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Adventures in High Altitude Baking: Part II

One of the main challenges in the baking of the cupcake wedding cake (as if baking 300 cupcakes in one day wasn’t challenging enough) was the fact that we were doing it at 7,300 feet. And when all the recipes were tested at a measly 600 feet, well, I knew the altitude was going to be an issue. How big of an issue, I wasn’t sure, but I knew some adjustments would need to be made.

So as soon as we got to Colorado (after a long and tiring 20 hour drive with a carload of stuff, a cat, and my mangled laptop that we managed to run over somewhere along the way) we immediately started baking, and didn’t stop for the next week and a half.

Almond cupcakes baked at high altitude

Batch #1: I immediately cut the leavening in half. From my previous experiments, I knew this alone would make a huge difference. We also used high altitude flour for all our baking, which (as I just learned), has a higher protein content than regular all-purpose flour. It’s like if all-purpose flour and bread flour had a baby. For baking at high altitude, extra protein is needed as it gives more structure and strength to your cake. Weak batter will rise too quickly in the thin mountain air, and then collapse under it’s own weight. It is for this reason you want to reduce the leavening, even though it may seem counter intuitive. Less leavening causes the batter to rise more slowly, giving it time to build a structure capable of supporting itself. And that’s a good thing.

Another variable to take into consideration is the oven. We figured (since we were baking 300 cupcakes), that using the convection oven would allow us to bake more at once. So for this first batch, we had 3 rows of cupcakes. Turns out the convection oven doesn’t bake quite as evenly as you would think, and the cupcakes on the bottom row developed odd shaped bulges. Mutant cupcakes. Not pretty, even with frosting. So we scrapped that idea, adjusted the racks, and baked two rows at a time from then on.

Taking notes for altitude baking conversions

We took good notes. Very scientific.

Almond cupcakes baked at high altitude

Second batch of almond cupcakes, looking pretty as ever. Same adjustments, just baked on two oven levels instead of three.

Lemon Cupcakes High Altitude Adjustments

The lemon cupcakes went so smoothly we only had to bake 6 of them. We made the exact same adjustments here, cutting the leavening (baking powder and baking soda) in half and using high altitude flour.

Baking Chocolate Cupcakes at High Altitude

When we got to the Mexican Hot Chocolate cupcakes, however, it was a completely different story. Our first batch didn’t rise enough. Our second batch rose too quickly and then sunk. But the third batch, well, the third batch turned out just right.

Cupcakes High Altitude Adjustments

Contrary to this image, they actually rose nicely. These pretty green cupcake cups are significantly taller than the white ones. Pay attention to the beautiful domes on these, and just ignore the cracks (there’s always something about this recipe…) This batch was the clear winner, so we recorded the adjustments and moved on with other wedding endeavors. Funny thing is, we made the same exact adjustments on the actual wedding cupcakes, and they came out more like the previous two batches. Sink, sank, sunk. Maybe it was just a fluke, and this batch got lucky. Good thing for us that slightly sunken cupcakes can easily be disguised by more frosting. No one even noticed. Sneaky sneaky.

The final (albeit probably arbitrary) adjustments we made for the Hot Chocolate Cupcakes included cutting the leavening in half, adding 1 teaspoon of vinegar, adding 1 tablespoon of flour, and subtracting 1 tablespoon of sugar. Whether it actually did anything or not I can’t say. But they sure tasted good.

Conclusion? Cupcakes are probably a pretty safe bet for high altitude baking, for the simple reason I mentioned above: sunken cupcakes mean more frosting, and that’s never a bad thing.

So if you are one of the lucky few to live with your head in the clouds and looking for some fail-safe high altitude baking tricks, I don’t have them for you. But, I’d suggest first simply cutting the leavening in your recipes (for us, at 7,300 feet, half seemed to do the trick, but you should adjust accordingly depending on just how high you are). You might get lucky. If that doesn’t work, well, make some extra frosting, and no one will ever know the difference.

And, in case you were wondering, I’ve got myself a pretty new laptop, you know, to replace the one we RAN OVER WITH OUR CAR. Oy.

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16 CommentsLeave a Comment →

  1. 1
    Posted On July 11, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Welcome back! It looks like you guys have become cupcake masters. They all sound fantastic! Was this your wedding, or someone elses? If it was yours, congrats!

    Reply

  2. 2
    Posted On July 11, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    that sounds crazy!! i mean, i love baking but 300 cupcakes at high altitudes? yikes. it’s important to be scientific about it though, and everything turned out gorgeous in the end. so i guess it was worth it!

    sorry that your laptop got run over :( sad story.

    Reply

  3. 3
    Liz Anderson
    Posted On July 11, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    I’m at 6500 ft above sea level, and wouldn’t consider baking cupcakes without at least additional flour. That’s why the good boxes of cake mix have those instructions, and the lousey ones don’t. My single complaint is that the boxed mixes taste ok, but the texture is too airy. I always worry that the weight of the frosting will collapse the tops.

    Nice cupcakes, BTW.

    Reply

  4. 4
    Posted On July 11, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Oh my goodness! I can’t believe your laptop got ran over! I would of cried my eyes out. (I’m sure you had bigger things on your mind though…)

    Glad to hear your cupcakes were a success though!

    Reply

  5. 5
    Alanna
    Posted On July 12, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Happy welcome home wishes to the new Mr. & Mrs.! :) Sorry to hear about your laptop, but I’m thrilled u were able to sort out the hi-altitude baking issues! :) Please post more about the adventures–and the wedding itself–soon!

    Reply

  6. 6
    Alanna
    Posted On July 12, 2009 at 10:19 am

    BTW, at least it was the laptop and not the cat! O.O

    Reply

  7. 7
    Posted On July 13, 2009 at 8:05 am

    I posted your cupcakes on my blog! I’d be interested to see how you made the cupcake stand.

    Cheers,
    Shannon

    Reply

  8. 8
    Posted On July 13, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Now I know why I leave the baking during high altitude vacations to others…those Mexican Hot Chocolate cupcakes sound like they are just to die for…any chance of the recipe?

    Reply

  9. 9
    Posted On July 14, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    I am so impressed. I would be so stressed out by baking for a WEDDING that I’d never be able to handle the altitude adjustments.

    Reply

  10. 10
    Marie
    Posted On July 15, 2009 at 10:17 am

    I made the strawberry lemonade cupcakes this weekend at high altitude. The fist bath I did with no changes actually turned out better than the second.

    Reply

  11. 11
    Posted On July 15, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Oh my…300 cupcakes.
    They are GORGEOUS!! Or were, as the case is.
    Very interested in the Mexican Chocolate cupcakes….even at my low altitude!

    Reply

  12. 12
    Posted On July 17, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Marie – what elevation are you at? I’d be interested to see what happens to the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes at your altitude – if the lemon ones turned out perfectly with no adjustments.

    Reply

  13. 13
    MET
    Posted On July 19, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    I am at 4505, which is just on the edge of needing the high altitude adjustments. Some things work fine without it and some need it. I have actually been wanting to try the Mexican hot chocolate ones too. :) I will let you know how they turn out when I do.

    Reply

  14. 14
    Amanda Redmond-Neal
    Posted On January 15, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Heh. I ran over my laptop too. On the way out of my parents’ driveway on a move to — yep, Colorado. Let’s hope that success at high-altitude baking is another element that our lives will share.

    Reply

  15. 15
    Aislinn
    Posted On April 14, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Hi Lindsay, Love the blog it’s totally awesome! I just had a question about how you set-up the different people to bake all the cupcakes the day before the wedding. My roommate just got engaged and has asked (informally for now) if i will bake her wedding cupcakes. The wedding is in October, but obviously I need start thinking about the logistics of it soon if I’m really going to do this. She says she’s going to have 120 guests so I figure 250 cupcakes would be a safe bet. (2 per guest and then a few left overs just in case someone gets greedy/i drop them all). Any hints, tips, suggestions? Thanks!
    -a.

    Reply

  16. 16
    Keely
    Posted On January 30, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    I live in Denver (so I’m somewhere around 5280 :) and I love baking cupcakes! I’ve found that adding more flour helps to add support (about 1/4 cup). I don’t use high altitude flour, just plain old all-purpose. Also, I tend to add more leavening, not like doubling the baking soda but if the recipe calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda I use that as well as 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder. I’ve had a few recipes fail but more succeed. I don’t think it’s really quite as big of a deal as some people make it to be.

    Reply

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