When you take out a recipe and get ready to bake, you likely think that you can just make the recipe as directed and get a perfect end product. However, this is not always the case.
Based on where you are in the world, the recipe may turn out differently. This is because baking is very much effected by altitude. A muffin recipe made at sea level will turn out very differently if you try to make it 2,000 feet up a mountain!
Here are a few tips for baking at high altitudes and how you should alter your recipes and baking methods to ensure that your baked goods turn out amazing.
Why Does Altitude Affect Baking?
Before diving in to all the great tips to help you bake at higher altitudes, you may be wondering why altitude affects baking at all. Why does making a cake change when you are at a higher altitude and why do you need to follow special rules just because of elevation?
The main reason is the air pressure. As you climb in altitude, the air pressure falls and this low air pressure can have a significant effect on your baking.
Lower air pressure causes baked goods to rise more easily. Leavening occurs much faster when you are at a higher elevation and the gas bubbles in your batters and breads will expand much faster.
When the batter expands too quickly, it can cause irregular and very large pockets of air inside your baked good.
This can mean a very large, airy loaf of bread or a cake that rises to high and too fast, making it have a coarse crumbly texture. If the air expands too much, your batter may even “explode” as the air bubbles expand, pop and cause your baked goods to collapse.
The other way in which lower air pressure affects baked goods is by causing them to dry out quickly. You may already know that water boils at a lower temperature at higher altitudes.
This means that liquids evaporate faster and your baked goods will lose moisture quickly. This can have several effects on your baking.
It can cause your cakes, breads and muffins to be dry and crumbly or it can cause them to be very sticky as the sugar inside the batter becomes more concentrated as the water evaporates. Sometimes, your cakes won’t even set as there is no moisture to hold the batter together.
There are many ways to combat the problem of low air pressure and make high altitude baking successful. So don’t worry, you can still bake even when you are up high in the mountains!
How To Adjust Recipes for High Altitude Baking
When you pull out a recipe to bake at a high altitude, you are going to have to make some changes (unless your cookbook is specially written for high altitude baking!).
Here are the changes you will need to make and a quick explanation about how the change will help your baking.
1 – Increase the Oven Temperature
Since leavening and also water evaporation happens more quickly at higher altitudes, you will want to raise your oven temperature to help the structure of the bake goods set faster. If your cakes, muffins and breads have a chance to set before they over expand and dry out, your final product will have a much better texture.
Raise the oven temperature by 15 to 25 degrees F in order to help your baked goods set faster. 15 degrees will be sufficient for delicate baked goods and chocolate products which tend to burn faster.
2 – Decrease the Baking Time
Since water will evaporate faster and you have increased the temperature of the oven to accommodate the altitude, your baked goods will be done sooner. This means a shorter baking time is needed (and it also means you can enjoy your baking sooner!).
For every 30 minutes of baking time required in your recipe, bake for 5-8 minutes less.
3 – Use Less Sugar
As mentioned before, the rapid evaporation which occurs at higher altitudes can cause an increase in the concentration of sugar in your baked goods. This can weaken the structure of your baked goods and also make them sticky.
To solve this problem, use 1 tablespoon less sugar for ever cup of sugar in the recipe.
4 – Add More Liquid
Having extra liquid in your batter will prevent it from drying out too quickly as it bakes. What liquid to add will depend on your specific recipe but you generally want to add more of what is already called for in your recipe (meaning don’t add milk if there is no milk in the recipe to begin with).
Increase the liquid in the recipe by 1-2 tablespoons at 3000 ft. For every additional 1000 feet in altitude, add an extra ½ tablespoon of liquid.
5 – Add More Flour
To help with the structure of your baked good, a little extra flour can go a long way. The protein in flour will help make the structure of your baked good much stronger and give you better baking results.
At 3500 ft in altitude, add 1 tablespoon more flour then add another tablespoon for every 1500 additional feet.
6 – Use Less Leavener
Since baked goods rise much faster at higher elevations, you are going to want to use less leavener in your recipe. Leaveners include baking powder and baking soda. The higher you are in elevation, the less leavener you will need.
For each specific baked good, the exact amount of leavener may vary so you will want to consult specific charts to determine exactly how much baking soda or baking powder you need.
However, a good rule of thumb is to reduce the leavener by half for every 5000 feet increase in elevation. So, at 5000ft, you would use ½ a teaspoon of leavener rather than 1 teaspoon.
7 – Decrease the Yeast
When making bread, you will again encounter the problem of quick rising dough. To help prevent the bread from rising too rapidly, you should decrease the amount of yeast by 25%.
You should add a little more water and flour to help get the correct texture dough after reducing the yeast. Your dough should feel slightly sticky but be formed enough to roll and shape.
Since your dough will rise quickly, the flavor will have less tie to develop. To help get a nice, strong, taste, let your dough rise one extra time before baking.
If your recipe asks to rise the dough, punch it down and then form it into loaves, give it one extra rise before shaping the bread. This will give the yeast more time to develop and create that great taste that you are looking for!
Baking at high altitudes definitely will change your baked goods. Knowing how to adjust your recipes based on your altitude will ensure that your baking comes out perfectly and you get to enjoy the product that you are looking forward too!
Use these tips to help transform any recipe into a high altitude baking recipe. Enjoy!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.