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High Altitude Baking Tips for Cupcakes

Cakes and Cupcakes, Dessert, Kitchen Tips & Tricks | 19 comments

I don’t bake cupcakes a lot. It isn’t that I don’t like them, but perhaps due to the fact that I find recipes are very finicky here in Albuquerque at just over 5,000 feet elevation. Cupcake recipes can often have unanticipated and most certainly unpleasant end results at high altitude. Those which I have experienced: implosion, explosion, flat tops, and dry/coarse textured crumb.

high altitude tips for cupcakes

Pictured: Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cupcake Recipe

Until now, I haven’t done much to investigate the cause of my high altitude baking problems. But a few weeks ago with Madeline’s birthday party just around the corner I knew that it was time to nail down a white cupcake recipe that worked well at high altitude.

HIGH ALTITUDE CUPCAKE PROBLEMS

Most recipes are developed to be used at sea level. Many problems can arise in high altitude baking:

  • Leavening gases expand faster at higher elevations. The result: cakes rise too quickly. Upon cooling, the cakes (or cupcakes) sink in the middle.
  • Moisture evaporates faster and higher elevations. Baked goods also dry out faster than they would at sea level. The result: cakes and cupcakes have a dry crumb.
  • It takes longer for recipes to bake.

High altitude baking problems begin to occur around 2,500 to 3,000 feet elevation and can require adjustments for satisfactory results in the recipe.

CUPCAKE HIGH ALTITUDE TROUBLESHOOTING

All recipes are different and certain troubleshooting tips will work for one and not the other. It is certainly an experimentation process. I went through a handful of cupcake tests before I was satisfied. The final recipe was: Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cupcake Recipe.

I recommend making only 1/4 of the original recipe so you aren’t wasting ingredients when you’re experimenting with tweaks. The following are my general guidelines and tips for high altitude baking.

high altitude cupcakes

The same cupcake recipe prepared with a stand mixer and a hand mixer.

High Altitude Recipe Tips:

These cupcake recipe changes helped give the end result a nice, fluffy moist crumb.

  • Some suggest to use half All-Purpose and half Cake Flour vs. full Cake Flour in high altitude baking because all-purpose has a higher gluten count which creates a strong batter.
  • Reduce the leavening. I decreased the baking powder by 2/3 of the original amount in the Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cupcake Recipe.
    • Originally called for 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons). I used only 1 teaspoon.
  • Acidic liquids in the batter gives a better rise and enables the cupcakes set more quickly in the oven.
    • I substituted part sour cream for the milk. Buttermilk and yogurt are also acceptable substitutes.
    • Extra liquid can also be added to counteract drier air at high altitude. (Up from 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cup in my recipe)
  • Reduce the sugar slightly (in my recipe down to 1 1/3 from 1 1/2) to strengthen the batter.

High Altitude Preparation Tips:

The recipe changes coupled with these preparation changes produced a nice, fluffy moist crumb with an attractive domed appearance.

  • Increase the oven temperature: up to 5,000 ft. increase the temperature 15 degrees F. Over 5,000 ft. increase the temperature 25 degrees F.
    • Higher temperatures can also help the cupcake batter form a crust on top quicker, thus preventing the cupcakes from over rising and collapsing.
  • Don’t over-beat. Too much air in the batter can cause a fast rise followed by a collapse.
    • Cupcakes made in my stand mixer rose quickly and collapsed, resulting in flat tops
    • Those made using a hand mixer did not have as much air beaten into the batter and stayed nice and domed on top.

Katie Goodman

About the Author:

Katie’s lifelong interest in cooking good food has shown her that part of the goodness in life is enjoying delicious food with friends and family. She is: Mom. Writer. Photographer. Recipe Developer. Website Founder. Lover of all things good in life. A mix of great recipes, family memories, and yummy photography is what Katie serves up each week at GoodLife Eats™. Katie and her family reside in Colorado.

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19
RESPONSES - LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW
  • 1
    Kathryn - September 28, 2011 @ 6:12 am

    That was fascinating! I, naively, had never really thought about the effect that altitude may have on baking. Thank you for sharing!

    [Reply]

  • 2
    Suzi - September 28, 2011 @ 6:54 am

    Good tips but I would recommend adding about one tablespoon water (the amount of water half an egg shell will hold) to your recipe. Doesn’t sound like much but Just that little bit a water helps. Happy cooking from another high alt baker.

    ps-I always do a third rise on my yeast breads for a better texture.

    [Reply]

  • 3
    Barbara @ Barbara Bakes - September 28, 2011 @ 8:04 am

    I’m at about 4,000 feet, and I am usually disappointed in the results if I don’t make some changes to cake and cupcake recipes. So nice to see a visual of the difference it makes. I’ll have to try some of your tips.

    [Reply]

  • 4
    Kathy - Panini Happy - September 28, 2011 @ 8:54 am

    These are excellent tips! I find I run into dryness problems when I bake at my parents’ house in Scottsdale (approaching 2,000 ft and SO dry!). Thanks for the advice!

    [Reply]

  • 5
    Lauren Z. - September 28, 2011 @ 11:32 am

    Thank you so much for these tips Katie! I am over 7,000 ft. in Colorado Springs, and I have tried MANY times tweaking my cake (and cookie) recipes and I still have a ways to go. I will definitely print your tips and try them next time! :)

    [Reply]

  • 6
    Heather of Kitchen Concoctions - September 28, 2011 @ 11:52 am

    I live in Texas so this is defiantly not an issue I ever have, but I know altitude can affect the cooking of so many things, like baked goods and yeast products, cooking dried beans, boiling water, etc. (my sister lives in the mountains so she is always having problems). These are great tips that I can pass along to her.

    [Reply]

  • 7
    Heidi / foodiecrush mag - September 28, 2011 @ 10:00 pm

    My cupcakes have fallen and they can’t get up. I am THRILLED to find your tips and my daughter even more so because now I will bake more cupcakes, no longer hiding my face in shame thanks to deflated cakes. THANK YOU for this post.

    [Reply]

  • 8
    Victoria Challancin - September 29, 2011 @ 8:15 am

    I live at 6700 ft and have been adjusting my baking for years. I’ve never seen anything written before now though on hand vs stand mixers and how they affect the outcome. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  • 9
    My German Kitchen...in the Rockies - September 29, 2011 @ 8:43 am

    I’m at 6500 feet and understand very well, after lots of failures, how altitude affects your baking result. I also have a page on my blog dedicated to baking at high altitude. Great advise for our readers.

    [Reply]

  • 10
    Heather @ Curly Girl Kitchen - September 30, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

    Thanks for this post! I live in Colorado and have the same problem. My boyfriend says I’m cupcake challenged! :)

    [Reply]

  • 11
    Jenn - October 03, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

    Katie, thanks for this post. The comparison between stand mixer and hand mixer is really helpful. I didn’t realize it makes a difference – now I know what to do to fix the flat top!

    [Reply]

  • 12
    Betsy - October 21, 2011 @ 10:13 am

    I live at 4500 feet and a friend said a cup of water in the oven in a bakepoof pan. Since I started using this method all of my baking has turned out.

    [Reply]

  • 13
    Jen @ HaHas for HooHas - November 16, 2011 @ 10:25 pm

    Gasp! I live in ABQ too! And I’m beyond excited to try your tips. Maybe then I won’t be a cupcake failure. Just maybe.

    [Reply]

  • 14
    Marie - April 19, 2012 @ 5:13 pm

    Thank you for this info. I have lived at high altitude (4800 ft) for two years and find my cakes/cupcakes are hit or miss! Sometimes they are perfect, other times they sink or crack. Your article explained it all and has armed me with the knowledge to bake successfully at my altitude!

    [Reply]

  • 15
    Lyn - June 25, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

    Thank you SO MUCH for your advice! I am on a mission to create a high, moist, light, delicate white cake and I have had WAY more misses than hits. And all because I was doing exactly opposite of what I needed to do. I am at almost 6000 feet and 5% humidity and I came from the midwest at about 500 feet and 50% humidity. Until I read your suggestions, I thought I was just doomed to never make a good cake again. Thank you with all of my heart!

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  • 16
    Glory/ Glorious Treats - August 29, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

    OOH, lots of great info in one place! I don’t live at high elevation, but I get a lot of questions about it, so I will now direct them here!

    [Reply]

  • 17
    Annette Flygare - February 12, 2013 @ 10:21 pm

    Great tips for Baking at High Altitude. I was just wondering if your cupcake recipes are already High Altitude friendly or do I need to make changes to them. Thanks

    [Reply]

    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — February 14th, 2013 @ 3:53 PM

      Not all of them are necessarily adjusted for high altitude, but if they are posted prior to the High Altitude Tips Post that means that they worked for me in my high altitude kitchen without any changes to the original recipe.

  • 18
    Lorena Franklin - February 05, 2014 @ 10:27 am

    I live at 9,200 ft. I will definetly try this! Thanks!

    [Reply]

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