Baking at high altitudes? Are your baking recipes flopping? Are your baked goods dry even though you followed the instructions to perfection? Don’t give up, it’s not you, it’s science. I’ll explain why this is happening and how to fix it. Read to learn Everything You Need to Know About High Altitude Baking.
I’ve been baking since 2009. And I mean baking A LOT. For years when I had a side cake business, I had three or four cake orders every weekend. When you add up layers and tiers, I baked hundreds of cakes. That was in Florida.
When I moved to Seattle last year, other than 3-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies, I didn’t bake until a few months later. The first time, during the summer, I baked a batch of mojito cupcakes. Everybody loved them.
Then in December, I baked about 150 mini mojito cupcakes. I was not happy. These were dry. They tasted delicious, but they were not the usually moist mojito cupcakes that I make. I was disappointed.
In February, disappointed again. I made lemon cupcakes for a friend who had just come out of major surgery. Again, flavor great, but the consistency wasn’t a fluffy as usual. These were too moist.
I was going nuts! After so many years of baking cakes, I couldn’t seem to bake a good batch of cupcakes that I was satisfied with.
And then it hit me… I’ve been baking under many different conditions than I had baked before. I have a different oven, different level of humidity, different temperature, and different elevation.
This means that I need to adjust for all these variables, one by one, to figure out which one is the culprit. But all those details will be left to another post.
CURIOSITY ABOUT HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING
Initially, I thought that elevation was the culprit. But the difference between Fort Lauderdale and Downtown Seattle elevations is about 140 feet. I don’t know that it’s significant enough to change my baking recipes so much.
Usually, recipes for high altitude baking are based on elevations of 3,000 feet or more above sea level.
However, this made me realize that many of the recipes you find online are based on different elevations. So, when your recipe flops, it may be that it’s not a bad recipe, or that you didn’t know how to execute it. You may just be baking it at a different elevation than the person who created it.
That made me curious, and frankly, I thought that this was important information to share with you.
Here is what I learned about high-altitude baking…
WHY DOES HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Ever wondered why learn physics and chemistry when you were younger? So you could bake cakes at high altitudes of course!
Air pressure changes based on differences in elevation. As altitude increases, air pressure decreases. This affects your baked goods. At high altitudes, the boiling point occurs at lower temperatures, making your batter rise more quickly and your cake to possibly end up being dry.
As the leavening process occurs faster, it creates larger bubbles that then expand too much and can collapse, leaving you with a sunken cake. Quicker evaporation can also prevent your cake from setting, make it dry, or make it sticky.
VARIABLES TO CONTROL DURING HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING
Since you can’t exactly control for elevation, then let’s talk about the variables you can adjust to make your recipe look as heavenly as it tastes.
- Temperature – Increase oven temperature to help the leavening process occur more quickly, making the cake set before gases in the batter burst and sink it. This also helps the cake retain moister.
- Time – Since you’re increasing the oven temperature, your cake will be fully baked sooner. Decrease baking time to prevent the cake from overbaking or burning.
- Flour – The cake structure is at stake in high altitude baking. Therefore, add a little more flour to help the cake set more easily.
- Sugar – Remember when I said earlier that the cake can become stickier? Faster evaporation can make sugar more concentrated. Decrease sugar in the recipe to maintain the structure of the cake.
- Liquid – Add liquid to prevent the cake from drying out.
SOLUTIONS TO HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING RECIPES
All the variables mentioned above affect high altitude baking. This doesn’t mean that it all happens at the same time.
My point is that you might be able to solve you high altitude cake issue by simply controlling for one of the variables mentioned.
Try each recipe change one at a time. If you adjust every single at once, you might achieve the opposite result of what you want to accomplish. Which I hope is a cake recipe that’s delicious, moist and beautifully structured.
These are specific solutions to each of the high-altitude baking variables:
- Increase Oven Temperature by 15° to 20°F.
- Decrease Baking Time by 5 – 8 minutes for every 30 minutes.
- Add Flour by 1 Tbsp at an altitude of 3500 feet. Add another Tbsp of flour every 1500 feet.
- Subtract Sugar by 1 – 3 Tbsp. per cup.
- Add liquid by 1 – 2 Tbsp at an altitude of 3000 feet. Add another 1½ tsp for every 100 feet.
- Line cake or cupcake pan with parchment paper to adjust for stickiness.
- Reduce baking powder or baking soda by 1/8 tsp to 1/2 tsp for every tsp.
- For sponge cake and other foam cakes, beat the eggs only until soft peaks form. Beating too long will reduce the elasticity of the eggs in the cake structure.
High altitude baking is an important factor to consider, depending on where you live. In a lower elevation level, or at sea level, you should still take this into account when looking for different recipes online, as you may also need to adjust if the recipe originated in a high-altitude region.
Oven temperature, baking time, flour, sugar, and liquids are the most common variables to check for. Remember to adjust for each one at a time until you find the solution to your recipe.
If you want to learn more about high-altitude baking and cooking other foods under the same conditions, click here (USDA).
Please comment below and tell me how it goes when you adjust your recipes. Are there other baking issues you need to be solved? Let me know!
Before you go…
Don’t forget to download the Fit and Healthy Conversions Cheat Sheets to get handy tools for baking, cake decorating, and healthy baking substitutes that will make your kitchen adventures a success.