Summit County author releases second high-altitude baking book
IF YOU GO
What: Book signing with Vera Dawson
When: Saturday, March 19; 2–4 p.m.
Where: The Next Page Books & Nosh, 409 E. Main St., Frisco
Cost: Free to attend. Copies of “Baking Above It All” will be available for $14.95
Creating kitchen masterpieces is not always easy in the High Country, especially when it comes to baking. What was once an easy recipe at sea level can turn into a course, dense failure at high altitude.
Vera Dawson is known locally for overcoming these frustrations and creating recipes that are do-able anywhere. She has a recipe column, High Country Baking, which runs biweekly in the Summit and Vail Daily, and also teaches baking classes at Colorado Mountain College.
She recently released her second book, “Baking Above It All” — a compilation of cookie, cake, pie, tort and other baking recipes that she has tested in her high-altitude kitchen multiple times. Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco will be holding a book signing on Saturday, March 19 from 2–4 p.m. She will be available to answer any questions about her book or baking at higher elevations.
Dawson has been writing her High Country Baking column for the Summit Daily since 2002, and, along with her CMC courses, she has plenty of recipes that she has fine-tuned over the years. This book includes baked goods from her collection that she said could be troublesome at high altitudes. She released her first book, “Cookies in the Clouds,” at the beginning of 2014, which focused on cookie creations from honey-pecan squares to traditional almond biscotti. Her follow-up book is a wider variety of desserts, from a pear walnut torte to triple coffee cupcakes to peach blueberry bourbon cobbler.
“I hear from more people who just say, ‘I can’t bake,’” she said. “They take my class and say, ‘I can’t do it’ — and it’s not you, it’s the altitude. It really is very frustrating here, so don’t give up. … You want something pretty, and you want something that tastes good, and it spreads all over the oven and you feel like, ‘Oh I’m just a failure at this.’ But it really rarely has to do with the baker; it has to do with the elevation we are at.”
Since creating her column, she has received questions and responses from readers from not only Colorado, but around the U.S. and even in South America and Europe.
“It’s taught me geography; I didn’t realize how many places are above 8,000 feet,” she said.
A BOOK FOR EVERY ALTITUDE
Dawson knows that many of her readers are second-home owners who spend part of the year in the mountains and part of the year at sea level, and, because of that, a number of the recipes she chose for this book are ones that can be made anywhere.
“It takes into consideration that Summit County has a lot of people who spend time here and spend time elsewhere,” she said.
The cookbook includes some gluten-free recipes and is tailored to include ingredients that can be found locally. Each recipe is easily identifiable with tags such as “wheat free” or “works at any altitude” if applicable. Out of all the different variety of recipes, she said she couldn’t decide on a favorite.
“I don’t think I can pick one out,” she said. “It’s kind of like kids … I like them all for different reasons.”
She does, however, suggest different types of baking for different skill levels.
“If I were teaching someone who’d never opened an oven before, I’d start with bar cookies up here because the pan holds them in, and cookies spread up here,” she said. “Almost everything spreads, so a very simple bar cookie and have it within four contained walls, and you’re probably going to have a nice, successful experience. And then, cakes later in the game — cakes are one the hardest.”
The book offers an introduction of hints to aid in successful baking, along with suggestions for the types of ingredients and equipment to use. The recipes have photos of the finished product, step-by-step instructions and each section contains suggestions specific to the recipes found within it.
A FAMILY THAT LOVES FOOD
With a doctorate in psychology, Dawson didn’t plan on becoming a Summit County baking guru. After traveling through the Rocky Mountains in her Volkswagen camper on her way from school in South Carolina to work on her doctorate in Southern California, she knew she would someday return. And she did, figuring she would spend a year or two in Colorado — and 25 years later, she still calls the mountains home.
“I did get rid of my Volkswagen camper and actually bought a house,” she laughed.
She comes from a family that loves food and has taken plenty of cooking classes over the years.
“I come from a family where everybody cooks; it’s a celebration of life for all of us,” she said.
A lot of the classes she attended were in Denver or Santa Fe, and so she would experiment with how to deal with the recipes at even just 2,000 feet higher. She started helping her friends and neighbors with their recipes, and, eventually, one of her neighbors suggested she write a column.
When she first took her idea to the editor of the Summit Daily at the time, she had pitched a general cooking column. The editor asked her to refine it to baking, as it is one of the hardest things to master at altitude. She now has a strong following of readers who began asking her for a book to find all her recipes in one place, which pushed her to publish the first book.
“I think our community has been very, very supportive, and I’m so grateful for it,” she said. “I don’t write cookbooks to display my skills as a baker. My goal is to validate and increase your skills, confidence and enjoyment of baking. And, I make sure the recipes in my cookbooks will do that. They’re tested numerous times, provide clear, step-by-step directions, require easily accessible ingredients and no esoteric techniques and result in baked goods you’ll love to eat and will be proud to serve.”
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