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Baking at High Altitudes

Since most recipes are created for sea level, success at high altitudes may require adjustments in time, temperature, or ingredients. If you are new to Wyoming, you may wonder why cookies crumble or cakes fall. At 3,000 feet or more above sea level (which includes ALL of Wyoming), you get to blame the altitude!

At sea level, water boils at 212°F. Higher altitude means lower air pressure, which decreases the boiling temperature of water. With each 500-foot increase in elevation, the boiling point of water is lowered by just under 1°F. At 7,500 feet, for example, water boils at about 198°F. This affects the internal structure of baked products.

Guidelines for Successful High-Altitude Baking

  • Use only ingredients listed in recipes. Substitutions, unless specifically indicated, can cause failures.
  • Measure ingredients in standard measuring cups and spoons. For liquids, use a glass measuring cup with a pouring lip. For dry ingredients and shortening, use a set of dry measuring cups.
  • When directions call for sifted flour, sift before measuring. Presifted flour should also be sifted before measuring. Spoon sifted flour lightly into dry measuring cup and level off with straight-edged spatula.
  • Pack brown sugar firmly into the cup before leveling it off.
  • When the recipe calls for oil, use any flavorless food oil that can withstand baking temperatures, such as canola, corn, safflower, sunflower, and vegetable (soy).
  • When creaming fats and sugars, beat until light and fluffy. It is easy to over-cream the mixture. This results in lower-volume baked goods.
  • Measure liquids by placing the cup on a level surface. Be sure to read the level of liquid through the side of the cup.
  • Use double-acting baking powder.
  • Use large eggs unless stated otherwise.
  • Read all directions carefully before starting. Follow them step by step.
  • Use correct pan size pan. Measure pans across the top from one inside edge to the opposite inside edge.
  • Bake at the correct temperature. Check the thermostat with an oven thermometer. A 25-degree variation in baking temperature may cause an inferior product.
  • Preheat the oven while mixing.
  • Bake on the center rack of the oven unless stated otherwise.
  • Use cooling racks while the baked product cools to avoid sogginess.

How Lower Air Pressure Affects Baking

Lower air pressure affects baked goods in two main ways: they lose moisture more quickly and rise more easily.

Liquids evaporate faster because water boils at lower temperatures. Quicker evaporation can also make baked goods more prone to sticking as sugar becomes more concentrated. And some cakes won’t set, or by the time they do, they are dry and crumbly.

Leavening gases in breads and cakes expand more rapidly. Leavening occurs faster, and gas bubbles tend to group into large, irregular pockets in a batter or dough. This can create a coarse‑textured cake. Also, the pressure within rising batter can build, stretching cell walls and causing them to burst. The collapse of cell walls means the cake falls.

Problems usually can be corrected by adjusting baking temperature and one or more key ingredients, including baking powder, baking soda, sugar, liquid, or fat. Make only one adjustment at a time.

In general, to reinforce cell walls, decrease sugar and fat (the tenderizers) and increase eggs and flour (the strengtheners). Reducing leavening agents (baking powder, baking soda, etc.) can relieve pressure within the cells.

For cake mixes and other mixes for baked goods, check the package or manufacturer’s website for specific directions.

  • Breads and Cakes – Adjustments required include sugars, baking powders, liquids, fats, temperature, and sometimes flour.
  • Batters and Doughs – Moisture needs to be increased. Possible suitable additions include milk, sour cream, juice, or boiling water to increase moisture.
  • Leavening and Yeast – Use less leaveners or yeast because the higher the altitude, the more significant gas expansion makes dough rise faster.
  • Cookies – Sugar liquefies faster while baking, so use less as cookies will spread and bake flat.

Adjustment for 3000 feet

  • Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/8 teaspoon.
  • Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 1 tablespoon.
  • Increase liquid: for each cup, add 1 to 2 tablespoons.
  • Increase oven temperature by 25°F.

Adjustment for 5000 feet

  • Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon.
  • Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 2 tablespoons.
  • Increase liquid: for each cup, add 2 to 4 tablespoons.
  • Increase oven temperature by 25°F.

Adjustment for 7000+ feet

  • Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/4 teaspoon.
  • Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 1 to 3 tablespoons.
  • Increase liquid: for each cup, add 3 to 4 tablespoons.
  • Increase oven temperature by 25°F.

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Extension Educator:
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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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