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Wednesday, August 17, 2005 

Newspaper Food Section Wednesday

We venture off to the "Mile High City" of the Denver Post today.
Located at the base of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is one of America's most beautiful cities. And one of the most fun. Blessed with 300 days of sunshine a year, Denver is a lively city with a great love of the outdoors. Here you'll find the nation's largest city park system, 90 golf courses and an incredible 650 miles of paved bike trails. But Denver is also a cultural and sophisticated city.

Denver has the tenth largest downtown in the U.S. - a bustling area centered around a mile-long pedestrian promenade that is lined with outdoor cafes and flower baskets. Down every street there are mountain views. The mountain panorama visible from Denver is 120 miles long and includes nearly 200 named peaks. Downtown Denver is home to three new sports stadiums, 300 restaurants, a restored historic district filled with 90 bars and brewpubs, a collection of museums, a variety of galleries and shopping, the second largest performing arts center in the nation, three college campuses and even a unique downtown amusement park, Six Flags Elitch Gardens. - Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau

And, being so high up, they have their baking challenges. Some handy hints...

At altitudes higher than 3500 feet, the air pressure is lower so liquid evaporates faster.
Most baked goods (leavened with baking powder or baking soda, not yeast) will be improved by making one or more of the following adjustments:

  • Increase temperature (25ºF)
  • Increase liquid
  • Decrease leavening
  • Decrease sugar
  • Pound cakes and other rich cakes benefit from reduced amounts of fat.
  • Quick breads and cookies require the fewest adjustments.
  • Yeast bread dough rises more rapidly and can overrise easily, so let dough rise for a shorter time.
  • Because flour dries out more quickly, too, use the minimum amount called for in a recipe, or use 1/4 to 1/2 cup less than the total amount.
  • Boiled candy and cooked frostings (sugar mixtures) become concentrated more rapidly because of the faster evaporation of water. Watch cooking closely to prevent scorching.
  • Reduce recipe temperature by 2°F for every 1000 feet of elevation.
  • If you are new to high-altitude cooking, you can contact your local U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Extension Service office (look in your local telephone book under county government).
  • Check out "Pie in the Sky" - sucessful baking at high altitudes.

“Susan G. Purdy’s high altitude baking bookshould be standard NASA equipment.”
Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot

To keep the texture creamy, this cake is baked like a custard, in a water bath that guarantees gentle heat. At 3,000 feet and above, water takes longer to boil, and evaporates quickly. To get enough heat to the center of the batter to bake it properly, put a pan of just-boiled water in the oven to keep it very hot while you prepare the batter. By the time the batter is made, the water will be hot enough to transmit sufficient heat. Keep a kettle of extra water boiling during baking time, to replace any that evaporates (usually only at 10,000 feet).

From Susan Purdy's "Pie in the Sky," this recipe is for 5,000 feet and makes a 9-inch single layer cake that serves 10-12.

8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder or coffee
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup (3 1/2 ounces) almond slices

Special Equipment
9-by-1 1/2-inch round metal cake pan
Roasting pan large enough to hold cake pan in water bath
Baking parchment or wax paper
2 flat plates or 9-inch cardboard cake disks covered with aluminum foil

Place rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. At 3,000 feet and above, place the large roasting pan in the oven and pour in boiling water to a depth of no more than 1/2 inch. Coat cake pan with butter or solid shortening and line bottom with wax paper or baking parchment.

(Note: If you don't have a food processor, prepare batter in a double boiler: melt chocolate with butter, whisk in separately cooked sugar-water-coffee syrup, then whisk in lightly beaten eggs. Bake as directed.)

Put chopped chocolate in the work bowl of the food processor and process about 60 seconds, until reduced to a fine powder.

In a small saucepan on medium heat, stir water, sugar and coffee powder until sugar and coffee dissolve. Bring syrup to the point where you see little bubbles around the edges, just before it reaches a full boil (it can boil over easily, so watch carefully). This can take 3-4 minutes at sea level, longer at higher altitudes. Remove pan from heat.

With processor running, slowly pour hot sugar syrup through feed tube onto powdered chocolate. Process about 10 seconds to melt all the chocolate. Stop machine and scrape down work bowl with a flexible spatula. Pulse a few seconds more.

With machine running, add tablespoon-size bits of soft butter through feed tube 2 at a time, letting them melt completely (about 20 seconds) before adding more.

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