High-Altitude Baking

The higher the altitude, the lower the air pressure. While this is an excellent environment for training athletes, it is a difficult one for baking recipes. Baking depends on the specific interactions of several kinds of ingredients: flour, leavening, fats, liquid. To complicate things further, individual microclimates vary greatly in the mountains, so the adjustment that works for you may not work for your neighbor down (or up) the road.

These charts are meant as a starting point, to help you convert recipes. Different types of baked goods need different adjustments, and we offer suggestions about where to start further on including adjusting chemical leavens according to altitude and baking cookies at high-altitude. It may take a few tries to get results you're happy with; if possible, try to adjust only one ingredient at a time, so you can isolate the effect it has. Be sure to keep notes on what you've done, and try the smaller adjustments first when a range is given.

For more information...

Because high-altitude baking is a complex subject, we recommend a set of publications from the Colorado State University Extension Resource Center that cover all aspects of baking at 3,500 feet and up. For questions, call toll free at 877.692.9358, refer to their website, or e-mail them.

Changes at high altitude

What to change How to change it Why
Oven temperature Increase 15 to 25°F; use the lower increase when making chocolate or delicate cakes. Since leavening and evaporation proceed more quickly, the idea is to use a higher temperature to set the structure of baked goods before they overexpand and dry out.
Baking time Decrease by 5-8 minutes per 30 minutes of baking time. Baking at higher temperatures means products are done sooner.
Sugar Decrease by 1 tablespoon per cup Increased evaporation also increases concentration of sugar, which can weaken the structure of what you're baking
Liquid Increase by 1 to 2 tablespoons at 3,000 feet. Increase by 1 1/2 teaspoons for each additional 1,000 feet. You can also use extra eggs as part of this liquid, depending on the recipe. Extra liquid keeps products from drying out at higher temperatures and evaporation rates.
Flour At 3,500 feet, add 1 more tablespoon per recipe. For each additional 1,500 feet, add one more tablespoon. In some recipes, a flour with a higher protein content may yield better results. Additional flour helps to strengthen the structure of baked goods.

Leavening

When using baking powder and baking soda, the following chart can help you how to adjust amounts. When baking a recipe that calls both baking powder and baking soda plus an acidic ingredient, like buttermilk or sour cream, try switching to all baking powder and sweet milk.

Baking powder or baking soda 3,000-5,000 ft. 5,000-6,500 ft. 6,500-8,000 ft.
1 teaspoon 7/8 1/2 1/4
1 1/2 teaspoons 1 1/4 3/4 1/2
2 teaspoons 1 1/2 1 3/4
2 1/2 teaspoons 1 3/4 1 1/4 1
3 teaspoons 2 1 1/4 1
3 1/2 teaspoons 2 1/2 1 1/2 1
4 teaspoons 2 1/2 1 1/2 1

Cookies

Because cookies bake for a shorter amount of time than bread or cakes, and are relatively low in water and high in fat content, they're much less susceptible to the vagaries of high-altitude baking. The principle adjustments recommended for cookies baked at higher altitudes (generally considered to be above 3,000 feet) are to increase the water slightly, to help the dough come together, and to decrease the amount of chemical leavens (baking powder, baking soda) used. Experienced high-altitude bakers know to bake at slightly higher temperature, with a shortened baking time. The table below gives guidelines about what adjustments to make for baking cookies at high-altitude:

What to change How to change it Why
Oven temperature Increase 15 to 25°F; use the lower increase when making chocolate or delicate cakes. Since leavening and evaporation proceed more quickly, the idea is to use a higher temperature to “set” the structure of baked goods before they overexpand and dry out.
Baking time Decrease by 5-8 minutes per 30 minutes of baking time. Baking at higher temperatures means products are done sooner.
Sugar Decrease by 1 tablespoon per cup Increased evaporation also increases concentration of sugar, which can weaken the structure of what you're baking
Liquid Increase by 1 to 2 tablespoons at 3,000 feet. Increase by 1 1/2 teaspoons for each additional 1,000 feet. You can also use extra eggs as part of this liquid, depending on the recipe. Extra liquid keeps products from drying out at higher temperatures and evaporation rates.
Flour At 3,500 feet, add 1 more tablespoon per recipe. For each additional 1,500 feet, add one more tablespoon. In some recipes, a flour with a higher protein content may yield better results. Additional flour helps to strengthen the structure of baked goods.

Cakes, breads, and more...

Cakes
Use extra eggs to increase liquids; if only part of an egg is needed, use the whites.
Crackers and Pie Crusts
Won't be dramatically affected; will usually need extra water to help the dough to form.
Fried Doughs
Lower the frying temperature by 3 degrees per 1,000 feet, and increase cooking times.
Quick Breads
Use the guidelines above to make adjustments.
Yeast Breads

Decrease the amount of yeast in the recipe by 25%, and make water/flour adjustments as necessary to get a dough with the correct texture. Make sure your bowl has plenty of room for the dough to rise in. Since rising times are much shorter at higher altitudes, you have a number of options to help its flavor.

Give the dough one extra rise by punching it down twice before forming it.

Try covering the dough and placing it in the refrigerator for its first rise, to slow the action of the yeast give the dough more time to develop.

If you have sourdough starter on hand, use some of it for some of the liquid in the recipe. Make a sponge by mixing the yeast, the liquid in the recipe, and 1 to 2 cups of flour. Cover and let the sponge work for a few hours in the refrigerator to develop it.