Ever wonder why groups living in mountain regions traditionally have made flat breads? If you've ever tried baking at a high altitude, you will quickly realize why. Cakes, cookies, breads, and other baked goods simply don't react and cook the same way as when they're baked at sea level, so recipe adjustment is a must. Here's what you need to know.

The science behind it

There are a couple key facts that explain why baking can be so different the higher you live. First, the higher you are, the higher the boiling point. That translates into dense dough and batters that take longer to cook. The higher up you are, the faster the evaporation rate. This can easily mess with that normal ratio of liquid to dry ingredients in a recipe, and can also make baked goods dry and not as flavorful. In addition, at higher elevations leavening works more quickly. This can lead to cakes rising too quickly, dough over-proofing, and stiffly beaten egg whites collapsing in a cake.

Who needs to be concerned?

Anyone baking at 2,500 to 3,000 feet (or higher) above sea level should expect to have to adjust recipes. Unfortunately, the same rules don't apply equally well across all climates and elevations. You should expect to try some of these basic rules, and then adjust to your specific microclimate.

General principles

Leavening is generally reduced by a small amount. Oven temperatures are often increased (and because of that, baking time decreased). Sugar is decreased, liquid increased, and at really high altitudes, the amount of flour is increased as well.

Resources

To get you started at high-altitude baking, here are a couple of helpful resources:

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