High Altitude Baking Tips for Cupcakes

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.