My baking ego took a few blows this weekend. I'm OK guys, don't worry. I'm confident I know why it happened and who the culprit was to blame. His name is altitude and he's a real a-hole. A group of friends and I were spending the weekend in Tahoe and all I wanted to do was satisfy them with a few tasty treats, but altitude had another thing coming: failure. Am I being too hard on altitude? Perhaps. Or perhaps he's 99.9% to blame.
So yes, apparently baking is a bit challenging when you're six-thousand feet up. I knew this, but thought it only really affected the baking time and temperature. Nope. Couldn't have been more wrong. After bombing two of my desserts that a few of my friends choked down as a courtesy, I had to redeem myself before I gave this blog a bad name (too late). I did some research the next morning on baking at altitude and found an abundance of confusing, frustrating information. Every kind of item you bake, whether it be cookies, cakes, bars, pies, etc. have different "rules" and suggestions. For example, if you're making cookies, one source says you need to:
• Decrease butter or shortening (2 Tbsp to 1/4 cup) if cookies spread too much
• Decrease sugar slightly if cookies spread too much (amount depends on size of batch and other ingredients)
• Increase liquid by 1 to 2 Tbsp only if dough is too dry and cookies don’t spread
• Increase flour (starting with 1 or 2 Tbsp) if cookies spread too much
• Increase bake time by 1 to 3 minutes
• Decrease bake time by 1 to 2 minutes
My studies concluded to this: baking in altitude is a complete crap shoot and you need to set aside a day for trail and error. I unfortunately didn't have the patience for this nonsense, nor did I have the time. I had to nail my next dessert on the first try.
Enter food blogger: Katie Goodman of Good Life Eats who lives at altitude. This dear has already done the hard part for me. Katie, thank you for saving my dignity and the tiniest (non-existent) reputation that I had. I made her Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting and luckily, they didn't suck.
Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting
Yield: 18-20 cupcakes
Ingredients – Cupcakes
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
4 large egg whites, room temperature
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Ingredients – Frosting
Side-note: this makes a ton frosting so don't be shy with it
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract (to maintain the bright white color)
1 ½ pounds (24 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
Directions – Cupcakes
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the racks in the center position. Line cupcake tins with cupcake liners. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl combine both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.
3. In a medium bowl whisk together the milk, sour cream, and egg whites. Set aside.
4. Fit a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or use a hand mixer. Add the butter, sugar and vanilla to the bowl and beat at medium speed for 3 minutes, or until light. Scrape the sides as necessary.
5. Add the vanilla extract and one third of the flour mixture while beating on medium speed, again scraping the sides as needed. Beat in half of the sour cream mixture. Alternately add the remaining flour mixture and sour cream until all the wet and dry ingredients have added, beating until the batter fully incorporated and smooth.
6. Use a large scoop (about 3 tablespoons), evenly divide the batter between 18 lined muffin tins filling each about 2/3 of the way full.
7. Bake for 15-24 minutes (Pro Tip: Mine took 13 mins), or until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out clean. Cool on wire rack.
Directions – Frosting
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the butter and vanilla bean seeds. Beat until fluffy. Turn the mixer to low speed and slowly add the confectioners' sugar while continuing to beat.
2. Once well blended, add in the vanilla and 4 tablespoons heavy cream or milk. Mix on low speed until well combined and moist. If desired, an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk until your desired consistency is reached. Beat at high speed until frosting is smooth and fluffy.
And that my friends, is why it royally blows to bake at altitude. For those of you who want to try it, I recommend "cheating" and finding a recipe that has already been tested successfully. If not, I hope whoever you're feeding enjoys piss-poor desserts. : )