I’ve definitely evolved over the years from “must-follow-recipe” to being wildly experimental with my baking, substituting out ingredients with abandon and using whatever’s in the pantry, and adapting sea-level recipes for high-altitude. Along the way, I’ve learned a few handy tricks that work excellently every time (and I’ve had a few spectacular failures). One of my favorite “baking failure” moments came when I brought collapsed, cratered cupcakes to my great-aunt’s house for dinner. The sunken cupcakes provided perfect little dense chocolatey cups for holding fresh whipped cream and berries. I cheerfully explained to everyone how (and why) the cupcake recipe had failed. After the soiree my great-aunt took me aside and offered the following advice: Never admit to a cooking failure! Hide the evidence! Pretend you always meant to do it that way!
Unlike my great-aunt and perhaps other host(esses) of her generation, I have no problem owning up to my baking failures and see it all as a great experiment. On the other hand, if you’re baking something for a party and only have one chance to get it right, it’s nice to know it will turn out reliably well so you don’t show up at the party with nothing. My least favorite baking failure moment was when I offered to make a huge cake for my officemate’s graduation party. Although I was a very experienced high-altitude baker by that point, I had never made a very large cake. I borrowed the cake pans and followed a big-cake recipe from one of my favorite cooking blogs, but it was not a high-altitude recipe, and the batter expanded in the oven and overflowed the pan, ruining the cake entirely (what was left in the pan wasn’t the same composition as the lighter stuff that flowed out). I was out of time and couldn’t bake a backup cake, so I brought a store-bought cake with much chagrin and shame.
I now know that when it really matters that I get it right the first time, I had better use a high-altitude recipe for baking. I hope to provide tried-and-true high altitude (7,000 ft, plus or minus a few thousand) baking recipes on this site, because I do have plenty of go-to solid ones so that you don’t have to get into the experimental spirit when it matters most.
|Scenes from making bread at high altitude: sourdough, yeasted, and bread machine bread.|
This muffin recipe was inspired by a bag of frozen figs from Trader Joe’s. I’m pretty sure these frozen figs will disappear from Trader Joe’s in one of their trademark purges of all your favorite products, but for now, we’re enjoying them in our morning smoothies and looking for other ways to use them. Plus, this muffin is a unique twist of flavors if you’re getting bored of all your other muffin recipes. The base muffin recipe is modified from High Altitude Baking by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, with a new flavor combination, a little more whole wheat flour to satisfy my healthy-eating husband, and optional coconut oil.
I’ve been substituting coconut oil for vegetable in baked goods for a while, but lately I’ve been tired of all my pastries tasting vaguely of coconut and have switched back to vegetable oil while the huge tub of coconut oil sits unused on the shelf. However, in this recipe the coconut flavor blends in perfectly with the almond extract flavor, and I would recommend it. If you don’t like or don’t have coconut oil, use vegetable oil. It comes out just as well.
Fig and Poppyseed Muffins (High Altitude)
Makes 12 muffins.
Whisk the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in one bowl. In another bowl, whisk the egg, milk, almond extract, and oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the wet, stirring with a wooden spoon for about 10 brisk strokes. Add the poppy seeds and frozen figs and mix for about 10 more strokes or until flour is incorporated into the batter.
Spoon the batter into the muffin tin, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until muffin top is light golden brown and the muffin springs back when pressed.
* I’ve been using whole wheat pastry flour for years ever since reading that Deborah Madison recommends it for baking with whole wheat. It’s usually pretty easy to find in the bulk bins of most markets, if it’s not in the baking goods aisle at your supermarket. You can substitute any mixture of white and whole wheat flours here but, more whole wheat usually means more bricklike. At this proportion, the texture of the muffin should be excellent. All the muffin photos on this page were made with half-and-half whole wheat pastry and all-purpose flour.
Lemon blueberry muffins - switch vanilla extract for the almond and increase to 2 tsp; switch frozen or fresh blueberries for the figs; switch the zest of 1 lemon for the poppyseeds; add 2/3 cup chopped pecans. When using frozen blueberries, add them at the absolute last possible second to avoid turning the muffin batter blue-gray.
|Chocolate chocolate chocolate walnut muffin.|