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High Altitude Baking

I live in Denver, Colorado, at an altitude of 5,230 feet. I find that cookies, breads, and cakes require some adjustment of ingredients to get proper rise and texture from them; even with adjustments, efforts can fail as there are multiple reasons for what affects baking at altitude.


Because air pressure decreases as the elevation increases, many foods respond differently at high altitudes — and not just baked goods, but beans, stews, fried foods, pasta, etc. There are some standard adjustments you can make, but you also have to experiment a bit to find what adjustments work best for your recipes where you are.

With less air pressure weighing them down, leavening agents tend to work too quickly at higher altitudes, so by the time the food is cooked, most of the gasses have escaped, producing a cake or cookies that have fallen. Following are some suggestions you can use to avoid baked goods disasters!

As your elevation increases you need to decrease the leavening and sugar a little bit more and increase the liquid.  You will want to experiment to find the amounts that are right for your altitude.  It just takes a little trial and error and your baked goods will be beautiful.  Watch them as they make bake faster at higher altitudes especially as it’s suggested that you raise the baking temp.

Cookies

  • Add 1 Tbsp of extra flour to the amount called for; decrease the sugar slightly, and use 3/4 the amount of the leavening (baking powder or baking soda) called for in the recipe.

Cakes

  • 3,000 ft to 5,000 ft.
    • reduce the baking powder or soda by 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon for each teaspoon specified in the original recipe.
    • Decrease the sugar 1 to 2 Tbsp per cup of sugar in the original recipe.
    • Increase the liquid 2 to 3 Tbsp for each cup specified in the original recipe.
  • 7,000 ft.
    • Increase the liquid 3 to 4 Tbsp for each cup specified in the original recipe.
  • For cakes leavened by egg whites, beat only to a soft-peak consistency to keep them from deflating as they bake.
  • For both cakes and cookies, raise the oven temperature by 10-20°  to set the batter before the cells formed by the leavening gas expand too much, causing the cake or cookies to fall
  • Shorten the baking time slightly to avoid over baking at the higher temperature; from my experience that can often be as much as 10-15 minutes; so check early and often until your test pick comes out clean.

Breads

  • You need to decrease yeast, sugar and raise time a bit when baking bread at high altitudes.  This may take some practice to get it just right for  your neck of the woods!
  • I will typically halve the required yeast, less the sugar by a Tablespoon or two depending on how much is in the recipe and add just a pinch of salt as salt retards the development of yeast.
  • Watch to make sure your dough just doubles; it will take less time than most recipes indicate. Because of less air pressure, it can more easily rise too much and not hold up to baking without collapsing and resulting in tough and dense bread.

My friend Gail did a blog post about the best way to keep your cake moist. She’s a creative cake and cookie maker in New York City so her information was not specific to our high altitude needs but what a great idea since keeping cakes from either being too dry or drying out once out of the oven is an ever-present challenge for us residing a mile high!

Take a peek at Gail’s solution for locking in optimum moisture when you take your layers out of the oven! And stick around to read more; Gail is a wealth of information for bakers; even I’ve learned a few tricks. Yes, Emily and Lauren, I have.


Because water boils at a lower temperature the higher you go (212° at sea level, 203° at 5,000 feet, 198° at 7,500 feet), foods cooked in water or on the stovetop will have different requirements too.

  • Candy will have to reach a lower boiling point on a thermometer to be cooked enough.
  • Pasta needs a furious boil and longer time.
  • Beans need to be cooked twice as long at 7,000 feet, and above that height, it’s nearly impossible to cook them through without the use of a pressure cooker (which raises the boiling point of water).
  • Slow stews and braised meats may need an hour extra for every 1,000 feet you live above 4,000 feet.

Modify moderately until you find the perfect revision that works for you in your particular area.