"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


As most of you know,  up until January of this year, we had a "get-away" home in the Sierra Nevadas of Lake Tahoe.

During our time there, I taught cooking and ran a now defunct cooking club called, "Serene Lakes Cooking Club."  Residences were located between 5-7,000 feet above sea level in elevation. So cooking at times were challenging.

I wrote this years back, but is still applicable today. So, if you find yourself in any mountain areas in high elevations, especially above 5,000 feet, I hope this information will help.

High altitude cooking

There are different schools of thought on high altitude cooking. Inquiring minds want to know, and here are a few tips that I’ve discovered through trial and error as well as some research I’ve conducted… Of course, they are debatable.

Before we get to the tips, what exactly is the difference?

Boiling point. Water and other liquids evaporate faster and boil at lower temperatures. Hence, liquids boil at 212 degrees F at sea level and at Lake Tahoe at about 198 degrees F. General rule, for every 500 feet of ascent, the boiling point is lowered by 1 degrees F. Wow, if that’s true, does that mean we get "hotter" the further we go up in elevation.

Gases expand at higher altitudes. For example, leavening gases in breads and cakes expand more. Another analogy we can relate to, if you fly or come up to the "mountains" the gases in your body, in particular your stomach, expands. Hence, it needs to be expelled. Use your imagination as to how it’s done?


Cooking utensils.

For some reason, foods cooked at high altitude sticks to cooking pans. My guess is that since pressure is lower, the closer you get to heat source, the hotter it is and liquid heats quicker at the heat source, which could also potentially burn quicker. The liquid temperature is not evenly distributed. I’ve discovered non-stick surfaces work well. I’m not fond of Teflon, but Circulon makes a wonderful product.

Another trick, get rid of those double boilers. General rule, over 5,000 feet above sea level, double boilers are not hot enough to gelatinize starch. Be brave, use direct heat.

Longer cooking time. Have you noticed when you cook pasta or any starch it seems to take forever. You literally can go watch a movie, come back, and it’s still cooking (a little exaggeration, but you get the point). To compensate use about 20% more liquid to counterbalance the quick evaporation.

Another trick I’ve learned, if you’re cooking a dish that requires rice, e.g., Paella, pre-cook the rice to "al dente" stage, than incorporate in the dish and cook til done.

Quick rise. Breads and cakes rise rapidly. Only problem, it may rise quicker, but it isn’t quite cooked; hence, you tend to cook it longer and it dries out. Remember those quick gas expansions I mentioned above, a good solution would be to reduce the ‘proofing’ time. Another solution is to increase the temperature in your oven by 25 degrees F, and also reduce baking time by 20%. And, when using liquids, use cold water, it gives your baking goods strength. We do want them to ‘bake up’ tall and strong.

For recipes using Baking Powder: Break your baking rule. Forget room temperature anything, use cold eggs, and don’t overbeat the eggs. Cold eggs have more substance and strength, and not over beating minimizes the air. Remember the gas rule above. Also, decrease the amount of the baking powder slightly, typically by ¼. No adjustments are needed when using yeast. However, if you’re using eggs/yolks in e.g., tiramisu, beat the hell out of those eggs, you want gas, I mean air in your eggs.

General rule for "Mountain Cooking" - high altitude:
1. reduce baking powder by ¼ tsp
2. reduce sugar for each cup by 1-3 tbsp
3. increase liquid for each cup by 3-4 tbsp

I have also discovered something even simpler, if you can afford it, get a convection oven. The constant circulation of the heat seems to stabilize the pressure a bit. When using a convection oven, I do not alter the recipe.


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