Gluten-Free Baking at High Altitudes

Baking is tricky enough, but baking gluten-free products adds another layer of complexity. Now what happens if you live at a high altitude? Higher altitudes are problematic for baked goods because air pressure decreases as the altitude increases. These effects become noticeable at 2,000 feet above sea level.

What does this mean for your baking?

  • Lower air pressure has a profound effect on baked goods. Gases expand much more quickly, so quick breads and yeast breads overexpand and then collapse in the oven.

  • Higher altitudes drop the boiling point of water. In fact, the boiling point of water drops one degree for every 500 feet in altitude increase. Water boils faster the higher you go. When the boiling point of water changes, there are profound changes in the oven. Water leaves baked goods more easily, which weakens the structure and leaves a coarse texture.

  • Air is drier at higher altitudes. You may need more liquid than in recipes that are developed at lower altitudes. Faster evaporation also affects how food bakes and can be a factor in faster staling.

Unfortunately, no single overriding principle creates success in every single baked good made at high altitudes. Until you’re more experienced baking at high altitudes, rely on recipes specifically developed for those conditions.

Here are some general rules to follow to help you achieve more success at higher altitudes:

  • Decrease baking powder. Omit 1/8 teaspoon of baking powder for each 3,000 feet of altitude so cookies, cakes, pies, and quick breads don’t rise too much.

  • Decrease yeast. Reduce the amount of yeast called for in bread products. Because doing so reduces the bread’s flavor, let the dough rise twice.

  • Reduce rising times. Lower air pressure means that doughs rise faster than in recipes developed at sea level.

  • Reduce sugar. Remove 1 tablespoon of sugar per cup for each 3,000 feet of altitude. Because more evaporation occurs at higher temperatures, sugar concentrates in the product. This changes the flavor and can also weaken the structure.

  • Add more flour. More flour provides more structure to the baked good. Flour absorbs more liquid at high altitudes and can become damp; store it in airtight containers.

  • Decrease baking time. Baked goods are usually done sooner at high altitudes. Check the food’s progress a few minutes before the minimum baking time.

  • Increase oven temperature. You want to get the structure of the baked good to set and firm quickly before gasses inside the product can expand too much.

With practice and experience, trial and error, you’ll become more proficient at high-altitude baking. The best information usually comes from a county extension agency in your area. They have lots of information about how to successfully bake at high altitudes, along with many tested recipes.

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