High Altitude Baking Misconceptions

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no help at all.

High Altitude Baking | September 29, 2015 | By

Hi everyone! So I’ve been meaning to do this for some time now, but I’m going to start working on a series of high-altitude baking blogs to help those of you with altitude issues.

The Struggle Is Real

I live in Denver, CO, and we’re above 5,000 ft from sea level here, which has presented an entirely new set of baking challenges. Many of my recipes are actually written and baked at a high altitude. I’ve lived here for most of my life, so it’s something I’m used to at this point- I make adjustments to nearly every single recipe that I bake. 

Homemade Brownies

We’re starting off with some misconceptions that I’ve heard, and that I’ve fallen for myself.

If you share this struggle, you’ve probably run into these issues while baking: 

  • Cakes that look perfect while baking, but immediately sink in the center after they come out of the oven. This applies to cupcakes as well. 
  • Dense batters take forever to bake through, causing an over-cooked exterior and a raw center.
  • Baked goods have less flavor overall, even though you add salt, and vanilla, and other should-be-delicious things to flippin’ everything.
  • Yeast breads are nearly impossible for like, every single reason.

High Altitude Baking Misconceptions

Basically, when I first got into baking, I spent a ton of time and money making recipes that sounded awesome, and having them fail miserably. I can’t even count how many chocolate cupcake recipes I made before I realized that writing my own, high-altitude-friendly recipes was the only solution. 

Honey Banana Cupcakes

When you go online and search for a recipe, it’s an almost certainty that it was written and tested in a sea-level part of the world. That makes things tough for all of us up higher. Common high altitude baking misconceptions for solutions include:

  1. Adding flour solves everything: Adding flour is my go-to fix to help with cake issues, and it certainly does help with certain recipes. However, liquid actually evaporates more quickly in higher altitudes, which means in some cases adding flour will simply dry out your dish. Depending on what you’re baking, additional eggs, reduced sugar, or reduced leavening could be your solution, not extra flour.
  2. Cookies are affected as much as anything else:  This is not an all encompassing statement, but for the most part, cookies are least affected by altitude when it comes to baking. I actually try most cookie recipes without any modifications first, or I will reduce the leavening as a first step. If you reduce leavening in any recipe, start with a reduction of 1/8 teaspoon for every 1 teaspoon of your leavening agent. 
  3. More baking powder/soda fixes sinking cakes: In fact, the reason that cakes sink in higher altitudes is because the leavening agent rises much faster, raising your cake much too quickly. Then, it proceeds to fall and ruin people’s days. Because of this, it can actually be helpful to reduce your baking powder or baking soda slightly. 
  4. Adding more salt will help with the lack of flavor: Of course, you should add at least a pinch of salt to any baked item, but at a high altitude, lack of salt is likely not the issue. Since liquids evaporate during baking faster up here, you’ll want to actually add more liquid to your recipe if flavor is an issue. Of course, you don’t want to add too much more as this may change the entire texture of your dough or batter, but usually a couple of teaspoons extra of your oil, milk, or other liquid helps. 
  5. Letting yeast dough rise longer helps: Yeast breads are the bane of my existence. It’s definitely the hardest type of high altitude recipe to work with for me. Again, your leavening is going to rise much faster here, so you’ll actually want to let your yeast dough rise less than normal. It’s also common for folks to use cold water instead of warm, or to punch down the dough more frequently to help slow down the rise. 

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Alright guys- expect more in this series in the coming months! I’ll be delving into cakes, yeast breads, and quick breads so all of us high-altitude-bakers can get some relief! If you’ve heard other misconceptions, I’d love to hear from you!

Comments

  1. Leave a Reply

    Tami
    October 13, 2016

    Bless you! I just moved to Colorado 2 years ago and my cakes are killing me. I do custom decorated cakes and have struggled BIG TIME! I'm going to scour your blog for more info. 😁

    • Leave a Reply

      nmespinosa12@gmail.com
      January 16, 2017

      Oh! I'm so glad to hear from you- I hope my recipes are helpful!!

  2. Leave a Reply

    Mathew T
    February 16, 2017

    This is excellent. While I haven't struggled too much (yet) with the agony of high-altitude baking, I have started my own cooking/baking journeys. I am glad that I came across your blog, as I recently made some vegan biscuits that came out denser than I'd like. Now that I understand a little better about the leavening agents, I can try and adapt the recipe for a fluffier and flakier biscuit. I went old school and did it by hand without any biscuit cutters.

    • Leave a Reply

      nmespinosa12@gmail.com
      February 16, 2017

      Oh I'm so glad to hear it! I hope it's helpful in your future baking!

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