MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Does Altitude Affect Your Baking?

While you might be proficient in the kitchen, you could potentially find yourself with a deflated cake or bone-dry brownies if you happen to go bake in Aspen, CO. Because an oven at high altitude can, very often, wreak havoc on your baked goods? But, why does altitude affect baking?

It boils down to air pressure. The higher you go above sea level, the lower the air pressure will be, mainly because of the smaller amount of air pressing down from above. Also, it’s further away from gravitational forces on the Earth’s surface. Less air pressure keeping liquid molecules in their liquid form means it takes less heat to evaporate them. Basically, boiling points are lower at higher altitudes.

For every 500-foot upsurge in altitude, water’s boiling point drops by 0.9°F. And, since liquids evaporate at lower temperatures, all the moisture that makes your signature chocolate cake so deliciously dense could vanish long before you would usually remove it from the oven. To avoid this, it’s best to bake certain things at lower temperatures.

Gases expand faster with less air pressure, too, so anything expected to rise in the oven could end up collapsing before the inside gets finished baking. Cutting back on leavening agents like yeast, baking powder, and baking soda, can help prevent that, though. That also goes for bread dough prior to baking (“proofing”, as fans of The Great British Bake-Off know). The dough’s rapid expansion negatively affects its flavor & texture, so you may want to adjust how much yeast you’re using.

Thankfully, we’re only 302-feet above sea level here in Frederick. But, because there are far too many things that can go wrong at high altitudes, including ruined recipes, that’s why I recommend doing what I do: buy your cakes & other baked goods from a professional baker.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via social media (@AndyWebbRadioVoice), or shoot me an email at andy@wfre.com.