Tag Archives: baking

Baking at altitude

The last time I lived in Colorado, I bought a great book about baking at altitude. I still have that book, and it would sure come in handy now that I’m back. Unfortunately, I haven’t found the box of books that contains my cookbooks. It’s in our storage unit, and I can’t bear to tackle that right now.

However, I have been really excited about cooking and baking again. In the desert, it was too hot to turn on the oven or to boil water. We kept the toaster oven outside and sometimes cooked in that, but the heat made even the food prep indoors difficult.

Since the move, I’ve been on a cooking and baking binge. I’ve made a lavender sour cream cake, several batches of brownies, pancakes, cookies, and more. Much of it tasted good, but none of it was bakery quality.

I love a challenge, so I am going to try to conquer cooking & baking at 5280 feet. In addition to the book I own, there are web sites with guidelines for adjusting recipes for altitude. I’ll work on cakes, pies, and such first. The cooking will be easier; a few adjustments in liquids, salt, and cooking temps/times should do the trick. Then I’ll move on to bread, which has never been my strong suit, even at sea level.

Of course, I also need to pay more attention to more subtle changes in height. While making cookies, I thought I’d speed the process by putting both trays in the oven at the same time. As you can see below, rack placement gave me two very different trays of cookies. Looks like I need to learn to use my new oven correctly, too.




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Last week I was supposed to make scaccia, a tomato-cheese pie, based on the results of the poll I posted. Aside from crust ingredients, there were only two items in the dish: tomatoes and pecorino romano. I found San Marzano tomatoes, but the pecorino romano at my local grocery was a crappy brand. With only two ingredients in the filling, I want to be sure to buy good cheese. So I’ll go shopping again and find the right cheese to make the pie this week. I meant to make a pie–any pie–but I got caught up in the excitement of my job interview and a few other things and completely skipped my weekly pie for the first time this summer. I made two pies during some weeks, so we’ll call it even.

In fact, I might make two pies this week as well. I am determined to make the tomato pie. The second pie will likely be dessert when friends visit from Long Beach this weekend. Maybe I’ll try the turtle pie or a silk pie. Who knows what I’ll feel like making in five days.

In the mean time, I haven’t stopped baking. I made lemon bars with some lemons that I need to use before they started to rot. I was especially pleased with the recipe I tried. The bars had a wonderful sour bite to them. They didn’t last long. I wish I had a fancy camera that could take decent photos (and that I knew how to use it for that purpose).

Lemon bar

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Help me choose a pie to bake!

I want to try something new next week but can’t decide. Which kind of pie should I bake? I found recipes for brownie pie, turtle pie, and scaccia (a tomato-cheese pie, but not really a pie unless pizza pie counts).  Or write in your own pie suggestion.

I’ll make whatever has the most votes by 8PM on Wednesday. Stay tuned!


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Bourbon ginger peach pie

After chickening out and making an ice cream pie last week, I finally bit the bullet and made a double-crust pie. I’d found a good all-butter crust recipe online, and Trader Joe’s had a terrific price on four pounds of peaches. It was time.

The crust rolled out easily and quickly, and I improvised the fruit filling. I wanted to try a thickener, something I’d never done before with a fruit pie. I only had cornstarch on hand since I’d give away the tapioca flour before my recent move. I knew I wanted some bourbon flavor in the pie so instead of using water to thin the cornstarch I used Jim Beam. I minced some ginger, added sugar and lemon, and I was ready for peaches.

I blanched the peaches to make them peel more easily, then cut them into thick slices or chunks. I added them to the ginger mixture, mixed in the cornstarch and bourbon, and dumped it all into the crust.

To save on electricity and avoid too much heat in the apartment, I used our toaster/convection oven. Knowing it would be hot and knowing I would bake pies this summer, I made sure it could fit a pie when I chose it. I did not, however, think about fruit pie spillage until I was about to put the pie in the oven. I quickly covered the rack in foil, folding it up like a cup around the pie plate. (My next goal is to find a perfectly square metal tray for the oven that will fit a pie plate. The broiler plate that came with the oven is a bit too small.) The foil and the fact that I used a 10″ pie plate instead of a 9″ plate, meant the pie was a tight squeeze into my oven. (That photo got lost.)

In the end, the pie was good but has a lot of room for improvement. There was too much bourbon, and the ginger flavor was lost. Next time I’d use less bourbon and more ginger. There was a bit too much liquid, so the crust was slightly soggy, but not terrible. And the top crust didn’t brown enough to my taste. I blame that last point on the oven. It was pretty cramped in the oven, so air couldn’t circulate and brown the crust as it would in a full oven. Plus, the excess liquid may have steamed the pie a bit.

The finished pie

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I’m a big fan of the KCRW “Good Food” podcast. Now that I’m back in Southern California, I can listen to the show on the radio again, but I still subscribe to the podcast so I can listen any time. One of my favorite things is the summer Pie-a-Day Challenge that began in 2009. That first summer, I even got my pie posted on the Good Food blog. This year, the event has moved to Facebook, where folks can post pics of their pies. A winner is chosen each week among the photos posted.

I posted a pic of my peanut butter ice cream pie, which was kind of cheating since I just assembled pre-made ingredients. I didn’t expect to win anything, but I was very excited to get some positive comments from “Good Food” crew members Harriet Ells and Evan Kleiman.

With a friend, I’ve vowed to make a pie each week this summer. Her efforts have already shown me up (she makes her own ice cream), but it’s not really a competition. It’s just fun to see what other pie lovers create, and it inspires my own creations. I started a couple of weeks ago with a shepherd’s pie:

Next was last week’s ice cream pie:

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Pie

Coming next: bourbon ginger peach pie.

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Exciting stuff in the kitchen

Last weekend was a bonanza of shopping.  I’ve moved and set up house so many times in the past few years that you’d think I would have everything I need. Yet I find myself shopping after each move. Shelves don’t fit the new place, I need a differently shaped shower rack…there’s always something. Plus, with each move comes a lot of marketing mail, and that means coupons. That means I can sometimes find some good deals on stuff I never got around to buying.

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Filed under kitchen, Life in Coachella Valley