Baking in a Storm


I was perusing the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion [affiliate link] and I came across a tip about humidity and baking. It started out with the relatively common advice that, in more humid weather, flour will absorb more liquid and will consequently need less added for any given recipe. However, tucked away under that was another hint that I'd never heard before.

One of the common symptoms of rainy weather is lower atmospheric pressure. The thing I'd never considered is that the lower pressure will affect cooking. It'll have a small effect on the temperature needed to bake, which the King Arthur folk didn't mention because it's probably pretty negligible. This is the same thing that happens to high-altitude bakers and the opposite of what happens in a pressure cooker.

The important thing is that your cake/bread/whatever will rise higher because there isn't as much pressure on it. It's obvious when you think about it, and I'm sure bakers who have travelled to different elevations to practice their craft have noticed the difference, but it's news to me.

What I wonder is if there's anyone who would want an oven that could control its pressure. Not necessarily to pressure-cooker levels, but for people living near the edge of the atmosphere (I'm looking at you, Colorado), they could keep it at 1 ATM. For those who just want the tallest souffles ever, they could dial down the pressure just a smidge.

There's a problem that happens with chemically leavened products like muffins and quick breads. If you put too much leavener in, the quick bread will collapse before it's done baking. This happens because there's not enough structure in the confection to hold it up. Specifically, the atmospheric pressure is pushing it down when the tiny amount of gluten isn't ready to hold it up.

With the fancy atmospherically-controlled oven, you might be able to dial back the pressure enough to allow the structure to set before removing the pressure. There will be limits, of course; a soufflé is going to fall eventually, and if you make your structure too delicate, no amount of reduced pressure is going to help unless you're going to somehow eat it in the reduced pressure. Which seems unlikely.

Still, I'd bet someone talented to could work some magic with a system like that. I doubt it would end up being useful, certainly not compared with the work of actually creating such a device, but I wouldn't have really figured out any good uses for the anti-griddle either, so who can say for sure?