Nicole Hampton’s mission was simple: Beat back the eggs. The high-altitude home baker had tested a dozen different vanilla cake recipes in her Aurora kitchen, and each one turned out tasting more like scrambled eggs than dessert. Tossing aside those dense cakes that smelled sunny-side up, she started making tweaks, adjusting the flour, lessening the leavening agent (baking soda or baking powder) an eighth of a teaspoon at a time, carefully beating the eggs, and never over-mixing the batter. Before long, she had recipes that worked, cakes that weren’t eggy, and a niche expertise that stuck.
Hampton, a native Coloradan and creator of the food blog Dough-Eyed, has been baking at elevation since the days when she believed in Santa Claus. (In fact, she considers him one of her first taste-testers.) She spent long holiday hours in the kitchen with her mother, rolling out sugar-cookie dough and sorting through her grandmother’s handwritten recipe cards. When she moved to Boston for college, her tiny stove presented its own challenge: She couldn’t fit a standard sheet pan in the oven. The struggle inspired her to create the first rendition of her blog, then called Small Kitchen, Big Head, in which she chronicled cooking in a cramped space.
Hampton’s hobby took off when she honed in on recipe development. Small Kitchen, Big Head became Dough-Eyed, and Hampton quickly grew an audience with her relaxed approach to technical frustrations and her humorous writing tone (“Sometimes I bake with alcohol, sometimes I just bake near it.”). Once she felt her recipe arsenal was sufficient, Hampton decided to put together a cookbook. “I just wanted to bring something that was really approachable,” she says.
Her debut tome, Sugar High: Sweet & Savory Baking In Your High-Altitude Kitchen, features more than 100 recipes, all fine-tuned for baking at mile-high conditions. Every recipe, from pretzel twists to chocolate-whiskey cupcakes, is a Hampton original, having endured two, three, and even four taste tests for flavor and consistency. “I think my co-workers really reaped the benefits of that,” Hampton says.
Hampton will appear at Tattered Cover-Aspen Grove this Saturday to sign copies of Sugar High and chat with fellow high-altitude bakers. For those craving a taste before the main event, Hampton is sharing a sweet seasonal recipe for pumpkin spice muffins below. Just remember to keep an eye on those eggs.
If you go: Nicole Hampton will speak and sign copies of her cookbook at Tattered Cover-Aspen Grove (7301 S. Santa Fe Dr., Littleton) on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m.
Makes about 16 muffins
For the muffins:
● 2 cups all-purpose flour
● 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
● ¾ teaspoon baking soda
● ½ teaspoon salt
● ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
● ½ teaspoon ground ginger
● ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
● ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
● ¾ cup granulated sugar
● ⅓ cup firmly packed brown sugar
● ½ cup vegetable oil
● 3 eggs
● 1 cup pumpkin puree
● 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the crumble:
● 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
● ¾ cup all-purpose flour
● ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
● ½ cup granulated sugar
● 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the muffins: Preheat the oven to 375°F and line 16 muffin cups with paper liners. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves. In a large bowl, beat together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and oil until combined. Add the eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla, and stir until combined. Slowly add the flour mixture, and beat until the batter is smooth. Fill each muffin cup about three-quarters full with the batter.
For the crumble: In a bowl, stir together the melted butter, flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and cinnamon until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle the top of each muffin cup with the crumb mixture, dividing evenly.
Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes. These muffins can be enjoyed warm or completely cooled.
Recipe reprinted with permission from WestWinds Press