"There is one extraordinary ingredient that goes into everything I cook and bake. Please, do not forget this ingredient for it is important to all recipes. When I am cooking or baking, I add extra spoonful's of love to all my recipes. Love added to all things good makes them just a little bit better."
High Altitude Baking Adjustments
High Altitude baking can be a frustrating experience for many. You may follow the recipe right down to the last ¼ teaspoon and still cookies look like a herd of buffalos stampeded upon them, the cake center sinks breads can be raw in the middle, and pecan pies puff up beautifully and then explode. The cause is lower air pressure and thin dry air.
For the past 41 years I have been adjusting favorite family sea level recipes to High Altitude. For 22 of these years I have been baking and cooking professionally as The Muffin Lady. My experiences with adjusting recipes and ingredients to high altitude were not found in a culinary school or by scientific charts; but through experiences found playing around with the ingredient measurements for diverse family recipes. As a result many have asked for my recipes secrets and high altitude culinary tips.
Some may question my high altitude baking tips and adjustments, while many more have thanked me for them. However, it doesn’t matter whose High Altitude Baking and Cooking Suggestions you follow, what matters is that you like the flavors and textures of the final product.
Yet there is a new trend concerning making ingredient adjustments per every 1000 ft. To test this new trend I have asked friends and associates in or from the mountainous areas of New Hampshire Maine, and Vermont if they made any high altitude ingredient adjustments at 1500 to approximately 2500 ft. above sea level. And “No” they do not make high altitude adjustments when baking in these mountainous states.
Thus, I am very sorry but there are not ingredient adjustments per every 1000ft. In fact, customers around 4000 ft. claim not to need any ingredient adjustments when baking most baked good but not all. And yes, feedback has told me that my recipes work just as fine at 8500 ft. as they do at 4000ft.
Common Problems when Baking at High Altitude are:
(1) The Hot Air Balloon Effect: Baked goods at high altitude tend to rise rapidly and then deflate just as quickly as if the hot air in the balloon was turned off. This is especially so for cakes cookies and muffins; causing the need for few basic ingredients to be adjusted.
(2) Loss of Moisture: Yes, baked treats can dry out faster in higher elevations then at sea level. This is why you must increase the liquid required by 1-1½ tablespoons per cup in many baking recipes. This is also why you must coat and partially saturate the pan with pan spray, as the oil and water evaporates quickly up here.
(3) The Rubber Band Effect: Granted air pockets in baked goods add a nice fluffy texture. Yet, when baking at high altitude too many air pockets can stretch while baking and then break causing the final product to sink in the center or go flat. This action is similar to pulling a rubber band too tightly, whereby it breaks when it stretched too much (just as the air pockets pop). This is why it is suggested not to over beat the batter or use Cake flour.
A Few Seasoned Tips for High Altitude Baking:
I don’t recommend raising the temperature! Granted this has caused some confusion and/or questions pertaining to why not; especially since such is recommended at Culinary Schools and by Colorado State University. Thus in answer, I have found that raising the temperature tends to dry the product out rapidly. When you raise the temperature the outside of the product bakes quicker than the inside of the product. The result: the outside of the product completes baking while the center is still raw resulting in crunchy cake bread or muffin crust and cookie.
Left muffin baked at 400°F, right muffin was baked at 375°F.
However, if you feel that raising the temperature is necessary; then sure raise it by 5° Fahrenheit at most; especially if you have a slow oven.
ALSO: If you reside in or visit areas above 9500-10,000 FEET, when baking YES raise the temperature by 5-15 degrees Fahrenheit at most. And if you do live above 9500 ft. please see Sharing Mountain Recipes Cookbook for the intro does include more detailed tips and ingredient adjustments when baking above 9500/10,000 feet.
Additionally, out of palatable desire I have found that when roasting chicken, beef pork or turkey it is best to decrease the temperature by 10° Fahrenheit for best flavor and tenderness.
I don’t use salt when I am baking, with the exception of in Yeast products. Hence, there is no salt listed in my recipes. WHY? Most of us humans consume too much salt as it is and I have found that the flavor doesn’t change by not adding it. However, if you wish to add salt then add ½ teaspoon per recipe along with the dry ingredients.
Be aware that there is not one ingredient is level when measured at high altitude. Flour should be to be increased by 1-1½ tablespoons per cup; while any extra tablespoons of flour should be slightly rounded or measured above the Measuring spoon.
In the same respect, Sugar should be decreased by about a Smidgen or 1 teaspoons per cup. The easiest way that I have found is when measuring sugar to measure it just below the measurement line in the measuring cup. Know that sugar adds moisture to the final product thus decreasing the amount by a tablespoon or more per cup can result in a dryer product.
It is recommended to read the High Altitude Baking Tips at the beginning of my cookbooks. Although all of the recipes have been adjusted for high altitude these TIPS teach you how to measure the ingredients properly when high altitude baking or cooking. For instance when I measure Baking Soda or Baking Powder I will always decrease the amount slightly by indenting my finger into the ingredients while leveling the measuring spoon. This action is referred to as “Dip in It”
Yeast Products can be difficult but not devastating when baking at high altitude. A few seasoned tricks found while playing with favorites such as Oat Bread and those luscious Rolls of Cinnamon:
- Soak the yeast in warm, not lukewarm water. This helps the dough rise well.
- Cover the dough in a warm damp cloth when rising and allow the dough to rise in a warm semi humid area—Such as by a pot of soup a warm humidifier, or in a steamy room. It should take about 30-45 minutes for the first rise. And then punch it down and allow it to rise again, covered in a warm damp cloth. ABOVE 9000Ft decrease the yeast by ¼ teaspoon per dry packet or per tablespoon!
When kneading bread dough I found it best to knead the dough from the back fold to the front, as that helps release excess air pockets that can occasionally cause a hollow center in the bread.
It is recommended Not to use Pyrex Pans when baking, unless baking a fruit crisp or casserole. The reason is that the sides and bottom of these pans get very hot while baking and thus cause the product to bake unevenly, whereas metal pans tend to bake more evenly.
BEWARE: Rice Cookers do not work well above 4000 to 5000 feet of elevation. And neither do Double Boilers. Although, a Double Boiler will melt butter and/or chocolate they never get hot enough to make a fondue, a sauce or even an old fashioned rice pudding in; plus much of the water in the bottom pot evaporates rapidly!
ALWAYS have butter, margarine, shortening, and cream cheese at room temperature to prevent over beating unless the recipe indicates otherwise.
ALWAYS read through the entire recipe (ingredients and directions) prior to preparing said recipe.
NEVER OVERBEAT the batter or dough; unless a recipe indicates otherwise. Always use the lowest speed on the mixer if using one. Overbeating the batter or dough this can add unwanted air pockets that often stretch and break at high altitude causing the product to deflate/sink in the center while negatively affecting its texture. I also suggest using a rubber spatula after mixing the batter with an electric mixer to thoroughly blend the bottom ingredients with the top ingredients a couple times. This ensures that all ingredients are thoroughly mixed together.
COOKIE DOUGH is not Play Dough! Hence, handle cookie dough lightly and do not press your fingers into the dough when shaping cookies into balls. Simply roll the balls in the palm of your hand until shaped. Also, if a recipe indicates to flatten the top lightly, use the palm of your hand not your fingers—fingers can potentially cause a ridge or ridges in the final product.
When measuring flour do not pack it into the measuring cup by pounding the measuring cup onto the counter or a hard service. This action ultimately adds much more flour than necessary.
Yes, lightly pack brown sugar when measuring it in a measuring cup or spoon. And only use “Dark” Brown sugar as the golden varieties do not contain as much molasses altering the flavor of the final product.
When using Cocoa, for best flavor use Dark Cocoa or Dutch Processed Cocoa.
CAKE FLOUR or highly sifted flour is not recommended for use at high altitude for it contains too many air pockets that can cause a cake to deflate or sink. When a recipe calls for sifted flour—as in sift the flour once and then re-measure —simply do not add extra flour to the batter; hence decreasing the amount accordingly. However if the recipe calls for the flour to be sifted twice, as in sift re-measure and then sift again and then add—at high altitude sift the flour once and re-measure it and then add it. If the flour is too light (sifted), it can cause the product to sink due to too many air pockets.
YES, it is highly recommended to only use large to extra-large eggs. Occasionally you may need to add an extra small egg or ½ an egg to your own recipes to gain adequate height or when doubling your own recipes.
MUFFINS AND SWEET BREADS: Always make sure to spray the pan well before adding the batter. Baked products tend to stick to the pan at high altitude; possibly because the oil evaporates. If your product is sticking to the pan simply use a butter knife or small rubber spatula to loosen it from the pan. Stick the utensil down the sides of the pan and loosen the product from the bottom upwards and it should pop out fine.
GLUTEN FREE BAKING Is Not Difficult. I have been doing it since I was a Special Ed Teacher and found that some of my student’s bodies couldn’t digest wheat or were allergic to such. Since then my Gluten Free Substitute has been popularly requested and used successfully for decades to date. (See Links at the top of the page for Gluten Free High Altitude Baking).
ROASTS and SOUPS could use 2-3 more cups of liquid (water juice wine broth) after the first 2-3 hours of simmering or roasting to ensure that the soup makes the adequate amount and that roasts have enough juice to make gravy out of.