Ecuador differ from the U.S. or Europe. For example, the quality of flour, eggs, sugar, syrups, and many other products that may influence your baking.
Some tips that have helped me bake are:
1) Subtract 1 – 3 tablespoons (15 – 45 ml) sugar per cup (250 ml). A mottled surface on a cake indicates too much sugar. Then, if needed, subtract 1 – 2 tablespoons (15 – 25 ml) fat per cup (250 ml) of fat.
2) Add an egg or egg white. This adds more liquid (see #5), and protein, which coagulates and makes the cake set faster. Some cooks also add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) more flour per cup (250 ml) flour.
3) Increase baking powder or baking soda by 1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon (.5 ml to 2 ml) for every teaspoon (5 ml) called for in cake recipes. You may find that quick bread (biscuits, muffins, coffee cakes), squares, and cookies, which have a stronger cell structure, don’t need adjusting.
4) To allow for moisture loss, add 1 – 2 tablespoons (15 – 25 ml) extra liquid per cup of liquid. For elevations above 4,921 feet (1,500 meters), add up to 4 tablespoons (60 ml) liquid as needed.
5) Beat egg whites for foam cakes (angel, sponge, chiffon) just until soft peaks form, so they’re still elastic enough to expand as the batter rises.
6) Increase baking temperatures by 25 degrees F (15 C) to allow baking to set before cells overstretch.
These are some things we can do to perfect our baking skills in altitude. It’s important to know here in Ecuador that margarine isn’t the best product to use for baking, and it’s better to use real butter. This will help to maintain moisture and consistency to the products.
Lower the Temperature
Another suggestion is if you need flour to be drier, bake the flour at low temperature in the oven with nothing moist.
This will absorb the other liquids faster and better.
The best way to bake at altitude is to try things out and experiment with your recipes.
Change the quantities, ingredients, and baking temperatures.
Each liquid product may react differently, affecting quality.
Once you master these baking techniques, you can enjoy all your favorites, even when far from home.
Got any high-altitude baking tips you’d like to share? We’d like to hear them!
by: Sebastian Vallejo