Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My First High Altitude Baked Cake

Having lived at sea level for my entire life, I never gave a second thought to those "high altitude" instructions on cake mixes. Now as an informed adult, I have learned that altitude makes a difference and not adjusting your recipe correctly can lead to flat, dry, or over-proofed cakes and breads.

Thanks to the internets, I found an easy-to-follow scientific explanation here. There's a lot of good stuff in the explanation. The coolest factoid from the article is at higher elevation, flavors tend to be less pronounced because there are fewer moisture molecules to carry aroma to the nose. What?! Isn't that interesting?

Here's the applied science summary: 
  • Make your batter strong so that it doesn't collapse by using less sugar, adding an extra egg, or by adding more flour. 
    • Fats and sugar weaken gluten structure in flour at high altitude.
  • Acidity helps the cake firm up faster in the oven and helps hold in moisture when it is being used with baking soda, so replace regular milk with buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt (high acidity). 
  • To make your cake not dry, if you cake recipe calls for a liquid, add in extra liquid.
How I adjusted the banana cake recipe
  • Decreased sugar by 1/2 cup - I usually do this anyways because the bananas are usually sweet enough. 
  • Added one extra whole egg 
  • Decreased shortening by 1/4 cup
  • Used 5 bananas  - I usually do this anyways. I prefer a stronger banana flavor.
  • Didn't sift my flour as much as I usually do to add in extra flour. 

Next time, I may add an extra yolk in the cake to see if that will help bind it together better and use a little less sugar to see if that helps the cake be a little denser. Otherwise, I'd say it was a success!