High Altitude Baking

by Eddy Van Damme on February 1, 2010

High altitude baking

High Altitude Baking

About one hundred million Americans or about a third of the US population lives 3,000 feet above sea level and consequently bake in high altitude. Baking in these atmospheric conditions require adjustments made to recipes.

In high altitude, the air pressure is lower than at sea level. A lower amount of air pressure means that there will be less resistance on the leavening process, basically a cake, muffin or cookie will rise easier at high altitude than at sea level.  Knowing this, baking in high altitude requires adjustments of baking soda and baking powder and other factors.


Question relating to adjusting recipes:

I have heard of multiple ways of adjusting recipes when baking in high altitude, do I need to use all of these adjustments in one single recipe?

Chef Eddy: It may be possible to obtain great results by making only a single adjustment. It is usually best to start by making only one or two adjustments at a time and see how well it worked. In high altitude many microclimates exist and you may not have to adjust as much as someone who lives a quarter mile up the mountain from you. It is a good idea to keep a journal on which adjustments you made and if you were pleased with the outcome.

Question relating to mixing: Many recipes for cakes and cookies require mixing the batter until “light and fluffy”. Is this necessary in high altitude baking?

Chef Eddy: For high altitude baking, mixing until light and fluffy incorporates too many air cells. Air cells expand in the oven and are a contributor to leavening. Too much leavening results in a coarse textured product. In this environment mixing the butter and sugar until well combined is recommended.

High altitude baking tips

Question relating to oven temperatures: In high altitude, do I bake at the same oven temperatures as my recipe indicates?

Chef Eddy: Above 3,500 feet, it is usually best to bake about 25°F higher than at sea level. A higher baking temperature will “set” the product faster and prevent a weak or over leavened structure.

Question relating to leaveners: Do I use the same amount of baking powder and baking soda when baking in high altitude?

Chef Eddy: It is very important to reduce these leaveners. Between 3,000 and 3,500 Feet, reduce both leaveners by 1/8. (1 teaspoon of leaveners is now 7/8 teaspoon). Between 3,500-5,000 feet reduce each teaspoon of leaveners by one 1/4. (Each teaspoon of leaveners is now ¾ teaspoon). Between 5,000-6,000 feet use half of the leaveners (1 teaspoon of leaveners is now ½ teaspoon). 6,500 and above use one fourth of the original amount used (1 teaspoon of leaveners is now ¼ teaspoon)

Question relating to sugar amounts: Do I use the same amount of sugar when I bake in high altitude?

Chef Eddy: Between 3,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level it is usually best to reduce the sugar by 1 Tablespoon per cup, or ½ oz for every 8 oz of sugar used. Above 5,000 feet reduce the sugar by 2 tablespoons per cup or 1 oz per 8 oz. The reduction of sugar will allow the product to properly bake and create a better texture.

Question relating to oven temperatures: Since it is recommended that I bake at a higher temperature in high altitude will my products bake sooner than the recipe indicates?

Chef Eddy: Yes, for every 10 minutes of baking time, reduce the baking time by 2-3 minutes. (If a product is baked at sea level for 20 minutes, in high altitude it may be ready at 15-16 minutes.)

high altitude baking cakes

Question relating to liquids: Do I use more milk, cream, orange juice or other liquid in muffins, cakes and cookies?

Chef Eddy: Yes, flour at high altitudes is drier and will absorb more liquid. In high altitude the evaporation rate during the baking process is higher and the extra liquid will help with dryness. At 3,000 feet use an extra 2 Tablespoon for each 8 oz liquid. For each additional 1,000 feet, use one half extra tablespoon of liquid. Baked goods such as pie crust or crackers require only a little extra water added to the recipe.

Question to whipping eggs: If my recipe calls for stiff whipped egg whites or well beaten eggs should I whip as described?

Chef Eddy: It is best to under whip egg products. Air incorporation is important at sea levels but too much air whipped into a batter at high altitude may make the cake rise too high and then collapse.

Question about filling cake or muffin pans: Should I fill my cake pans two thirds full and muffin tins ¾ full as recommended in my recipe?

Chef Eddy: Cakes will do better if the pans are only filled half full. Muffins will be better if filled 2/3 full. This way they will set faster and preventing collapse.

Question about flour: Should I consider using flour with higher protein-gluten content such as bread flour?

Chef Eddy: Gluten helps to set the structure of many baked items. If despite making other adjustments you still have not the right result, consider using ¾ of all purpose and ¼ bread flour in your recipes.

Question about eggs: Should I use the same amount of eggs as the recipe calls for?

Chef Eddy: For every 3 eggs used in a recipe you can add an additional 1 yolk or 1 egg white. The egg product will help with the setting of the cake, muffins or cookies and provide a better texture.

19 comments on “High Altitude Baking

  1. You can’t show us all those beautiful loaves and no recipe! :) Great tips for those that have to deal with high altitude and the baking frustrations that can go hand in hand with that.

  2. Great article – one of the best I’ve read on the topic

  3. Eddy Van Damme on said:

    Lisa,
    Lol, pretty soon I will feature a recipe for a moist and tender pound cake. Still one of my favorites.
    All the best, Eddy.

  4. Eddy Van Damme on said:

    Gareth,
    Thank you for your comment and thank you for visiting.
    All the best, Eddy.

  5. Hilary Adams on said:

    Neat, neat info. I had heard about challenges with baking in high altitudes, but have always lived at sea level (or just slightly above). Since I didn’t need to know what to do differently, I never really gave it much thought at all.

    One of the coolest things about being in your class has been looking at baking from a scientific standpoint – something I never did growing up. It’s really wild to sit here at my computer and have a whole different set of baking “do’s and don’ts” explained in such detail. Truly eye-opening!

    Fascinating stuff, Chef!

  6. Nice Eddy. I’m at 6,500 and have done much of what you’ve described in this article. One interesting difference however. Whenever I do a sponge such genoise or quick bread, I, as you suggest, whip a bit less and cut my leavener by up to 50%, but then I bake at 15-25ºF LESS than what is called for, I then double sheet (ie a baking sheet underneath my springform), and then anticipate baking much longer. This has given me infallible results with items that have a tendency to rise and crash or be underbaked in the center. Your suggest makes the most scientific sense to me, but my guess explanation for my method is that the batter will rise more slowly allowing for it to set up at peak time.

  7. Eddy Van Damme on said:

    Thank you for your comments and the great tip!
    All the best, Eddy

  8. Eddy Van Damme on said:

    Thanks Hilary!

  9. I like the pound cake that is filled with a sugar glaze. I wanna try one someday. Now I know how to control these ingredients in healthy baking. Thanks chef eddy…

  10. Darienne on said:

    Oct 10. Talk about great timing. Here we are in Moab, UT, at 4,000 feet and I’m looking for information on high altitude baking. The reference to your column was in eGullet, my prime cooking forum. Downloaded, printed and now I’m about to find out what I don’t know. (Our home is at 680 feet only.)

    Thanks, as usual, Chef Eddy.

  11. Eddy Van Damme on said:

    Darriene,
    When you have a chance make sure you let me know how well it worked for you!
    Eddy

  12. Excellent/helpful information for someone who doesn’t do much baking. I do however have another question. I have a recipe for apple bread and would like to decrease the amount of sugar I use to 1 cup instead of two. Do I also have to decrease the amount of liquid and if so by how much? I would very much appreciate your help with this. Maureen

  13. Eddy Van Damme on said:

    Hi Maureen,
    In baked goods sugar provides moistness and tenderness. (One of the main reasons sugar free products can be dry) So, reducing the sugar from two to one cup will decrease moistening agents. Therefore, I would leave the liquid in the recipe as is for now. Oftentimes in baking you have to run some test when big changes are made-and cutting the sugar in half is a pretty big change!
    All the best and thank you for your question,
    Eddy

  14. Lisa Ransdall on said:

    Everything I bake falls in the middle and also has a gummy sort of texture. I’m doing all of the above suggestions, but still things do not come out well. I was a good baker at sea level! Now I live at 6200 feet. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  15. Eddy Van Damme on said:

    Lisa,
    So sorry to hear my suggestions are not helping all that much. Anyone out there who can help out Lisa a bit?
    Eddy

  16. Anna Moreno on said:

    Hi Chef, I hope you are doing fine. I read your article about high altitude baking and it is really interesting, your tips are very useful. I live in a high altitude place now (Cuzco-Peru, at some 10,000 ft high), and tryed some of your advices and worked pretty well for me. I wanted to ask you if you have some advices about bread making, does the same issues apply to leavened products?. Should I modify the yeast, leavening time, sugar content, oven temperature, etc., for breads too?

  17. Yuko Ouchi on said:

    This article and recipe is very interesting! I have never thought about in high attitude place needs adjustment for the recipe. Yes, it is different presser. Indeed, I need a science mind or common sense.

  18. Nicholas Pringle on said:

    It gives you something to think about. Since I have always been in the south I never would have thought of those in different altitudes when baking. Great article.

  19. Andrea Angulo on said:

    Great tips for those that have to deal with high altitude in different states!!! the frustrations that come with recipes that are not modified are pointless when we now have a lovely graph that we can share with our families.

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