A Guide to High Altitude Baking

High altitude baking requires a few tricks of the trade to ensure your favorite sweets don’t become your latest baking fail.

A Guide to High Altitude Baking

Escaping to higher altitudes? 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 dessert 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 and yeast bread can be the trickiest to perfect at high altitudes. Cookies, muffins, quick bread, and fried dough will require minor adjustments. Pie crust is actually the least affected, but it’s recommended that you add additional water to help create a firm enough texture (same rule applies when making homemade crackers).

Knobs on an oven

Adjustments to make when baking at high altitudes

There are three types of adjustments you have to make when baking at high altitudes, depending on what you’re baking and at what altitude: increase temperature, increase bake time and/or tweak measurements.

For any type of fried dough, increase cooking time and decrease the temperature by 3 degrees per 1,000 feet. For muffins and quick bread, decrease baking soda and baking powder by about a 1/8 teaspoon (see 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: Subtract a tablespoon per cup that 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 dough from drying out.
  • Flour: Add 1 extra tablespoon at 3,500 feet to help strengthen dough; add an additional tablespoon for every 1,000 feet of elevation after that.
  • Leavening agents (baking soda and baking powder): Decrease by 1/8 teaspoon at 3,000 feet, 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon at 5,000 feet, and 1/4 teaspoon at 7,000 feet. If the recipe calls for both, decrease both.

Muffins cooling on the top of an oven

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 use 25% less yeast. Or you can punch down the dough to allow it to rise a second time, fully developing the flavor and allowing it to cook all the way through.

The dry climate at high altitudes can also make your dry ingredients even drier. When baking yeast 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 both sugar and fat can help give the cookies more structure (about a tablespoon less sugar and 2 tablespoons to 1/4 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. Just make sure you also 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.

Close up showing muffins on a baking sheet

Why is baking cake difficult?

Much 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 baking temperature by 25 degrees so the dough bakes faster and develops the structure it needs as it rises.

Liquid also evaporates faster at high altitudes which will increase the sugar concentration in your dough. Again, as with cookies, that’s bad because it weakens the structure. The solution? Less sugar and more liquid. You may also have to use a tablespoon or two less of shortening since fat also weakens the structure of baked goods.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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