What do you get when you combine two snowboarders who both love the mountains and cooking? For one, you get Dessert’D Organic Bake Shop, an organic bakery in Mammoth Lakes (opened in 2011). Secondly, you get two innovative women who used their combined passions to create The Mountain Baker: 100 High-Altitude Recipes for Every Occasion, published in 2020.
Truckee’s own Kimmy Fasani and Chicago-native Mimi Council are active athletes living high in the Sierra Nevada. Familiar with the challenges of baking at high altitude — generally considered to be 5,000 feet and above — they have compiled a most wonderful cookbook for all those who live well above sea level. As an avid mountain baker myself, I decided to put their recipes to the test, and cooked and baked my way through the pages.
One of my favorite things about this book is its variety. The collection encompasses more than just baked goods. Readers will find recipes for everything from muffins, quiches, and granola to trail mix, roasted nuts, even salads. The table of contents provides easy direction to the wide assortment of sections: “Breads and Pastries,” “Après,” “Refreshments,” “Hearty Eats,” etc. The pictures, big and bright, featuring selections like Fiesta Black Bean Salad or slices of strawberry shortcake, entice even the most beginner of cooks or bakers to break out the cutting board or baking pan.
I began my trial with Alpine Start Muffins, which I can say are now my favorite muffins. As a breakfast item or a quick snack to grab for a hike or on the way to the ski hill, these nutritious muffins are the perfect way to start any active day. Oats, flaxseed meal, a banana, and maple syrup for sweetness combine to make a moist and sweet muffin. As for the chocolate pound cake, which I made for a friend who is gluten intolerant, I loved the gluten-free option and gave it a thumbs up. The one yeast recipe I tried, Chocolate Sweet Rolls, had only one rising as opposed to the traditional two risings, so this recipe was a winner from the start. Who doesn’t love a sweet roll with a hint of chocolate and less time to rise? The last baked good in the book, Glazed Blueberry Galette, is my favorite dessert so far, highly regarded for its flaky crust, gooey blueberry filling, and powdered sugar-ginger glaze.
For the savory side, I was hesitant to try the Veggie Quiche, as I am loyal to my tried and true, but with oregano in the crust, and spinach, mushrooms, potato, and garlic in the filling, my allegiance soon changed. Lastly, for an upcoming trailer trip I made Roasted Rosemary Sage Almonds to snack on. I’m certain I’ll be making batches of them for the holidays.
The key secret to baking at high altitude, say Council and Fasani, is that these treats bake a bit faster than at sea-level. Conversely, cooking takes a little longer. Another note concerns storage. If a dessert is soft, chewy, or cakey, it needs to be stored in an airtight container to retain its moisture; there’s lower humidity at altitude. If a dessert is crispy or crunchy, then leave the dessert on the counter because “dry mountain air is perfect for it,” the co-authors explain.
Overall, the recipes in the book are written to be made at high altitude but also include notes for sea-level adjustments printed on the sides of the pages. I must confess, as one who lives at 6,000 feet, it’s a nice change to have a cookbook where high altitude takes precedence over sea level. That said, Council and Fasani are clear to point out the wide range of the cookbook, noting all of the recipes will work “anywhere … no matter where you call home.” Gluten-free options are suggested alongside many recipes, with a list at the back of the book of all gluten-free and vegan items.
For both authors, baking and cooking are all about bringing people together under the umbrella of nutrition. “Proper nutrition makes adventure a lot more fun. Especially if someone is active in the mountains for a long period of time,” said Fasani, a pro snowboarder who now hits the backcountry. “For me, I am conscientious of fueling my adventures with wholesome ingredients. Now that I have two kids, getting them outdoors and teaching them proper nutrition is a big part of my life. I think of it as nature and nurture.”
With the holidays on the near horizon, The Mountain Baker is the perfect cookbook to give as a gift or to buy for yourself. My daughter bought a copy for me last Christmas, and I haven’t stopped baking and cooking from it ever since.
Council’s next book is due to hit shelves in fall 2022. In the meantime, she also recommends the other high altitude cookbooks Après All Day by Kelley Epstein and Sugar High: Sweet and Savory Baking in Your High-Altitude Kitchen by Nicole Hampton.