Altitude above 3,500 feet does require some adjustments for baking recipes that include a leavening of some sort (baking powder, baking soda, yeast). However, I cannot give you hard and fast measurements for adjusting — if you live at 3,500 feet or more above sea level you will need to adjust a little by trial and error. Since an adjustment in Denver at 5,000 feet is slightly different than an adjustment in the canyons around the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 3,500 feet above sea level!
At high altitude, the air density is lower than at sea level. This causes two basic problems:
First, at higher elevations, water boils at a lower temperature, thus requiring you to cook longer once you hit boiling (and the time it takes you to prepare your recipe). For example, the water’s not as hot in Denver as it is in Boston, even boiling. This is the reason when cooking in the mountains, your coffee and hot chocolate can be merely tepid, even though the water was boiling.
Second baked goods tend to rise faster, requiring a change in the proportion of ingredients used in leavened foods (such as breads and cakes). Sometimes, you may need to adjust the baking temperature in your oven as well!
However, changes in altitude do not affect oven temperatures. Since baking items often rise quicker at higher altitudes, you may want to increase the oven temperature. So, at elevations over 3500 feet, the oven temperature for batters and doughs should be 25 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the temperature used at sea level. Proofing time for yeast breads should be reduced.
Lower air pressure at high elevations causes air bubbles trapped in the batter to rise at a faster rate. When this happens, cakes rise very fast and high…then fall. As a result, you end up with a dense, dry cake.
So, what do I do?
- You may need to change the proportion of ingredients in a recipe.
- You may need to raise the baking temperature as well.
Most cake recipes need no modification below or up to 3,000 feet. Above that, it’s often necessary to adjust recipes slightly, by decreasing the leavening and sugar (or both) and increasing the liquids. Butter, which melts in the oven, is considered a liquid; eggs, however, are not–they act as stabilizers in baked goods.
Avoid dry cakes and quick breads with these tips.
For cakes using baking powder:
- Don’t overbeat the eggs. Overbeating adds too much air to the cake.
- Raise the baking temperature slightly; the faster cooking time will keep the recipe from rising too much. At elevations over 3,500 feet, the oven temperature for batters and doughs should be about 25 degrees F higher than the temperature used at sea level.
- Decrease the amount of baking powder slightly; this also prevents the recipe from rising too much.
For yeast coffee cakes and bread:
Yeast cakes rise more quickly at high altitudes, so watch your dough carefully and judge the rise time by the change in the dough’s bulk, not by the amount of time it takes. Proofing time for yeast recipes should be reduced.
- Cakes tend to stick more when they are baked at high altitudes, so always grease your baking pans well and dust them with flour, or line them with parchment paper.
- Fill pans only 1/2 full of batter, not the usual 2/3 full, as high altitude cakes may overflow.
Follow the chart below for more specific adjustments. When adapting a recipe for high altitudes, always start out with the smallest adjustment then add more adjustments later and only if necessary. It’s a good idea to keep notes of how you adjusted your recipes until you know what works best for your particular location!
Adjustment for 3000 feet:
- Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon decrease 1/8 teaspoon.
- Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 1 tablespoon.
- Increase liquid: for each cup, add 1 to 2 tablespoons.
- Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.
Adjustment for 5000 feet:
- Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon.
- Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 2 tablespoons.
Increase liquid: for each cup, add 2 to 4 tablespoons.
- Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.
Adjustment for 7000+ feet:
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