If you’re lucky enough to live in the mountains above 3,000 ft., you know that this presents some challenges for baking. Cakes rise too fast, and fall too hard! But these problems can be overcome if you follow these High Altitude Baking Adjustments.
The very best high-altitude cookbook, from Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. Good recipes and lots of tips to improve and perfect your high-altitude baking skills.
First, find out the exact altitude of your location by checking your address with whatismyelevation.com. (Link opens a new tab). No login required – just enter your address and it tells you your elevation in feet or meters.
Once you know your elevation, here’s a quick corrections chart to adjusting your cakes for high-altitude baking.
There are six factors you’ll need to correct in adjusting a cake recipe for high altitude: Oven Temp, Baking Time, Sugar, Liquid, Flour and Leavening.
For a cake mix, the rule of thumb is Add one tablespoon of flour at 3,500 ft., then another tablespoon for every 1,500 beyond that.
See below for adjusting your scratch recipes.
|What to change||How to change it||Why|
|Oven temperature||Increase by 25°F for most cakes. Increase by 15°F for chocolate or angel food and lighter cakes.||Since leavening and evaporation proceed more quickly, the idea is to use a higher temperature to set the structure of baked goods before they over-expand and dry out.|
|Baking time||Cut 5 to 8 minutes for every 30 minutes of baking time in the original recipe.||Baking at higher temperatures means products are set sooner.|
|Sugar||Cut sugar by 1 tablespoon per cup in the original recipe.||Increased evaporation also increases concentration of sugar, which can weaken the structure of your baked goods.|
|Liquid||Increase liquid by 2 tablespoons at 3,000 ft., and an additional 1 1/2 teaspoons for every 1,000 ft. beyond that. “Liquid” can include eggs (highly recommended), water or milk. 1 egg is about 3 tablespoons – an egg white is 2 tablespoons.||Extra liquid keeps products from drying out at higher temperatures and evaporation rates.|
|Flour||Add 1 tablespoon of flour at 3,500 ft. For every 1,500 beyond that, add another tablespoon.||In some recipes, a flour with a higher protein content may yield better results. Additional flour helps to strengthen the structure of baked goods.|
This is critical. As altitude increases, leavening must decrease drastically. Use the chart below to adjust the leavening in your recipe. When baking a recipe that calls for both baking powder and baking soda plus an acidic ingredient, like buttermilk or sour cream, try switching to all baking powder and sweet milk.
|Baking powder or baking soda||3,000-5,000 ft||5,000-6,600 ft||6,500-8,000 ft|
|1 1/2 teaspoons||1 1/4||3/4||1/2|
|2 teaspoons||1 1/2||1||3/4|
|2 1/2 teaspoons||1 3/4||1 1/4||1|
|3 teaspoons||2||1 1/4||1|
|3 1/2 teaspoons||2 1/2||1 1/2||1|
|4 teaspoons||2 1/2||1 1/2||1|
One word of caution: Many, MANY scratch cake recipes are way too over-leavened in the first place. At high-altitude, this will make-or-break your cake!
In general, the recipe should call for:
- 1 tsp of baking powder per 1 cup of flour
- 1/4 tsp of baking soda per 1 cup of flour
Another tip – test your baking powder before dumping it in your batter. Baking powder will lose it’s power fairly quickly – only about 9 to 12 months. So if yours is older than that, get rid of it and buy a fresh batch. You can test it by stirring a half a teaspoon of into a cup of hot water. If it starts to foam and fizz immediately, it’s still fresh enough to use.
Check your recipe FIRST before making high-altitude corrections!
|What to Change||How to Change It||Why|
|Oven temperature||Increase 15° to 25°F; use the lower increase when making chocolate or delicate cakes||Since leavening and evaporation proceed more quickly, the idea is to use a higher temperature to “set” the structure of baked goods before they overexpand and dry out|
|Baking time||Decrease by 5-8 minutes per 30 minutes of baking time||Baking at higher temperatures means products are done sooner.|
|Liquid||Increase by 1 to 2 tablespoons at 3,000 feet, increase by 1 1/2 teaspoons for each additional 1,000 feet. You can also use extra eggs as part of this liquid, depending on the recipe.||Extra liquid keeps products from drying out at higher temperatures and evaporation rates.|
|Flour||At 3,500 feet, add 1 more tablespoon per recipe. For each additional 1,500 feet, add one more tablespoon.||In some recipes, a flour with a higher protein content may yield better results. Additional flour helps to strengthen the structure of baked goods.|
Cakes, breads, and more
Cakes: Use extra eggs to increase liquids. If only part of an egg is needed, use the whites.
Crackers and Pie Crusts: Won’t be dramatically affected, but will usually need extra water to help the dough to form.
Fried Doughs: Lower the frying temperature by 3 degrees per 1,000 feet, and increase cooking times.
Quick Breads: Use the guidelines above to make adjustments.
High Altitude Bread Corrections
Yeast Breads: Decrease the amount of yeast in the recipe by 25%, and make water/flour adjustments as necessary to get a dough with the correct texture. Make sure your bowl has plenty of room for the dough to rise in. Since rising times are much shorter at higher altitudes, you have a number of options to help its flavor.
- Give the dough one extra rise by punching it down twice before forming it
- Try covering the dough and placing it in the refrigerator for its first rise, to slow the action of the yeast, giving the dough more time to develop.
- If you have sourdough starter or biga on hand, use some of it for some of the liquid in the recipe. Make a sponge by mixing the yeast, the liquid in the recipe, and 1 to 2 cups of flour. Cover and let the sponge work for a few hours in the refrigerator to develop it.