When I first moved to the mountains, I noticed that no matter what recipes I used, my baked goods never turned out the way they used to. It really upset me. You see, in high school I was the girl who would make two dozen cupcakes just because and pass them out to my friends and random people. So when I graduated high school and started working full-time with like-minded people who found any excuse to hold a potluck, I was often disappointed in myself for not only the extra time and energy my baking took, but also that nothing ever tasted quite the same. My problem was I had memorized these recipes by heart, so even when I used something from a box, I never bothered to read it and thus always missed the high elevation tweaks my favorite recipes called for.
But when I started making my adjustments, I got back to loving baking again. Here are some tips to help you navigate high altitude baking.
Don’t Make it Dry
The worst thing a baker can produce is a dry cupcake. This was always what destroyed me when I was learning how to bake all over again in the mountains. Since we know that water/liquids boils quicker in high altitude, it only makes sense that the liquids you add to your recipes will evaporate just the same. The rule is to use 20% more liquid then at sea-level.
Level It Out
Your baked goods will rise faster at the high altitude and thus if not careful, you could end up with a giant bubble on top of your cake. Not ideal. To slow down the rising of the cake, add 5% more flour. I know this seems counter-productive to adding more liquid, but flour actually strengthens the structure.
Buff It Up
On note with strengthening, try adding an extra egg or use extra-large eggs. Don’t make the mistake of using too few eggs or too small eggs and having your cake fall apart when taking it out of its pan. And bonus, use extra eggs to increase moisture! More bang for your buck, right?
Another downside of liquids evaporating faster means your baked goods are more likely to stick to the pan. To avoid an oven nightmare of losing all your hard work right at the very end, grease extremely liberally and dust with flour. I’ve always made this a general rule no matter the elevation, but if you think there’s enough grease, add a bit more.
High Altitude, High Temperature
While you can keep the oven at normal temperatures and just bake for longer periods of time, it is going to take a while and it is probably not going to turn out just right. This was a huge hang up of mine at first. I wanted everything to be done when I thought it should be, and I always thought that turning up the temperature would burn my goods. This is not the case though. From what I’ve been told, you should increase the temperature by 15 to 25°F and actually decreasing the cooking time by 5-8 minutes per 30 minutes. This has to do with the fact that the liquids are evaporating faster and the dough/mix rises quicker; increased temperatures allow the structure to set before the cells overstretch.
There are a few other adjustments you can make for the perfect high altitude baking, but these are my top five. For additional resources and tips see the sources below.
Science of Cooking
King Arthur Flour