Have you ever heard someone say, I made this cake all the time and now that I moved to Calgary it just doesn’t work?  Well, that is because Calgary is at 3557 feet (1084 m) above sea level and baking anywhere over 3000 feet (912 m) is considered high altitude baking.  Our thinner air messes with baking recipes since they are usually written for sea level kitchens.  I have a butter cake recipe that I loved the flavour of, but it always turned out so crumbly that I couldn’t cut it.  Then I went to Pastry School and learned all the science behind the baking. Now I make that cake all the time and I can cut it into a perfect slice!

Time for another little science lesson! As altitude increases air pressure is reduced. This means your baked goods rise faster and the moisture in them evaporates more quickly (because water boils at lower temperatures as altitude rises).  The following table shows the consequences of these.

Sounds terrible, but don’t worry!  Because we know why these things happen, there are things we can do to adjust!  Things like crackers and pie crusts are not really affected by altitude.  Cakes, quick breads, yeast breads are most affected.  Cookies are usually small, use only a small amount of leavener, if any, and are cooked quickly, therefore are not as highly affected.  This table provides some ways you can adjust your baking to deal with high altitude baking.  Of course I tell you why each of these adjustments affects your baking!

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The key to making any of these adjustments in to treat it like a scientist (good thing I have some experience at that):

  • To start, change only one thing at a time and make the minimum change.  If single changes don’t work, you may have to try two things at once such as changing the flour and reducing the leavener. 
  • Write down the exact change you make and what the outcome is
  • It is a process.  You may not, and likely won’t, get it right on the first try.  Keep trying.  If you family is like mine, they won’t mind if they have to eat some less than stellar baking.
  • Once you feel you have it, mark it down right on your favourite recipe
When adjusting cakes for high altitude baking, I usually start by replacing half of the cake flour with all-purpose flour.

When adjusting cakes for high altitude baking, I usually start by replacing half of the cake flour with all-purpose flour.

Before you head off to retry your Newfie aunt’s chocolate cake, just a quick note on yeasted baked goods.  The yeast fermentation process creates a lot of flavour.  As this tends to happen quite quickly at higher altitudes, less flavour is imparted into our yeast-raised baked products.  There are a couple of ways to deal with this.  If you have the time, you can leave the dough to rise in the fridge.  The cold temperatures will slow the fermentations process and give you more flavour.  The other option is to give the dough an extra rise.  Once it’s first rise is complete, punch it down and let it rise again before moving on with your recipe. 

Good luck in adjusting your recipes.  If you need some further advice leave a comment or send us an e-mail!

Dybosyia!

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