Picture this. You’ve grown up your whole life following the directions on the back of a cake mix box and never had a single problem. You made your cakes from scratch and they always turned out wonderful. That is, until you decided to move someplace with an elevation of more than 3,000 feet. Then everything changed and your cakes just didn’t seem to come out right anymore. What happened?
As elevation rises, the air pressure falls. This means that dough will rise faster and baked goods will lose moisture faster. So that moist, delicious cake you baked back in California might end up a crumbly mess in Denver. But don’t fret! There are a few steps you can take to make sure your cakes turn out just the way you like them.
Slightly increasing the amount of flour can strengthen the cake during baking and reduce the chances of it caving in. Flour should be increased 1 to 4 tbsp, depending on the recipe and elevation. Add 1 tbsp of flour per cup of flour required in the recipe. Add additional tablespoons of flour if you are at super high elevations. All-purpose flour works well at high altitudes and may be preferable to cake flour because of its higher protein content, which improves strength and shape retention during and after baking.
Add Eggs or Egg Yolks
Eggs act as a structural ingredient in baking. They’re also great for moisture retention. For instance, if a recipe calls for large eggs, it may help to use extra large eggs instead when baking at high altitude.
Reduce Leavening Agent
Since lower air pressure increases the chances that the cake will rise quickly and then collapse, reducing the leavener will keep the cake in check. Reduce by about 1/8 to 2/3 teaspoon, depending on the altitude. If using whipped eggs whites as a leavener, whip them until they form soft peaks rather than stiff peaks. This will leave more room for expansion during baking, reducing the chances that the cake will collapse.
Increase Oven Temperature or Baking Time
Oven heat can be increased about 25°F if the baking time is kept the same, or the baking time can be increased if the temperature is kept around a moderate 350°F—try 10 to 15 minutes to start, but don’t be afraid to experiment.
Here’s a great recipe for Walnut Pear Coffeecake, designed specifically with the high-altitude baker in mind.
Pies may be one of the easier baked goods to adjust at high altitudes, since the major adjustment takes place in the pie crust. When making the crust, the most important thing is to balance the dry and wet ingredients for a flaky, crisp crust that will hold up well with pie filling.
Pie crusts dry out more quickly at altitude and may need a bit more water to make the crust more pliable. Add water by the tablespoon until the desired texture is achieved; too much can toughen the crust by overworking the gluten. The water should be ice cold for the flakiest crust.
Cover with Foil
Because pie fillings take longer to bake all the way through when at high altitudes, it may be helpful to cover the pie loosely with foil during baking. This simple step ensures that the tops do not burn during the baking process.
This lovely apple pie recipe is great for us high-elevation dwellers.
Just Keep Baking
High altitude baking is an art form, and even some of the bests bakers mess up. But if you follow these simple tips you can be well on your way to delicious cakes and pies.
Illustrations by the talented Roman Martinez for FSW