High Altitude Baking

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If you live in an area of HIGH ALTITUDE (higher than 3000 feet above sea level) this is a must read. High altitude baking takes some finesse to compensate for some scientific phenomenon that occurs in our recipes.

Like a science experiment, successful baking requires accuracy and awareness when it comes to temperatures, moisture levels and precise ingredient measurements.

Another factor that comes into play is the environment, including the altitude and the air pressure.

In order for baked goods to turn out well at high altitudes, it is necessary to learn how the altitude impacts the baking process, and what modifications can be used to combat it.

 

How High Altitude Affects Baking
Most recipes are developed for use at sea level. So for those of you living higher than 3,000 feet above sea level may find your baking just isn’t the same as it would be if you were baking on lower grounds.
As you go up in altitude, the air gets thinner and the atmospheric pressure drops, so this change affects cooking as well as baking, and it does so in 3 important ways:

1. Water boils at a lower temperature
At sea level, water boils at 212°F.
As you go up in elevation, water boils at lower temperatures.

High altitudes mean reduced air pressure, meaning water can boil at a lower temperature. Because of this it takes longer to bake and cook foods, since the lower temperature slows down the chemical and physical reactions that occur during baking and cooking. For instance, dense cake batter or dough will take longer to bake completely, especially in the center, when baked at an altitude above sea level.

Elevation Boiling Point of Water
Sea Level 212° F (100°C)
3,000 ft. 206.7°F (97.1°C)
5,000 ft. 203.2°F (95.1°C)
7,000 ft. 199°F (92.8°C)
10,000 ft. 194° F (90.4°C)

2. Moisture evaporates quicker
This means that moisture will leave your baked goods more quickly.
Less moisture can change the overall structure of your baked goods, flavors become weaker or less pronounced because there are fewer moisture molecules to carry the flavor molecules, and your baked goods will dry out, even go stale, much faster.

3. Air bubbles expand and rise quicker
This is where we get a bit technical but this is really important!
The higher the altitude, the lower the atmospheric pressure, or air pressure.
Low air pressure induces rapid expansion of leavening gases, which are bubbles formed from air, carbon dioxide, and water vapor that rise in products with yeast, baking soda or baking powder.
Cakes will rise very fast but fall even faster, resulting in a dense, flat cake.

 

Recipes that ask for stiff beaten egg whites might experience excessive expansion while baking, causing the egg whites to pop, results? = collapsed cake or baked goods, and low air pressure can cause yeast bread dough to rise to much (over-proof) resulting in warped or flat bread after baking.

Have I lost you yet???
No? Good?

SO what do we do to SOLVE all of this havoc caused by high altitudes?

• Use the right pan!!!

This is always true no matter where you are baking, but specifically in higher altitudes.
High altitudes accelerate the rate at which baked goods rise, so using a pan that is too small can cause cake or quick bread batter to over-rise and spill into the oven.

Angel Food cake pans are your best friend it allows for a better rise and quicker set due to the heat conduction in the center is better. Real helpful for those dense cakes or ones that include fruit.
A little trick, if you do not have an angel food cake pan – make your own by placing an empty and CLEAN please, aluminum can (and just not a dog food can either please) upside down in the center of a round cake pan Be sure to spray the outside of the can with cooking spray for easy release.

• Properly prepare the pan for baking.

Breads, cakes and quick breads stick to pans even more at high altitudes!!!!!!!
Use my pan grease formula thoroughly and parchment paper.

At altitudes above 5,000 ft. not only grease the pan but after you place the parchment paper, grease that to.
For cookies, use single-layer cookie sheets rather than double-layer, insulated pans, which reduce surface heat and prevent crisping.

Muffin pans use the professional baking pan grease and at 9,000 ft. and higher add paper or foil muffin cups.

Adjusting the recipe, unfortunately, there are no perfect guidelines for baking above sea level, as every recipe is different depending on the ingredients and the exact altitude situation.

Slight additions or reductions of certain products or by altering baking time or temperature may be of benefit but the best way to adjust for high altitude is on a per-recipe basis.

There is no right way, as altitudes, environments and oven temperatures vary.

All of the adjustments may be needed or only one or two; it just depends on the recipe.

Experimentation is “key” to finding the perfect balance.

Just remember, there is no one quick fix for baking at high altitude. Again, you may find that your baked items turn out after making just one small change, or you may need several changes, depending on your altitude and your baking environment. Baking requires a delicate balance between factors like temperature, humidity, air pressure and ingredients, so take some time to become familiar with how these baked goods behave in YOUR environment.

And PS~
Please stop blaming my recipes for being at fault!
It’s the damned air pressure!
Nanny-nanny-poo-poo!
(tongue sticking out)

Here is a simple help guide for adjustments needed in a recipe:

You will have to play around with these different suggestions as not everything will work for everyone!

CAKES

Increase flour by 1 tbsp per cup of flour at 3,500 ft; 1 additional tbsp with each 1,500 rise in altitude

Add eggs or egg yolks, or increase the size of eggs used

Increase oven temperature by about 25°F, or increase baking time by 10 to 15 minutes

Reduce leavener by 1/8 tsp to 1/4 tsp at 3,500 ft to 6,500 ft; 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp at higher altitudes

Pies Increase flour by 1 tbsp per cup of flour at 3,500 ft; 1 additional tbsp with each 1,500 rise in altitude

Increase liquid by 1-2 tablespoons

Increase oven temperature by 15-25°Reduce sugar by 1-4 tablespoons

Reduce butter or oil by 1 tbsp

COOKIES

Increase flour by 1 tbsp per cup of flour at 3,500 ft; 1 additional tbsp with each 1,500 rise in altitude

Increase liquid by 1-2 tbsp

Increase oven temperature by 15-25°

Reduce sugar by 1-4 tbsp

Reduce butter or oil by 1 tbsp

QUICKBREADS

Increase flour by 1 tbsp per cup of flour at 3,500 ft; 1 additional tbsp with each 1,500 rise in altitude

Increase liquid by 1-2 tsp; try an acidic liquid like buttermilk or yogurt

Increase oven temperature by about 25°F, or increase baking time by 10 to 15 minutes

Reduce leavener by 1/8 tsp to 1/4 tsp at 3,500 ft to 6,500 ft; 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp at higher altitudes

Reduce sugar by 1-4 tbsp

YEAST BREADS

Use ice water instead of warm water when mixing yeast

Do not omit salt

Bake bread above a pan of boiling water; remove during final 15 minutes of baking

Reduce the yeast by 1 tsp

Reduce proofing time; allow bread to rise only about a third in size

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16 Comments

  1. Thank you thank you thank you for this post! I’m at 5100 feet here in Northern Nevada, and can’t get a cake right to save my life. Cookies do OK, pies are alright, but cakes and cupcakes are tricky. I will re-read your suggestions and experiment accordingly. Thanks again!!

  2. Thank you so much for giving us such an important information, I live in Mexico city at 8 850 ft, and many times I have some troubles with recipes.I will read your suggestions carefully.Thanks again.God bless you.

  3. I just moved to Florida from Canada and made my first batch of Woopie Pies. They came out flat (did not rise). They taste fine but were flat and did not look so great. I did think the batter seemed a bit more runny than usual however? I’m not sure if it is the baking soda or is being at sea level changed what I should be using?

    All of my past baking are from the east coast (Boston/ NH to Southern Ontario (Canada)) area. How do we know if altitude is the reason for our baking problem? (Other than replacing baking soda; powder, corn startch, yeast etc.) I love my 50+ years ago cook books and I simply do not know the science well enough to convert if needed. Since I’ve always been above sea level we know that is what my books were written for.
    Any help or advise would help this grandmother continue to bake up those treats for the family. Thanks in advance for any input.

    1. hmmm since your recipes are specifically converted for high altitude, I would take those recipes that you love and simply compare them to similar recipes that are NOT meant from high altitude and see where the differences lie, you may be able to adjust just by comparison

      1. Hello Gretchen,

        I know you are in Florida now, so are all the recipes on this new website for Florida or low altitude baking?

  4. Hi Gretchen and Happy New Year!!!

    Thank you for this scientific explanation. This was interesting indeed. I had no idea the air pressure could have such drastic effects on baked goods. I don’t have that problem since I’m from the Bahamas. Love your recipes and look forward to what you have in store for the new year. God Bless you!

  5. Hi I used live in Johannesburg and now live at sea level. I am battling to get my fruit cakes to cook properly. They take much longer and are undercooked inside. Thanks

  6. Hey Gretchen what would you do differently for frosting? I can’t seem to make a thick icing at 6000 feet to save my life. It’s always runny and overly sweet when I try!

    1. Hmm this is a good question, as I wouldn’t think an icing recipe can be affected by high altitude?
      Im not really sure which icing recipe you are referring to either, it could just be a measuring issue or a mixing issue

  7. Hi Gretchen! Thank you for the post which I’m printing, but haven’t read through yet, lol. A year ago we moved to 6500 feet with no internet at home. I just now had some time at the library to look you up again, & I love your new website and videos–very professional! I used to enjoy your humor on the Woodland Bakery videos, but girl, you took it up several notches in quality & professionalism. Way to go, and God bless you!

    1. awe! thank you so much!! I am so glad you stopped back to see me!! And good luck with your new High Altitude baking adventures! LOL Hope this helps!

      1. Hey Gretchen, I have made adjustments for cakes & quick breads, all which turned out perfectly–no sinking. : ) Thanks again for the wonderful information!

  8. Hi Gretchen, I’ve been making your lemon cheesecake for a few months now it’s sooooo yummy. I’m visiting my parents in AZ and they are at 5100 feet and am making a cheesecake for their anniversary. Are their any changes or adjustments for a cheesecake?

    1. Since there are no leaveners in cheesecake, it’s not as difficult. This is essentially a baked custard so you will still want to do the water bath and definitely check to see if it is done the same way CLICK HERE

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