Baking can be so much fun…until you move to the mountains. And then trusted recipes you have used for ages suddenly don’t turn out as you expect. High-altitude baking can be extremely frustrating. Don’t give up! There are steps you can take to be a successful baker at high altitude.
Higher altitudes have lower atmospheric pressure because of a thinner blanket of air compared to altitudes at sea level. Basically thinner air means less atmospheric pressure. Thicker air means more atmospheric pressure.
Decreased atmospheric pressure affects baking in three ways.
- Less pressure allows leavening (or rising) to take place faster.
- Less pressure causes moisture to evaporate from foods quicker.
- Water and other liquids have lower boiling points at higher altitudes.
The climates of higher altitudes are usually drier than climates of lower altitudes. Drier climates cause flour and grains to dry faster, because of this dough and batters might need more liquid to achieve the correct consistency.
5 Tips for Baking over 3500 feet.
1. Adjust Ingredients.
It is very likely that you will have to adjust the ingredients in whichever original recipe you start with. Make sure to keep detailed notes so the next time you try a recipe you will remember exactly what you did before. I write notes in my cookbooks. This way the notes are right were I need them.
I realize that the following information can seem a little overwhelming. Just pick one or two ingredient adjustments at a time.
As I mentioned before climates of higher altitudes are typically drier. This causes flours and grains to be dryer. To make sure that dough and batters have the right consistency extra liquid can be added.
- For elevations of 3,500 to 6,000 feet increase liquid by 1-2 Tablespoons for each cup used.
- For elevations of 6,500 to 8,500 feet increase liquid by 2-4 Tablespoons for each cup used.
- For elevations of 8,500 to 10,000 feet increase liquid by 3-4 Tablespoons for each cup used.
When increasing liquids, think outside the box. You don’t have to always use just milk or water. Increasing liquids by using eggs can help strengthen the cellular structure. Using buttermilk or kefir whey are also a great options, because not only are they lower in fat but they are acidic so they work together with baking soda or powder as leavening agents.
Read more about kefir whey in my post How to Prepare and Use Kefir.
I typically find that adding one or two large eggs is the only adjustment needed to have success with a recipe. Kitchn.com states that a medium egg has an average of 3 Tablespoons of liquid and a large egg has an average of 3 1/4 Tablespoons of liquid.
Adjusting flour can get a little tricky, because for some baked goods flour is decreased and for others it is increased. Just follow the bullets below based on what type of baked good your are making.
- Flour may need to be decreased for yeast breads. Each climate’s humidity is different, so start by reducing one Tablespoon at a time.
- Flour might need to be increased for sponge cakes and angel food cakes. More flour helps to strengthen the cellular structure of these types of cakes.
- For elevations of 3,500 feet increase by 1 Tablespoon for total recipe.
- For each additional 1,000 feet of elevation increase by 1 Tablespoon.
- A slight increase in flour may be necessary when baking cookies and quick breads.
Decrease sugar in cake, cookie, and quick bread recipes.
Decrease sugar in order to prevent excessive sugar concentration and therefore weakened cellular structure caused by extreme evaporation of moisture.
- For elevations of 3,500 to 6,000 feet decrease sugar by 0-1 Tablespoon for each cup used.
- For elevations of 6,500 to 8,500 feet decrease sugar by 0-2 Tablespoons for each cup used.
- For elevations of 8,500 to 10,000 feet decrease sugar by 2 1/2 Tablespoons for each cup used.
Decrease baking powder or soda.
Decreasing baking powder or soda reduces the rate of leavening, which prevents excessive rising.
- For elevations of 3,500 to 6,000 feet decrease baking powder or soda by 1/8th of a teaspoon for every teaspoon used.
- For elevations of 6,500 to 8,500 feet decrease baking powder or soda by 1/8th to 1/4th of a teaspoon for every teaspoon used.
- For elevations of 8,500 to 10,000 feet decrease baking powder or soda by 1/4th of a teaspoon for every teaspoon used.
2. Adjust temperature/decrease time.
- Increase baking temperature by 15 to 25 degrees to in order to “freeze” or “set” a batter before leavening agents cause cells that are formed to swell too much.
- If baked goods are baked at too low of a temperature, the crusts can end up with too light of a color and also dry. This is caused by an increased rate of evaporation of moisture.
- Baking at a higher temperature prevents cakes and breads from being too dry, over-expanding, or rising to fast and then collapsing.
- Decrease baking times by 5 to 8 minutes per 30 minutes when baking temperatures have been increased because your baked good will be finished sooner.
- Another idea…Try increasing the oven temperature during the preheating stage, then decrease the temperature back to the recommended temperature when putting the baked goods into the oven. I have had pretty good luck with this method. Just don’t forget to decrease the temperature if you don’t decrease the baking time or you will have some crispy baked goods!
3. Practice, practice, and then practice some more.
If you are planning on baking something for a party or an event make sure to practice at least once or twice before the big day. This will help ensure that your bakes look and taste amazing.
I know my family loves being my taste testers, and I am pretty willing to bet that your friends and family would be glad to be your taste testers. Although I wonder if my church friends are starting to get sick of my latest lemon bar and orange bar experiments…haha!
4. Find recipes designed for high-altitude baking.
There are a few really helpful resources for baking at high-altitude. I have found the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Resource Center to be the most helpful.
The Extension Resource Center has a collection of very helpful information on their website http://farmtotable.colostate.edu/ under the Prepare tab.
They have also put together a really great book that is full of detailed information and recipes in their book High Altitude Baking for $16.95 plus shipping. If you have an Amazon Prime membership you can currently (May 2016) get the High Altitude Baking for $13.39 without paying for shipping.
I will be reviewing this cookbook soon.
The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion also has a really good section that gives advice on baking at high-altitude. Check out my review of this cookbook here. If you have an Amazon Prime membership you can get the flexibound version for $19.72 and shipping is included.
5. Get creative.
- Use your pots and pans to your advantage. I always bake my fruit and meat pies after placing the pie dish on top of a cast-iron skillet. This ensures that the bottom is not soggy while the top is flaky. Plus, it also makes it easier to remove the pie from the oven by the handle of the skillet.
- Use a pizza stone instead of a baking sheet.
- Use liquids besides milk when increasing liquid. Use buttermilk or kefir whey because they help the leavening process. Check out my post How to Prepare and Use Kefir for more information about kefir.
- If making a yeast bread punch the dough down twice instead of just once to extend the rising period. Flavor development takes place during the rising period, so extending this time makes sure that the flavor is fully developed.
- Sometimes cakes just seem dry at high-altitude. Brush a homemade simple syrup on your cakes and cupcakes. This is also a great way to add a hint of flavor to your baked goods.
Did you found this post helpful?
I hope this post helps you have the courage to bake at high-altitude again. A free printable download of a condensed version of above is available in the Free Library. You can receive access to the Free Library by subscribing to Creativity in the Cloud’s newsletter. Thanks!
High Altitude Baking by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension