Baking at High Altitude

Little Nell Pastry Chef Danielle Riesz’s adorable black bear cupcake, which is given as an amenity to all kids staying at the hotel.

Have you ever spent hours preparing what you thought was going to be the best dessert ever? Only to have it be flat, crusty and sad?

If you bake at altitude, the answer is probably yes. One of the many challenges of living this high on life is that baking is an absolute roll of the dice.

But don’t worry, even professionals have struggled, and they have these tips for you to help you bake your best at altitude.

Little Nell Pastry Chef Danielle Riesz

Tips from Danielle Riesz, Little Nell Pastry Chef

I’ve been baking at altitude since 2003, when I began working at a property in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I remember those first few weeks in Jackson as a tough time! I had to re-formulate all my recipes and figure out how to make things again. At altitude, things can dry out quickly, and baking temperatures are different from at sea level.

If I took a regular cookie recipe and used it in Aspen, they would be thinner than a pancake, and the sugar would be crusty!

Here are a few things I like to try:

-          Decrease the leavening by half

-          Always add extra liquid (egg or milk) to keep this moist

-          Decrease the fat and sugar

-          Add a little extra flour (because the air pressure is different at altitude, it presses down more on cakes and baked goods, causing them to deflate – the extra flour helps keep this from happening)

It’s really trial and error to get it right, and just to make things even more interesting, some recipes work perfectly at altitude without changing a thing! My cupcakes (pictured above) were one of those recipes. You just can’t go by the book sometimes…

Pastry Chef Lincoln Carson of the Mina Group was recently at The Little Nell for Greenalicious and dished up the following advice:

-          Place a baking sheet in the bottom of the oven – it will help even out the temperature. “Most home ovens are crap and are about 40-50 degrees off from what they tell you on the dial.”

-          Decrease the leavening  agent by about 40%

-          Cook on a lower heat than the recipe calls for

-          Reduce the sugar

-          Don’t do all of these tips at once… you need to experiment.

Good luck! Have any baking questions? Leave them here for Danielle.