Although baking is done in a kitchen, its process is closely related to food chemistry. Baking a cake or pastry is not like cooking soup or stew, where you can just add any ingredients you like and adjust seasonings. You cannot change the proportion of ingredients while baking, and you certainly cannot skip essential ingredients like baking powder, yeast or baking soda.
How your baked product turns out depends a great deal on food chemistry, the heat you are using, humidity, elevation and atmospheric pressure. Most baking recipes that you find in a recipe book, are written for people who live near sea level or slightly higher.
So when you bake anything at a higher altitude say at 2500 feet or above the sea level, many changes take place. Mostly, the baked products rise too rapidly and collapse or they turn out to be tough, doughy and dry. To counteract this you need to make certain adjustment in your baking method.
Adjustments for Baking at High Altitude
As mentioned earlier, for all high altitude baking recipes you need to make certain adjustments. Before we get into the kind of adjustments you need to make, let us know how high altitude influences baking. As we move from the sea level towards a higher elevation, the air gets thinner and the atmospheric pressure also gets lower.
This lowers the boiling point of water, accelerates the evaporation of liquids and most importantly increases the rate at which leavening agents begin to expand. This leads to longer baking times and improper setting of recipes like custards and puddings. So if you follow the same baking time that you follow at sea level, your baked goods might not set at the center or worse will burn on the top.
To counteract these you need to make certain adjustments in your baking method. As the atmospheric pressure is low at a higher elevation, the leavening agents used in baking like baking powder and yeast react too quickly in the recipe. This makes the baked good to expand and rise rapidly, and then collapse and sink. To avoid this, you need to decrease the amount of leavening agent you add to the recipe. At 3000 feet above sea level, decrease the amount of leavening agent by 10-12%, at 5000 feet decrease it by 20-25%, and at 7000 feet decrease it by 25-30%.
As baked products turn out to be drier at a high altitude, you need to increase the amount of liquid. This can be done by adding one extra egg to your recipe or using extra large eggs. You can also add 3-4 tablespoon of extra water for each cup of water that you use in the original recipe. At high altitudes, baking cakes and cookies might seem tough as they turn out to be too sweet. This is because the rate of evaporation is higher at a high altitude.
To solve this, you need to decrease one tablespoon of sugar for every cup of sugar that you put in the recipe. One of the most important tips in baking in high altitude is to adjust the baking time. You need to decrease the baking time by 6-8 minutes, for every 30 minutes, of the original baking time given in a recipe.
These were some adjustments that you need to make while baking cookies, cakes and soufflés at high altitude. For bread baking also, you need to follow the same steps. If you keep these tips and tricks in mind while baking at a higher altitude, your cakes and muffins will turn out to be delicious, and have the same texture as the ones baked at sea level.