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June 26, 2013
We often get questions from readers in mountain states like Colorado or Montana who are making recipes that were formulated in places a lot closer to sea level. While altitude matters much more in conventional baking, it can also make a difference when you’re baking with gluten-free ingredients.
Why does elevation affect cooking? The reason is that air pressure decreases as the elevation increases, meaning that that many foods respond differently at higher altitudes. This goes for items like stews and fried foods—but it’s particularly true for baked goods.
Baked products that contain a leavening agent (yeast, baking powder, baking soda or egg whites) rise more quickly when air pressure is lower. In addition, items bake in a shorter time and the moisture in them evaporates faster, making products more susceptible to becoming dried out. Depending on altitude and even humidity, recipes may have to be tweaked and adjustments made.
There are gluten-free bakers who say they don’t alter their technique because of altitude. But if you’re living at high elevation and find you’re not having success with your recipes for gluten-free breads and pastries, try these tips.
- Include at least ⅓ cup of high-protein flour, such as chickpea, soy, quinoa, sorghum, teff, buckwheat, in your flour blend when you’re baking above 3,500 feet. The extra protein helps improve structure and maintain moisture.
- Increase your recipe’s oven temperature by 15 to 25 degrees (15 degrees is best for chocolate cakes). Because leavening and evaporation proceed more quickly, a warmer oven helps baked goods “set” before they over-expand and dry out.
- Decrease baking time by 5 to 8 minutes for every 30 minutes of baking time.
- Products tend to brown more quickly. To compensate, decrease the sugar in your recipe by 1 tablespoon per cup.
- At 3,000 feet, increase liquid by 1 to 2 tablespoons. For every additional 1,000 feet, add another 1½ teaspoons of liquid.
- Egg whites, if tolerated, are a great way to add extra liquid; their protein helps maintain structure.
As the altitude increases, reduce the baking powder or baking soda in your recipe incrementally. At 3,000 feet, reduce every 1 teaspoon to ⅞ teaspoon. At 5,000 feet, reduce to ½ teaspoon. At 6,500 feet and above, reduce to ¼ teaspoon. For yeast breads, reduce every 1 teaspoon of yeast by ¼ teaspoon. Expect to experiment with these ratios. A dense dough requires less variation than a softer dough.
Most important, don’t become discouraged. With a little trial and error, you’ll get the hang of this special way of baking and be on your way to a delicious, gluten-free Rocky Mountain high.