Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Baking With Altitude - Fats

Welcome to Week 4 of How to Fix Common Baking Disasters.  

Week 1 How to Fix Common Baking Disasters
Week 2 Baking With Altitude - Flour
Week 3 Baking With Altitude - Leavening Agents

Chicago, IL (USA) 625 feet above sea level 
Santa Cruz (Bolivia) 1365 feet above sea level  
La Paz (Bolivia) 13,000 feet above sea level    

The first time I truly realized how critical fats were in converting recipes from one altitude to another occurred when I was trying convert a high altitude (La Paz) recipe for Rollo de Queso to a low altitude kitchen (Chicago).

Rollo de Queso is a rich Bolivian cheese bread that contains a lot of butter. The butter is one of the ingredients that makes this bread so deliciously rich and tender. I didn't want to reduce this ingredient because I didn't want any deterioration in flavor. I soon realized though as my rollo de queso spread and flattened in the oven that reducing the butter was necessary if I wanted my rollo de queso to hold its shape.

Little by little I reduced the butter measurement until I achieved a good balance between flavor, texture and shape.

Fats are wonderful additions to baked goods. Fats can take a plain bread or cake and turn them into tender, flavorful treats. What fat you use and how you use it can make all the difference. Fats melt when heat is applied. As the fats melt they start to release water. Water then turns in to steam. The steam along with the gas from leavening agents helps the baked product rise. 

Fats have a melting point between 90 to 130 degrees F. The quicker a fat melts, the quicker the water is released and turned to steam, the less the baked product will rise. So if you don't want your fat to cause your product to spread too much and be flat, controlling the melting point is key. 

Another result of the steam released from the water in fats is the formation of a crust. Liquid evaporation helps to form the crust on the outside of your baked product. Controlling the fat melting point and water evaporation can create a tender or crunchy crust.

Fats, like the structure of flour and eggs help trap air bubbles and gas from leavening agents helping your baked goods achieve loft. Its the balance of all these ingredients that cause the rising of your baked items to achieve beautiful heights or deflating lows.
The three main fats I use in baking are butter, vegetable shortening and oil. You will notice that lard is not mentioned in this post. That is because lard is an ingredient I do not typically use. Lard certainly does play a role in tamales and other savory dishes. For baking I prefer to use vegetable shortening instead of lard. This though is personal preference so if lard is a staple in your kitchen then by all means continue to use it.

Butter vs. Margarine? This is a personal preference. I choose to use butter whenever possible but both are interchangeable. In baking, always use unsalted butter. Most baking recipes have added salt. When you use unsalted butter you can better control the saltiness of your baked goods. Save the salted butter for buttering your toast.

Butter has a lower melting point then shortening. The quicker water evaporation from butter causes cookies to spread more quickly creating a flatter, crisper cookie.

If you like the taste of butter in your cookies but want to prevent your cookies from spreading too quickly try this trick - measure out your cookies onto the cookie sheet then pop dough and cookie sheet into the freezer for several minutes. The freezing of the dough will help it hold its shape.

Vegetable Shortening

Shortening has the highest melting point. When using shortening, dough is able to hold its shape for longer before the fat begins to melt. This allows the flour and eggs to build the proper supporting structure before the fat can possibly collapse the structure.


Cooking Oil

Oil is a liquid at room temperature. Oil adds lovely moistness to baked goods but at higher altitudes it could cause your baked items to be too crispy.

When converting a low altitude recipe to a high altitude recipe you may need to increase the fat content of the recipe. When converting a high altitude recipe to a low altitude you may need to decrease the fat content of a recipe. Increase or decrease fats 1 Tablespoon at a time until you achieve the correct rise, texture and crust.

I originally thought I would do seven posts on baking disasters but as you can see so far in these posts its not a simple question of increasing or decreasing ONE item. All the ingredients in baked goods work together. Changing one ingredient may or may not be enough to achieve positive results. 

I've decided to add a Week 8 post where I bring all the information together in one spot to help you better tackle your baking.   

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Chef Noly
To order saltenas please visit Noly's World Cuisine at
To read more about Bolivia please visit our friend Bella at

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