Today marks the beginning of a new series I’m calling High Altitude Baking, which until I can think of something shorter and catchier, can be found under a new tab fittingly called High Altitude Baking. We spend, on average, a week every month in one of the little towns that dot the shores of Lake Tahoe, arguably one of the most gorgeous places on earth. The lake is roughly 6200 feet above sea level, and over the last three years of baking and cooking up there, and making more hockey puck cakes than I care to remember, my baking success rate has dramatically improved. So I thought I would start to share some of what I’ve learned and share some of the recipes.
I’ll add high altitude baking details as time goes on, but today I’ll start with the three biggest general lessons I’ve learned:
- It’s really, really, really dry up at 6200 feet, which means you need a moister batter going into the oven.
- The air pressure is much lower at 6200 feet, so unless you like something over-rising, or exploding in an oven, cut way back on leaveners, and dramatically shorten yeasted breads’ rising time.
- Anything, and I mean anything, will take longer to bake in the oven at 6200 feet than at sea level.
My first High Altitude recipe is for Blueberry Buttermilk Corncake, adapted from this month’s Abby Dodge #Baketogether project for Buttermilk Corn Muffins. Each month Abby chooses a recipe from her arsenal of fabulousness and posts it on her blog site, along with tips and photographs. Then anyone who wants to participate puts their own twist on it, and posts a photo of it on her site. If we have blogs, we also blog about it, and the photo is linked back to our blog posting. I invite you to go check out what others have done with the recipe so far by clicking on the above link, and please join in the fun if you want to take a stab at it yourself.
If you make a comparison of Abby’s original Corn Muffins with my High Altitude Corncake, you’ll see I made the following adjustments for altitude:
- I changed the egg from a large to an extra-large egg.
- I increased the buttermilk amount from 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup
- Since I kept the dry ingredients of flour, cornmeal, and sugar the same, I further increased the moistness of the batter by adding 2 tablespoons of moist cheese. Any combination of ricotta cheese and cream cheese works very well in this recipe.
- I cut the baking powder in half from 2 teaspoons to 1 teaspoon.
- I doubled the baking time due to 1) switching from muffins to a single cake, and 2) the high altitude.
- I also think that by switching from muffins to a cake style helped to keep it moister, but I’ll have to make them as muffins now to make sure. Darn, I guess I’ll have to make them again. And again. And again
Blueberry Buttermilk Corncake
- 3/4 cup (3 3/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (1 1/3 ounces) fine grind corn meal
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2/3 cup buttermilk, room temperature
- 1 extra large egg, room temperature
- 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese OR cream cheese; OR 1 tablespoon of each
- zest from 1/2 lemon
- 1 pint blueberries, washed
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Heat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8″ cake pan. Place the cake pan on a piece of parchment paper, and trace the pan. With a pair of scissors, cut the circle out, about 1/4″ smaller than the tracing. Place the parchment circle in the cake pan, and butter it too. This will make it much easier to remove the cake following baking, and is worth the extra prepping time.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk until well blended.
Measure the buttermilk using a 2 cup glass measuring cup (if you don’t have one, measure the buttermilk and pour into a small bowl). Add the egg, oil, vanilla extract, whatever combination of ricotta cheese and cream cheese you choose, and the lemon zest. Mix with a table fork or small whisk until well blended. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and whisk together.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan.
Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the top. Place the baking pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips as the cake rises in the oven.
Combine all of the streusel ingredients in a small bowl and mix together with a pastry blender, fork or your fingers until the butter is completely coated and broken down into pea sized pieces. Sprinkle over the top of the batter.
Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the top is a pale golden color, and a pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Move to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Carefully run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan, and flip the cake out onto a plate. The cake will be upside down, so flip it again back onto the wire cooling rack. Note: much if not all of the streusel will have sunk into the cake creating little ribbons of streusel in the cake.
Serve immediately or cool completely and stow in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. We agree with Abby that we liked it best warm so please reheat if needed before serving.