High altitude baking requires a few tricks of the trade to ensure your favorite sweets don’t become your latest baking fail.
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Escaping to higher elevations? If you’ve got an exciting trip planned — or maybe you’re relocating to a mountain town — there’s something you should know about baking. Because the air pressure is lower at higher altitudes, baking bread, cakes, cookies, or the perfect pumpkin pie is more challenging.
The air pressure throws off how ingredients like sugar, fat, leavening agents and flour react to one another, causing your dough to rise faster and potentially collapse before cooking all the way through. Here’s the 411 on high-altitude baking.
What types of baked goods are affected?
Cake recipes and yeast bread can be the trickiest to perfect at high altitudes. Cookie recipes, muffins, quick bread, and fried dough require minor adjustments. Pie crust is the least affected, but adding additional water to increase the liquid is recommended to help create a firm enough texture (the same rule applies when making homemade crackers).
High altitude baking adjustments
You must make three types of adjustments when baking at high altitudes, depending on what you’re baking and at what altitude: increased oven temperature, increased bake time and/or tweak measurements.
For any fried dough, increase the cooking time and decrease the temperature by 3 degrees per 1,000 feet. For muffins and quick bread, reduce baking soda and baking powder by about ⅛ teaspoon (see the last bullet below for more details).
Here are the general guidelines:
- Temperature: Increase between 15 and 25 degrees to help baked goods develop structure faster. Mostly needed with cake, some cookies, and yeast bread.
- Bake time: For every 30 minutes a recipe suggests, decrease by 5 to 8 minutes.
- Sugar: Decrease the amount by subtracting 1 tablespoon per cup your recipe calls for. Too much sugar concentration weakens dough.
- Liquid (water, milk, etc.): At 3,000 feet, use 1 to 2 additional tablespoons to prevent the dough from drying out.
- Flour: Add 1 extra tablespoon at 3,500 feet to help strengthen the dough; add 1 tablespoon for every 1,000 feet of elevation after that.
- Leavening agents (baking soda and baking powder): Decrease by ⅛ teaspoon at 3,000 feet, ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon at 5,000 feet, and ¼ teaspoon at 7,000 feet. If the recipe calls for both, decrease both.
Why is baking bread difficult?
The low air pressure causes bread to rise too quickly. This affects the flavor and causes the dough to collapse. One solution is to reduce the amount of yeast by 25%. Or you can adjust the rising times by punching down the dough to allow it to rise a second time, fully developing the flavor and allowing it to cook through.
The dry climate at high altitudes can also make your dry ingredients even drier. When baking yeast-based no-knead bread, add more water to your dough so there’s more for the flour to absorb, and the bread will still come out moist.
Why are baking cookies difficult?
The high fat and sugar content in cookies can weaken their structure. At higher altitudes, this causes cookie dough to spread too thin before it gets a chance to set and bake. Decreasing measurements of sugar and fat can help give the cookies more structure. Add about a tablespoon less sugar and 2 tablespoons to ¼ cup less fat.
Meanwhile, adding an extra tablespoon of flour at 3,500 feet can also help create more structure. Add an additional tablespoon of liquid at 3,000 feet plus another tablespoon for every additional 1,000 feet to prevent cookies from drying out.
You can also try increasing the baking temperature by 15 to 25 degrees, so the cookies set faster. Ensure you bake them for shorter periods (about 5 to 8 minutes for every 30 minutes of baking time). All recipes are different, so check your cookies often.
Why is baking cake difficult?
Like yeast bread, a cake made with shortening will rise faster above 3,000 feet elevation. When that happens, the dough is stretched too soon and collapses because it hasn’t developed enough structure. Increase the baking temperature by 25 degrees so the dough bakes faster and creates the structure it needs as it rises.
Liquid also evaporates faster at high altitudes, increasing the sugar concentration in your dough. Again, as with cookies, that isn’t good because it weakens the structure. The solution? Less sugar and more liquid. You may also have to use a tablespoon or two less shortening since fat weakens baked goods’ structure.