Most recipes are designed for the atmospheric pressure at sea level. In the mountains, lower atmospheric pressure sometimes makes standard recipes go terribly, terribly wrong.
High-altitude Baking: Why Good Food Goes Bad
At high altitudes, water boils at a lower temperature; baked goods may get brown before the insides are hot enough to finish baking. The quicker vaporization of liquids also concentrates sugars and fats, weakening the molecular structure and causing baked goods to be coarse or even to collapse under their own weight. And lower atmospheric pressure means that leavening gases expand more quickly, causing breads and cakes to rise too fast and then fall flat.
Baking is not Math
The bad news is that successful baking requires vastly different techniques in San Francisco (altitude 52 feet), Reno (4,500 feet), and Leadville, Colo. (10,430 feet). The good news is that culinary students and cooks with the patience for lots of trial-and-error can learn to modify ingredients, cooking times, and temperatures to create perfect breads, cakes, and cookies in any part of the country.
However, baking isn't math and there isn't a "formula" for success. The best way to use the suggestions below is to try only one modification at a time and keep track of the results.
The "7 Suggestions" for High-altitude Baking
- Liquids. Add up to 4 extra tablespoons
- Eggs. Try extra-large or jumbo instead of regular, or add one extra egg
- Fat and Sugar. Decrease fat by 1-2 tablespoons and sugar by 1-4 tablespoons
- Flour. Use all-purpose flour and add 1-4 tablespoons
- Leavening. Decrease baking powder or baking soda by 1/8 to 2/3 teaspoon or use 20 percent less yeast
- Rising time. Decrease rising time, allow dough only to double, and punch down twice
- Temperature. Increase oven temperatures by 10-25 degrees Fahrenheit