Adventures in High Altitude Baking
You might have heard that Taylor and I are getting married this June.
You probably saw that he proposed to me entirely in cupcakes.
And you’ve likely read that I’m crazy enough to try to bake my own cupcake wedding cake. No bakery, no professional cake decorator – just me (and maybe a few helpers), a whole lot of sugar, and a single oven. Certifiably insane.
But what you don’t know is that I’ll be doing all this at 7,346 feet above sea level.
And that folks, makes baking cupcakes kind of tricky.
Nashville, where we’re living now and have been baking all of our testing cupcakes, sits at a comfortable 600 feet. That’s nearly a mile and half of sheer height between here and there. Oh boy.
What I find almost humorous is that typically, high altitude directions (on that box mix of devils’ food cake, for example), come into play at a whopping 3,500 feet. See, to me, growing up in the mountains of Colorado, 3,500 feet is practically sea level. Wimps.
This past week we spent visiting Taylor’s family, and at a moderate 4,728 feet, was a good place to start testing what exactly I’d need to do to make sure my cupcakes stayed cupcakes, and didn’t sink into oblivion. So test I did. Lucky for me we had a nice big Taylor’s-family gathering, an event that just begged for two dozen Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes. :)
Testing my recipes on the future inlaws? I couldn’t think of anything more perfect.
After googling extensively about recipe conversions for information on high altitude baking (much of which applies to cakes and cookies, not cupcakes), I made a few arbitrary adjustments to the recipe. Reduced the baking powder, added some more coconut milk, reduced the sugar, and upped the temp. 25 degrees. They still tasted good (I knew they would), but got a bit droopy in their inner parts, and were a bit overdone on the tops and sides (nice and crunchy, almost brownie-like actually).
Better. We’re getting there. Added a bit of extra flour, reduced the leavening even more, and used Taylor’s mom’s fancy schmancy new convection oven feature. They didn’t fall quite as much, and actually puffed more like a souffle than a cupcake. Still had crispy tops, but once they got frosted, no one could tell the difference between this one and the last batch.
Ok, ok. So it’s far from scientific. But my time in the clouds was limited.
Come June, I’ll have about 1 1/2 weeks before the wedding to experiment like a mad scientist, lab coat and all (ok maybe not the lab coat). I’m envisioning a control group, and then batches of half a dozen cupcakes at a time, each with one variation to the original recipe, whether it be leavening, liquid, oven temperature, or just luck. Sure, we may end up with hundreds of sunken cupcakes, but we’re bound to stumble upon just the right formula for perfectly domed cupcakes, even at 7000 feet.
I know I could just as easily (or easier) go out and find a cupcake recipe meant for high altitude, but I’m so attached to the taste and texture of my recipes, and don’t want to change that.
Has anyone had experience baking cupcakes at high altitude? Vegan cupcakes in particular? Any tips or tricks you care to share that might make my endeavor a bit more manageable?