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.
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.)
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.