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Ask The Experts...

Ask the Experts...About High-Altitude Baking

Q: What baking adjustments should I make when we're in the mountains?

Dear Baker: People who move to or visit high altitudes find these guidelines helpful:

Remember: Refrigeration may be cool, but it's not dry. And freezers now pull moisture and alter flavor of some products.

Also contact:

Colorado Cooperative Extension Resource Center for High Altitude Baking guides:
Toll-free: (877) 692-9358
E-mail: CERC@vines.colostate.edu
Web site: www.colostate.edu/Depts/CoopExt

General:

  • Use any brand of enriched all-purpose, cake, or bread flour you prefer for the product
  • Try your regular recipe before assuming it will fail. It may perform with no modification
  • At altitudes over 3,000 feet, baked goods may need changes in time, temperature, or recipe
  • Water and other liquids evaporate faster and boil at lower temperatures
  • Leavening gases expand more due to less atmospheric pressure

Quick breads: Cell structure is firm, so very little adjustment may be needed. If there is a bitter flavor or coarse cell structure, slightly reduce the amount of baking soda or baking powder. For cake-like quick breads, use the cake chart.

Yeast breads: High altitudes shorten the rising time for yeast breads. Good flavor in breads is dependent on the fermentation, so you may select to punch the dough twice before shaping to allow flavor to develop.

Bake in a hotter oven (25°F) so the crust will set faster, reducing the opportunity for large air holes to form in the crumb structure.

The flour also may be drier in the high, dry climate. It will absorb more liquid and less flour may be needed to produce the loaf OR use slightly more liquid (start with 2 tablespoons for every 3 cups of flour) to provide an equal dough volume.

If the dough is rising too rapidly for good flavor, select to lower the amount of yeast by ½ tsp. per cup of liquid OR keep the dough cooler while it rises to slow the fermentation. (Dough temperatures: 70°F to 80°F or colder.)

Cakes: Generally, no modifications are needed up to 3,000 feet. At altitudes above 3,000 feet, reduced atmospheric pressure allows the cell structures to expand too much, making coarse textures or fallen cakes. Steps to take:

 

3,000 ft. Above 5,000 ft. Above 7,000 ft.
Reduce baking powder 1/8 tsp. 1/8 tsp. ¼ tsp.
Reduce sugar for each cup 0-1 Tbsp. 0-2 Tbsp. 1-3 Tbsp.
Increase liquid for each cup 1-2 Tbsp 2-4 Tbsp 3-4 Tbsp

Oven temperatures: Increasing the oven temperature by 25°F may help set the batter before the cells formed by the leavening gas over expand.

Cookies: Most recipes perform well, but if not, the following slight adjustments may be made: Slight increase in baking temperature, liquids, and flour; slight decrease in baking powder or baking soda, fat, and/or sugar.

Pudding or cream pie fillings: Above 5,000 feet, a double boiler will not produce enough heat to gelatinize (set) the starch. Use direct heat under the saucepan.