Baking at altitude can be difficult, but it’s a challenge that can be met if you understand some basic principles of baking. We’ll show you how to adjust your cake, cookie and bread recipes for those who live in higher climates.
Many recipes are developed at sea level and won’t be affected if you live below 3,000 feet; however, the higher you go, the lower the air pressure. This change in pressure can affect baking in three ways:
- Liquids evaporate faster, causing baked goods to dry out more
- Liquid boils at a lower temperature, causing baked goods to rise faster – sometimes before the structure of the dough sets
- Leavening gases will expand quicker, leaving pockets that cause holes in the batter, making baked goods less stable
While there are no hard and fast rules for adjusting a recipe, there are some general high altitude baking adjustments if you live in higher climates.
Before you get started
Because different recipes will be affected in different ways, it is a good idea to try a recipe as written first to see how it is affected by your specific baking environment. Some recipes may need no adjustment.
However, if your results are not what you want (or are used to), make a note of what you would like to improve on so you have some idea how to adjust the recipe the next time.
If you need to make an adjustment, change only one thing at a time so you can isolate which change, or combination of changes, gets you that perfect baked good.
Baking cake at high altitude
Here are a few common problems (and how to fix them) regarding baking cakes at higher altitudes.
Cake falls in center
Because liquids evaporate faster in higher climates, your cake can have a higher sugar concentration and weaker cell structure. This can cause your cake to fall in the center. If this happens, try one of these adjustments:
Increase the liquid. For each cup of liquid, add 1 to 2 tablespoons at 3000 feet; 2 to 4 tablespoons at 5000 feet; 3 to 4 tablespoons at 7000 feet.
Decrease the sugar. For each cup of sugar, decrease by 1 tablespoon at 3000 feet; 2 tablespoons at 5000 feet; 1 to 3 tablespoons at 7000 feet.
Add more flour. You can also add 1 tablespoon of flour per 1500 feet. Using a flour with a higher protein content may also help. Bread flour and wheat flour are generally higher in protein than all-purpose flour. Protein content may also vary by brand.
Decrease the leavening. Use less baking powder or baking soda. For each teaspoon, decrease 1/8 teaspoon at 3000 feet; 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon at 5000 feet; 1/4 teaspoon at 7000 feet.
Decrease the fat. If your recipe calls for oil or shortening, decrease 1 to 2 tablespoons per cup of fat.
Add another egg. For rich cakes, adding an additional egg will help strengthen the cell structure and keep the cake from falling.
Keep that oven door closed! Never open the oven door in the first 20 minutes of baking. The vibration created while the cake structure is tender may cause the cake to fall.
Cake is dry
The quicker evaporation of liquids can also make your cake turn out drier than you want. Here are a few options for avoiding this.
Increase the oven temperature. Raise the oven temperature by 15 to 25° F. Because goods will bake faster at a higher temperature, set your time for 5 to 8 minutes less per 30 minutes of baking time in the recipe.
Increase your liquid. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons at 3000 feet and an additional 1 1/2 teaspoons for every additional 1000 feet of elevation.
Add another egg. Depending on the recipe, you could add an additional egg for extra moisture.
Cake batter overflows in the pan
Leavening gases will expand faster at higher elevations, causing your batter to rise quicker before the baking process can set it. This can cause batter to rise above the pan. Keep these tips in mind to prevent batter from overflowing.
Don’t overfill pans. Never fill pans more than 2/3 full, or half full for chocolate cakes or cakes with thinner batters.
Increase the oven temperature. Raise the oven temperature by 15 to 25° F to set the batter. Because goods will bake faster at a higher temperature, set your time for 5 to 8 minutes less per 30 minutes of baking time in the recipe.
Decrease the leavening. Use less baking powder or baking soda if included in the recipe. For each teaspoon, decrease 1/8 teaspoon at 3000 feet; 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon at 5000 feet; 1/4 teaspoon at 7000 feet.
Cake edges are short, crown is tall
The quick-expanding leavening gases can also cause the center of the cake to expand faster, allowing a large crown to form. This may case the edges of the cake to bake quicker and may not be as high as you would like.
Though this can happen at any altitude, it is especially common with high elevation baking. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
Use Wilton Bake Even Strips. These strips will allow the outside and the center of the cake to rise and bake at a more even rate.
Reduce the oven temperature. Lower the baking temperature by 15 to 25° F and increase the baking time by 5 to 10 minutes.
Baking lighter cakes, like angel food and sponge
Creating a strong cell structure in these lighter cakes means controlling the amount of air in the batter. Don’t overbeat. Beat egg whites until the peak falls over (soft peaks), not until stiff. Here are a few other tips to try.
Reduce the sugar. Decrease sugar by 1 tablespoon per cup.
Increase the flour. Add 1 tablespoon of flour at 3,500 feet. Add an additional tablespoon for each additional 1,500 feet.
Increase the baking temperature. Increase the oven temperature 15 to 25° F. Because goods will bake faster at a higher temperature, set your time for 5 to 8 minutes less per 30 minutes of baking time in the recipe.
Baking muffins and quick breads at high altitudes
The structure of most muffins and quick breads is sturdy enough to withstand the change in air pressure, so most recipes will need no adjustment.
If you notice a slightly bitter or alkaline taste in your muffins or breads, reduce the amount of baking powder or baking soda slightly. This won’t affect the structure, just improve the taste.
Try using our Basic Muffins recipe as the base for creating a variety of flavors. If you are making a quick bread with a more cake-like texture and not getting good results, try making adjustments as noted for cakes.
Baking cookies at high altitude
Most cookie recipes will provide good results with no adjustments. But if you are finding that your favorite recipe is not providing the quite the same results at altitude as it was at a lower elevation, try these adjustments:
- Slight increase in liquid to help the dough come together
- Slight increase in baking temperature if cookies are too dry
- Slight decrease in baking powder or baking soda if cookies puff, then fall in baking
- Slight decrease in fat or sugar for a firmer texture
- Slight increase in flour to help strengthen structure
Baking bread at high altitude
Making bread at higher altitude is most affected in the rising times. Generally, breads will rise quicker than at lower elevations.
Since flavor in breads takes time to develop, it may be necessary to punch the dough down twice to allow the flavor more time to develop. You might also try doing the first rise in the refrigerator with the bowl covered to slow the action of the yeast.
In drier climates, the flour will tend to be drier too, meaning you may need to use less flour to get the dough to the proper consistency. The best way to judge is to knead small amounts of flour into your dough until it is soft and pliable, but not sticky. Start with an easy recipe, like our Easy Homemade Bread, to test adjustments for your area.
Baking pies at high altitude
Pie crust recipes should not be affected by altitude. At higher elevations, flour may be drier, so adding a little more liquid may help your dough come together smoothly. Our Flaky Pie Crust recipe is a good one to try.
Whether you have lived at a higher altitude, just moved to one, or plan to do some baking on a visit, remember that being at altitude doesn’t automatically mean a recipe will fail or that you are doing anything wrong. Try a recipe as written first, then make one adjustment at a time to see what works best for you.
With a little trial and error and some small adjustments, you will be creating baked goods that taste as good in the mountains as they do at sea level!