A woman preparing dough for homemade bread

High Altitude Baking: How to Bake Cookies, Breads & Cakes at High Altitudes

Baking at high altitudes requires adjustments to ingredients, measurements, bake times and temperatures in order to account for the thinner, drier air. Without appropriate altitude baking adjustments, baked goods may rise too fast and not set, or bake too quickly and become dried out. High altitude baking typically requires an increase in liquid ingredients and a decrease in leavening agents.

How and Why Does Elevation Affect Baking?

The higher in elevation, or distance above sea-level, the lower the air pressure. Atmospheric pressure is an important consideration in baking because it can affect the integrity and overall structure of baked goods. 

One way is faster rise times. At higher elevations, the thinner and drier air weighs less, putting less pressure on baked goods, which contributes to batter rising more quickly. This environment can cause baked goods to fall flat when you take them out of the oven, which is why a common modification is to reduce leavening agents when baking at high altitudes.

Another effect of lower air pressure is faster evaporation. When liquids evaporate at a higher rate, it can dry out baked goods and also create higher concentrations of sugar, since water and sugar bind together. To accommodate for these conditions, high altitude baking will call for adjustments in baking times, oven temperature, amount of liquid, fats, leavening agents and even the type of flour you’re using.

What is Considered a High Altitude for Baking?

High altitude is considered 3,500 feet or more above sea level. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to high elevation baking as microclimates vary and require different recipe adjustments. Generally, for every 1,000 feet you ascend in elevation, additional adjustments, baking times and oven temperatures will differ.

How Do You Adjust Baking for High Altitudes?

Baking at high altitudes is all about trial and error. Adapt for baking at high altitudes by solving the problems you see in the result. Each ingredient works together to give a baked good height, texture and flavor. Think of it as a seesaw or a set of scales. When you add liquid, you may need to adjust the flour. If you reduce sugar, chances are you’ll need to add liquid or fat as a binding agent. Most high altitude baking adjustments will also involve changes to oven temperature and baking times, but it’s best to begin with one adjustment at a time to see how it affects the recipe, then add additional adjustments if needed. Test any changes first to see how your recipe turns out before making further modifications.

High Altitude Baking Tips

When you’re baking at high altitudes, you’ll likely see more success when you employ recipe adjustments. For example, filling muffin tins only half way can help you avoid batter from overflowing and using a Bundt or tube pan can help keep cakes from rising too much. Most of the recipe modifications for high altitude baking are intended to give your batter some added structure and strength while at the same time mitigating issues that arise with increased evaporation and moisture loss.

A person measuring flour

1. Use High Protein Flour

When using high protein flour, like all purpose or bread flour, your mixture will be in higher gluten formation, which means a stronger, more resilient dough. The protein in flour affects not only the strength of the dough but also the texture, volume and overall stability of a recipe which helps to offset the moisture loss and rapid rise of baked goods that can occur at high altitudes.

A stand mixer with butter and sugar

2. Decrease the Amount of Sugar Used

Sugar not only gives baked goods their taste, it also tenderizes breads and sweets by binding to the liquid ingredients. The problem is, when evaporation happens quickly, you’re left with higher concentrations of sugar resulting in a baked good that’s too dry or crumbly. Higher concentrations of sugar can also weaken the gluten strands in breads and affect the overall texture and taste. Try reducing the sugar in your recipes by just a few tablespoons per cup to avoid these problems when baking at high altitudes.

Cracking eggs into a bowl

3. Use Extra Large Eggs for Recipes

Increased evaporation at higher elevations can draw the moisture out of baked goods in no time. Adding additional liquid can help to maintain the moisture. One way to add both moisture and fat to your recipe is to use extra-large eggs. The added liquid, fat and protein from extra-large eggs will help strengthen the structure of baked goods since it’s the proteins in both the flour and egg that give baked goods their structure.

A slice of homemade bread

4. Reduce Amount of Chemical Leavening Agents

Among one of the most common high altitude baking adjustments is decreasing the amount of baking soda and baking powder of a recipe to account for the low air pressure that allows baked goods to rise more easily than at lower elevations. The degree of reduction varies among elevations but as a rule, it’s best to reduce leavening agents by about 1/8 teaspoon per teaspoon to keep baked goods from rising too much, too fast.

A half-full bottle of milk

5. Use Buttermilk instead of Regular Milk

Increasing the acidity of your recipe can help keep your bread recipes from rising too much when baking at high altitudes. One simple way to do this is to add buttermilk, which is an acid, in place of regular milk. However, if you do, you’ll need to adjust the amount of chemical leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder by about 1/8 teaspoon. You can also introduce acidity to your dough by adding honey, cream of tartar, vinegar or applesauce. Just make note that these ingredients may affect both taste and texture.

Bread rising in the oven

6. Increase or Decrease Oven Temperature and Bake Times

Because air pressure is lower at higher elevations, you may find baked goods take longer to cook. Be wary of cranking up the heat and adding too many additional minutes to the timer. Most of the time, you’ll need small adjustments for high altitude baking. Try a slight increase in oven temperature by about 15 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit to account for the increased evaporation. Adjusting to a slightly higher temperature can help bread and other baked goods set before drying out. If you increase your oven temperature, you might also try decreasing the baking time by about 5 to 8 minutes per 30 minutes of baking. 

High Altitude Baking Adjustments Per Elevation

Elevation Level

3,500 ft

4,000 ft

5,000 ft

6,000 ft

Oven Temperature 3,500 ft +15-25°F 4,000 ft +15-25°F 5,000 ft +25°F 6,000 ft +25°F
Baking Time 3,500 ft - 5-8 mins/30 mins 4,000 ft - 5-8 mins/30 mins 5,000 ft - 5-8 mins/30 mins 6,000 ft - 5-8 mins/30 mins
Liquid Ingredients 3,500 ft +1-2 tbsp/cup 4,000 ft +1-2 tbsp/cup 5,000 ft +2-4 tbsp/cup 6,000 ft +4 tbsp/cup
Flour 3,500 ft +1 tbsp flour/recipe 4,000 ft +2 tbsp flour/recipe 5,000 ft +3 tbsp flour/recipe 6,000 ft +4 tbsp flour/recipe
Sugar 3,500 ft -1 tbsp/cup 4,000 ft -1 tbsp/cup 5,000 ft -2 tbsp/cup 6,000 ft -3 tbsp/cup
Leavening Agent 3,500 ft -⅛ tsp/tsp 4,000 ft -⅛ tsp/tsp 5,000 ft -⅛ tsp/tsp 6,000 ft -¼ tsp/tsp

Baking Tips at 3,500 Feet

At an elevation level of 3,500 feet, you’re officially considered to be at a high altitude. At this elevation, you’ll need to make a few altitude baking adjustments depending on your recipe. When you’re baking at 3,500 feet, consider these adjustments:

  • Raise oven temperature by 15 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit 

  • Reduce baking time by 5 to 8 minutes per 30 minutes bake time 

  • Increase liquid by 1-2 tablespoons per cup to increase moisture 

  • Add 1 tablespoon of flour per recipe for stability 

  • Reduce sugar by up to 1 tablespoon per cup to avoid dense dough 

  • Use extra-large egg in place of regular eggs for added liquid and fat

  • For each teaspoon of leavening agent, decrease by 1/8 of a teaspoon to keep baked goods from rising too much, or too fast

Baking Tips at 4,000 Feet

To adjust for high altitude baking at 4,000 feet, consider adding a bit more liquid to your recipes, and watch your use of chemical leavening agents. Some suggestions for baking at 4,000 feet include: 

  • Raise oven temperature by 15 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit 

  • Reduce baking time by 5 to 8 minutes per 30 minutes bake time 

  • Add up to 2 tablespoons of flour per cup for increased stability 

  • For each teaspoon of leavening agent, decrease by 1/8 of a teaspoon to keep baked goods from rising too much, or too fast

  • Reduce sugar by up to 1 tablespoon to avoid dense dough 

  • Increase liquid by 1-2 tablespoons for added moisture

Baking Tips at 5,000 Feet

At 5,000 feet elevation, the air pressure is even lower, and you’ll notice the increased rate of evaporation in this drier climate. To adjust for high altitude baking at this elevation, consider the following suggestions: 

  • Raise oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit 

  • Reduce baking time by 5 to 8 minutes per 30 minutes bake time 

  • Add 3 tablespoons of flour for added stability 

  • Reduce leavening 1/8-1/4 teaspoon for each teaspoon

  • For each teaspoon of leavening agent, decrease by 1/8 of a teaspoon to keep baked goods from rising too much, or too fast

  • Reduce sugar by up to 2 tablespoons to avoid dense dough

  • Increase liquid by 2-4 tablespoons for added moisture

Baking Tips at 6,000 Feet

Baking at 6,000 feet and above requires some trial and error in most of your recipes. Breads that require yeast are most susceptible to these higher elevations, but there are several tips and tricks to adjusting your favorite recipes for baking at altitudes of 6,000 feet or more. Some suggestions include: 

  • Increase oven temperature up 25 degrees Fahrenheit 

  • Reduce bake time by 5 to 8 minutes per 30 minutes bake time

  • Add 4 tablespoons of flour for added stability 

  • Reduce leavening agent by ¼ teaspoon per teaspoon to keep baked goods from rising too much, or too fast

  • Reduce sugar by up to 3 tablespoons to avoid dense dough 

  • Increase liquid by up to 4 tablespoons for each cup for added moisture

How to Bake Cookies at High Altitudes

Since cookies are high in fat and relatively low in water content, they’re less vulnerable to higher altitudes so you’ll likely need fewer ingredient modifications. In most cases, high altitude baking requires a shift in both oven temperature and time because of the increased rate of evaporation at increased elevations. Baking cookies at higher altitudes should use a slightly higher temperature and shortened baking time. When baking cookies at high altitude, you can help keep them from spreading too much or becoming too dry by reducing sugar and leavening agents while increasing liquid and fats (adding an extra-large egg is a great way to add both moisture and fat). Cookie recipes created for high altitude baking like Ultimate High Altitude Chocolate Chip Cookies typically call for more eggs and liquid to offset the increased rate of evaporation at high altitudes.

Problem

Reason

Solution

Problem Cookies spread too much during baking Reason Gasses created by leavening agents expand at a higher rate Solution Decrease butter/fat source by up to ¼ cup; decrease sugar by 1 tablespoon per cup; or increase flour by 1- 2 tablespoons
Problem Cookies are too dry or don’t spread Reason Increased rate of evaporation Solution Add liquid or use an extra-large egg
Problem Cookies are burnt on edges but gummy/not set on inside Reason Leavening and evaporation occur at faster rate affecting how cookies “set” and rise Solution Increase oven temp by 15-25 degrees Fahrenheit while decreasing baking time by 5-8 minutes per 30 minutes
Problem Texture of cookies is “off” (not rising or setting properly, too crumbly) Reason Dough is too weak because of increased rate of evaporation Solution Add more flour or reduce sugar

How to Bake Bread at High Altitudes

Depending on the recipe, high altitude baking for bread is all about controlling the rise, so you’re not left with bread that rises too quickly and caves in.

At higher elevations, yeast can rise 25 to 50 percent faster, so reducing the amount of yeast and other leavening agents is key. Some bakers will also cool yeast by allowing it to rise in the refrigerator first or punch it down twice to slow the expansion of gas in the dough. 

Equally important is the strength or resiliency of your dough so it sets properly. You can strengthen bread dough by adding flour, switching to a high protein flour, reducing sugar or raising the acidity of the dough by replacing buttermilk in place of other liquids. To strike a perfect balance, play around with ingredients, bake times, oven temperatures and overall methodology. You can also follow a recipe specifically created for high altitude bakers like High Altitude Banana Bread. A stand mixer, like the KitchenAid® Artisan® Series 5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer with Flex Edge Beater is equipped with helpful attachments for bread baking like a dough hook to further streamline your baking process.

Modifications

Quick Breads

Yeast Breads

Muffins

Oven Temperature Quick Breads Increase by 15-25 degrees Fahrenheit Yeast Breads Increase by 25 degrees Fahrenheit Muffins Increase by 15-25 degrees Fahrenheit
Bake Time Quick Breads Decrease by 5-8 minutes for every 30 minutes Yeast Breads Decrease by 5-8 minutes for every 30 minutes Muffins May need to increase or decrease by up to 3 minutes
Yeast Quick Breads N/A Yeast Breads Reduce by about 25% to avoid over proofing dough/ rising too much Muffins N/A
Liquid Quick Breads Increase by 1-4 tablespoons, or use extra-large egg to add moisture Yeast Breads Increase by 1-4 tablespoons, or use extra-large egg to add moisture Muffins Increase by 1-2 tablespoons to thin out batter
Flour Quick Breads Add up to 4 tablespoons per cup to strengthen batter or use a higher protein flour (bread flour and durum semolina are highest) Yeast Breads Decrease by 1-3 tablespoons (if adding liquid does not help) for stability Muffins Add 1-4 tablespoons to thicken batter (but only if also adding liquid since too much flour can make muffins too dense)
Sugar Quick Breads Reduce by 1-3 tablespoons to keep bread moist and not too dry Yeast Breads Reduce by 1-3 tablespoons for texture and help rise properly Muffins Reduce minimally only if batter is too thin or too much volume
Chemical Leavening Agents Quick Breads Decrease by 1/8-1/4 teaspoon for each teaspoon to avoid rising too fast Yeast Breads Decrease by 1/8-1/4 teaspoon for each teaspoon to avoid over proofing dough Muffins Decrease by 1/8 tsp to avoid rising too quickly/drying out
Methodology Tips Quick Breads Grease and flour pans very well or use parchment paper to prevent sticking
Store finished product in air-tight container, in a cool, dry place
Yeast Breads First rise in the refrigerator; decrease proofing time; punch down twice
Store finished product in air-tight container, in a cool, dry place
Muffins Fill muffin tins only ½ full; line tins with parchment paper or grease/flour well
Store finished product in air-tight container, in a cool, dry place

How to Bake cakes at High Altitudes

One of the most common problems with high altitude baking cakes is a cake that rises faster than it can set. This happens because of the drier air and lower air pressure at higher elevations that allow chemical leavening agents to work overtime, affecting the overall structure of the cake. To strengthen your cake without affecting the texture or taste, consider reducing leavening agents while bumping up the liquids, fats and proteins. You may see high altitude cake recipes like High Altitude Chocolate Cupcakes using buttermilk instead of regular milk. The reason for this swap is to increase the acidity of the batter which in turn, also helps to reduce the power of the leavening agents. Cakes are also more prone to sticking in the pan at higher elevations. To help prevent sticking, thoroughly grease and flour your pans or line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Modifications

Adjustments

Explanation

Oven Temperature Adjustments Increase by 25 degrees Fahrenheit Explanation A slight bump in oven temp will help cakes to set
Bake Time Adjustments Slight decrease by about 5-8 minutes per 30 minutes of bake time Explanation Too long in the oven, gasses expand more and can cause cake collapse
Sugar Adjustments Decrease by 1-3 tablespoons depending on elevation Explanation Sugar becomes more concentrated when evaporation occurs; reducing the amount of sugar in your cake recipe prevents the cake from becoming too dense, collapsing. It will also help to keep the cake from sticking to the pan.
Leavening Agents Adjustments Decrease by 1/8-1/2 teaspoon depending on elevation Explanation Cutting back on baking soda and/or baking powder will prevent cake from rising too fast, too much
Liquid Adjustments Increase by 1-4 tablespoons or use an extra-large egg Explanation Adding slightly more liquid will help cake to maintain moisture; offset the drier air and higher oven temperature
Binding Agents Adjustments Reduce fats (butter, oil, shortening) by 1-2 tablespoons and add an egg yolk or additional egg Explanation Fats and proteins bind ingredients together and provide texture; with increased moisture loss, fats become more concentrated and may need to be reduced; eggs provide structure and maintain textural integrity of the cake. Adjusting may prevent the cake from falling.
Flour Adjustments Use high-protein flour (bread flour, all-purpose are highest in proteins); and/or add 1-2 tablespoons of flour per cup Explanation The proteins in flour help strengthen your cake batter
Eggs Adjustments Avoiding overbeating eggs and form only soft, not stiff, peaks in sponge cakes like angel food Explanation Beating eggs too much can introduce too much air into the cake batter

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