FORT COLLINS, Colo. — ‘Tis the season for baking, and Colorado State University has some tips for making sure your high-altitude holiday treats turn out terrific.
“In Colorado, a lot of people don’t know that their elevation matters, or don’t know the elevation where they live,” says CSU Extension Specialist Elisa Shackelton. “Anything above 3,000 feet is considered ‘high altitude,’ and that’s all of Colorado.”
In fact, CSU is the birthplace of high-altitude cooking adjustments, thanks to pioneering efforts by Inga Allison and Charles Lory in the first half of the 20th century.
“Inga would drive to a high-elevation location, such as the Fall River Road shelter house near Estes Park, to do cooking experiments,” Shackelton said. “With the help of then-CSU Physics Professor Charles Lory, the high-altitude cooking laboratory was conceptualized and built in the Guggenheim Building in 1927. It consisted of a huge steel cylinder room with altitude controls, enabling Inga and her staff to work inside to test recipes for altitude conditions ranging from sea level to 12,000 feet.”
Prep for success, safety
CSU experts’ first tip is to make solid preparations before baking begins.
“Christmas cookies are often shared with others, so bring out your best food safety skills – start with clean hands, surfaces and utensils; put on an apron; put your cell phone away; and use quality ingredients,” says Extension Specialist Marisa Bunning, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. “Baking soda and baking powder lose their effectiveness over time, and flour can develop off-flavors, so check expiration dates before you begin. Also, it’s a good idea to use an oven thermometer to check the accuracy of the temperature setting.”
She also warns not to sample the raw dough – both eggs and flour have been associated with foodborne illness outbreaks.
Shackelton and Bunning recommend making recipe adjustments one at a time, to isolate the effects that each change has. And take careful notes.
“The ingredients, their amounts and proportions, even the way they are put together, can impact the final result,” Bunning says. “We have an added challenge in Colorado because most recipes weren’t developed at our elevation, so cookies tend to flatten and spread out. But usually some adjustments can help to ensure you get the chewy, crunchy, delicious cookie you envisioned.”
For more detailed information about high-altitude cooking and baking, visit https://col.st/yM3vC. The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.
— Jeff Dodge, Colorado State University
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