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High Altitude Baking

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Edited By crimsonwolf

High Altitude Baking

Ahh, the joys of mountaintop living. Clean fresh air, snowcapped peaks, falling cakes…

Cakes already can be tricky but when you throw altitude into the mix the pesky little confections can become positively cantankerous.

The higher in elevation you are the less air pressure there is. The low air pressure causes water to boil at lower temperatures, thus increasing the time it takes to boil and cook whatever food you're preparing. The lowered air pressure also tends to cause baked goods to rise faster. This requires a change in the proportion of ingredients used in leavened foods. Occasionally, you may even need to adjust the baking temperature in your oven as well, which means the liquids will evaporate faster. When too much liquid evaporates from your batter, the rest of the ingredients become concentrated. This generally means you end up with too much sugar in the batter. Too much sugar will prevent the cake from setting and you'll find a gooey mess on your hands. At the same time, the air bubbles trapped in the batter will be rising faster and developing a sneaky little habit of escaping into the atmosphere. When these air bubbles rise too fast your cake will rise fast and high…then fall. This will create a dense, dry mess of a cake.

So, how does one solve this problem?

Cooking at high altitudes generally requires two basic adjustments:
1. An increase in time for boiled foods.
2. A change in the proportions of ingredients used in leavened foods such as cakes and yeast breads. In some instances, a change in baking temperatures may also be necessary.

Most cake recipes need no modification for sea level up to the altitude of 3,000 feet. Above that, it is often necessary to adjust recipes slightly. Usually, a decrease in leavening or sugar (or both) and an increase in liquid are needed. Remember, ingredients such as eggs or butter are considered liquids.

For any baked goods that rise (yeast breads, cakes or breads made with baking powder, etc.), it is important to adjust the recipe so that the rapid rise time doesn't make the resulting bread or cake too dry. This can be done as follows:

For yeast cakes:

  • Yeast cakes rise more quickly at high altitudes, so be sure to watch your dough carefully and judge the rise time by the change in the dough's bulk, not by the amount of time it takes. Proofing time for yeast cakes should be reduced.

For cakes using baking powder:

  • Don't overbeat the eggs. Overbeating adds too much air to the cake.
  • Raise the baking temperature slightly; the faster cooking time will keep the recipe from rising too much. At elevations over 3,500 feet, the oven temperature for batters and doughs should be about 25 degrees F higher than the temperature used at sea level.
  • Decrease the amount of baking powder slightly; this also prevents the recipe from rising too much.

For foam cakes:

  • Don't overbeat the eggs. Foam cakes have a very delicate egg protein structure.
  • Reduce sugar slightly to help compensate for the liquid loss.
  • Increase whole eggs or egg whites to compensate for the liquid loss.

Cakes tend to stick more when they are baked at high altitudes. So be sure to always grease your baking pans well and dust them with flour or line them with parchment paper. Exceptions are angel food cakes and sponge cakes, which should always be baked in ungreased pans. Also, fill pans only 1/2 full of batter, not the usual 2/3 full, as high altitude cakes may overflow.

Follow the chart below for more specific adjustments. When adapting a recipe for high altitudes always start out with the smallest adjustment, then add more adjustments later and only if necessary. Keep in mind that any or all of these adjustments may be required, for every recipe is different in its balance of ingredients. Only repeated experiments with each different recipe can give the most successful proportions to use. It's a good idea to keep notes of how you adjusted your recipes until you know what works best for your particular location. Good luck and happy baking!


Adjustment for 3000 feet:

  • Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon decrease 1/8 teaspoon.
  • Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 1 tablespoon.
  • Increase liquid: for each cup, add 1 to 2 tablespoons.
  • Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.

Adjustment for 5000 feet:

  • Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon.
  • Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 2 tablespoons.
  • Increase liquid: for each cup, add 2 to 4 tablespoons.
  • Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.

Adjustment for 7000+ feet:

  • Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/4 teaspoon.
  • Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 1 to 3 tablespoons.
  • Increase liquid: for each cup, add 3 to 4 tablespoons.
  • Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.

The Staff

This article was written by Ursula Dalzell, a former member of the Allrecipes editorial staff.



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