High Altitude Gluten-Free Baking Tips
Those of us unaccustomed to high altitudes often experience shortness of breath, headaches and quick sunburns when we visit higher locations. The air is thinner and the pressure is lower at 5,000 feet above sea level and beyond, but people aren’t the only things affected.
The same conditions that create these physical problems for living creatures can also affect baking, but not always.
I get lots of questions from folks asking how to adjust gluten-free recipes for high altitude and my first answer is that you might not have to make an adjustment at all.
First let’s look at what happens when there is low atmospheric pressure, low humidity and thinner air. The first things you’ll notice in the kitchen are a lower boiling point, more rapid rising and drier baked goods from the reduced humidity.
Where this requires a change in gluten-free baked goods is primarily in the leavening. Breads rise faster, leading to potential cave-ins because the cell structure isn’t set well enough to hold the bread’s shape. Other leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda will also cause the gases in breads and cakes to expand/rise faster. (I read once that 1 teaspoon of baking powder at 5,000 feet yields 20% more volume than at sea level!)
So my recommendation is to try the recipe without adjustment first. Keep good notes so that you remember any problems that developed with each recipe, and what solutions you devised that worked. If you encounter problems, reference these tips to help.
♦If your bread or cakes rise too fast and then collapse:
Gluten-Free White Bread after rise.
- Adjust the leavening agents: reduce baking powder by 1/4 teaspoon for each teaspoon called for in the recipe if you are baking above 6,000 feet. If you are baking at 8,000 feet or higher, reduce by 1/2 teaspoon for each teaspoon in the recipe.
- Reduce the rise time of yeast breads. Do not let the dough rise higher than the side of the pan. Check frequently to ensure bread is not rising more than double its size before baking.
- Do not fill muffins or cake pans more than 1/2 full.
- Do not omit salt in yeast bread recipes because salt will help to contain the rise.
- Try increasing the baking temperature by 25 degrees to help heat then set the cell structure faster so that it is better supported after cooling.
- Use extra large eggs instead of large eggs (eggs contain protein which helps to provide structure)
- Do not overbeat eggs, as this will enhance the rising of batters, which is not advised at high altitudes.
♦If the recipe results in baked goods that are drier and more crumbly than they ought to be:
- Increase liquid by approximately 2 tablespoons if baking at 6,000 feet; 3-5 tablespoons if baking at 7,000 feet or higher.
- OR decrease gluten-free flour by 1 tablespoon per cup of flour.
- Try substituting shortening for butter – it holds more liquid. (I use Earth Balance® Shortening Sticks)
Your gluten-free cookies ought to look like this — even at high altitude!
♦ If your cookies flatten:
- Reduce the shortening or butter by 1-2 tablespoons.
- Substitute shortening for butter.
- Add 1/8 cup more gluten-free flour per each cup of flour in the recipe.
- Reduce the amount of additions like chocolate chips.
- Add powdered milk or non-dairy powdered milk (not reconstituted)
♦If your pie crusts or pastries are dry or tough:
- Reduce gluten-free flour or use less flour to dust with and handle the crust as little as possible.
- Ensure your fats and liquids are cold when mixing.
- Increase liquid by up to 25% (I add 2-3 tablespoons of vodka to the liquids in my pie crusts with great success!)