How to Convert a Baking Recipe for High Altitude

October  9, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

Say you’re on vacation with your family. Say you’re in Denver. Say you rented a big Airbnb, where you all can cook and bake and stay up late watching movies. Say you want brownies; now everyone wants brownies, so you make your favorite recipe—but it turns out different. Why?

Because you’re a mile above sea level.

Today, we’re making sure no batch of brownies (or cupcakes or cookies) gets botched again. Enter: our handy guide on how to convert a baking recipe for high altitude. Let’s dive in. Or should I say climb up?

High-Altitude Baking 101

What is considered high altitude for baking?

If you’re at an altitude of at least 3,500 feet above sea level, you may need to adjust sea level–developed recipes accordingly. That said, as Colorado State University notes, “Do not assume that your sea level recipe will fail. Try it first. It may need little or no modification.” And when do you experiment with adaptations, start small, then gradually increase as needed.

Why do baking recipes need adaptations at high altitude?

It all comes down to air pressure. The higher a geographical location is above sea level, the less air pressure there is. The less air pressure there is, the more variances you’ll notice in cooking and baking, compared to the assumptions in most cookbooks and online recipes. For example, everyone knows that water boils at 212°F, right? At sea level, yes. At 7,500 feet above sea level, however, water boils at 198°F (“because there’s not as much air pressure to inhibit the boiling action,” according to The New Food Lover’s Companion).

What are the most common changes in high altitude baking?

  • Reduce baking powder. “Because of the decrease in barometric pressure at high altitudes, carbon dioxide gas expands more quickly and thus has greater leavening action,” according to The Joy of Cooking.
  • Reduce sugar. Due to quicker evaporation, sugar becomes more concentrated in baked goods, which means you won’t need quite as much of it to begin with.
  • Add liquid. Foods, such as flour, dry more quickly at high altitude. This means you’ll need more liquid to ensure the baked good doesn’t turn out dry or crumbly.
  • Increase oven temperature. “Since leavening and evaporation proceed more quickly, the idea is to use a higher temperature to ‘set’ the structure of baked goods before they over-expand and dry out,” King Arthur writes.

How do you convert a baking recipe for high altitude?

Bonus recommendations for baked goods at high altitude:

  • Increase oven temperature by 15°F to 25°F.
  • Decrease baking time by about 5 minutes (per every 30 minutes called for in a recipe).
  • Egg whites should only be whipped to soft peaks.

How to Convert a Baking Recipe for High Altitude

Now that we’ve learned the basics, let’s explore some examples. Below are three favorite baked good recipes from the site—let’s figure out how to convert them for high altitude.

Alice Medrich’s Cocoa Brownies at 4,000 feet

  • Decrease granulated sugar by 1 tablespoon.
  • Increase the oven temperature from 325°F to 345°F.
  • Decrease baking time by 0 to 5 minutes as needed.

Best Banana Nut Bread at 5,500 feet

  • Decrease baking powder by ½ teaspoon
  • Decrease brown sugar by ½ tablespoon.
  • Increase mashed bananas by 2 tablespoons.
  • Increase oven temperature from 350°F to 365°F.
  • Decrease baking time from about 75 minutes to 70 minutes.

Louisa’s Cake at 7,000 feet

  • Decrease baking powder by ¾ teaspoon.
  • Decrease sugar by 2 tablespoons.
  • Increase grated apple by 3 tablespoons.
  • Increase oven temperature from 400°F to 425°F.
  • Decrease baking time from 30 minutes to 25 minutes.

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What are your tips for converting baking recipes at high-altitude? Share in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Sandy November 26, 2022
I forgot to mention I am baking at 7000 ft in Park City UT.
Sandy November 26, 2022
What happens with yeast bread/rolls? Do you have to adjust the yeast?
yts3861 October 10, 2021
Hi, I live in El Paso, Tx., elevation 3,740’. should I make similar changes to my baking?
Heather A. December 14, 2020
Any tips on how to adjust the recipe for Yorkshire Puddings. I have made hundreds of them with no problem until we moved a few months ago to The Denver area ( Castle Rock) Now they are very dense and rise very little. Any tips would be really appreciated
matt P. December 27, 2019
I have a question. I live in the mountains in New Mexico. I bake and cook quite a bit, and adjustments I make for baking at high altitudes (I live at 7,200 ft) all work pretty good, all except for one. I've tried every adjustment for Pecan Pie, and I get nothing but a great flaky crust, with a filling that just won't cooperate. I getting closer, but still not a solid filling like it should be. The past few times I've tried heating the filling, and adding corn starch, but still not what it should be. I'm afraid if I heat and boil filling to much, it'll get a burned taste, and adding to much corn starch doesn't seem to be recommended by anyone. Any suggestions would be really appreciated. Even when I look at recipes for Pecan Pie at high altitudes, I get conflicting suggestions. I lived most of my life a few hundred feet from the beach in New Jersey, and about 10 ft above sea level. The past 10 years I've learned to re-cook almost everything since retiring here, but the Pecan Pie eludes me. Help!
Emma L. December 28, 2019
Hey Matt! Curious to hear if other community members at high altitude have had similar issues (or if they have a go-to pecan pie recipe!). My first thought is: Make sure to use a recipe that has flour (or as you mentioned, some sort of starch) in the filling. This provides some curdling insurance and helps the filling set. Please let us know if you land on something that works!
matt P. December 30, 2019
Yes, I finally found a solution after multiple attempts, but couldn't ever explain why it works. I didn't change the amount of any ingredients, used a basic Pecan Pie recipe, but added 3 teaspoons of cornstarch and 1 extra egg, for a total of 4 eggs in recipe. When the first pie I made was ready to come out of the oven, I couldn't believe the filling wasn't rolling like a wavy lake, and after cooling was perfect. I made another last night (I have no problem with extra pies with friends who will gladly come pick one up 24/7) and had the same perfect results. I went back to the original pie recipe I wanted to begin with. Nothing fancy, tastes great, and less than 10 minutes to prepare (not including time to make pie dough) and into the oven. I don't have a clue why the extra egg and cornstarch work, but glad this quest is done, and ready for another challenge. Thanks for your reply. Happy Holidays!
Emma L. January 1, 2020
Yahoo! So glad you found the fix—and thank you for sharing it with us!
mtnnewf December 14, 2020
Try "Pie in the Sky" by Susan Purdy. She does suggest precooking the filling. It works for me, but I live at 9200". She has a recipe that she tested at 7500" you might try.
Debi September 12, 2022
I also live at 7200 feet and this is a good recipe
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2½ cups pecan halves
⅓ cup brown sugar
⅓ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup light colored corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 ½ Tablespoons melted butter
1. Prepare crust and gently place it into a 9-inch pie pan and flute the edge.
2. Place all the pecans into the prepared pie crust and set aside.
3. Combine the brown sugar, sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl until there are no lumps.
4. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs for 30 seconds, add the corn syrup and vanilla.
5. Add the sugars and butter to the egg mixture and stir together until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
6. Pour the mixture over the pecans.
7. Bake for 50-60 minutes until the filling is puffy or until an inserted knife comes out clean.
* Allow to cool completely prior to serving.
The Muffin Lady > High Altitude Recipes >
Pavani November 12, 2019
We recently relocated to CO and I'm nervous to try any of my old baking recipes for the fear of failure. I will start with the recipes/ suggestions here and hopefully will be able to bake some holiday treats. Thank you for sharing the tips.
mtnnewf November 12, 2019
I would also suggest the Denver Junior League's cookbooks--Colorado Cache, Creme de Colorado and, I think the last one is Colorado Collage. Friends and neighbors are good sources.
mtnnewf November 10, 2019
I live at 9200 ft elevation and have found that for quick breads and muffins, I switched to whole wheat flour (white or regular) and haven't done any further changes. For cookies, the first change I make is to reduce the sugary 1/4 and I will often add an egg yolk or whole egg (the egg yolk/egg add both moisture and fat which makes the cookie stay moist). Finally, as suggested by Leil, find a copy of Pie in the Sky by Susan G. Purdy; she not only has created recipes for basic baked goods, she has refined them for all altitudes from sea level to 10,000 ft. She also gives insight into why things change at each altitude so, if you desire, you can "altitude" your own recipes.
Pam October 10, 2019
I have to say I was an excellent baker when I lived at sea level. In moving to Denver 25 years ago, none of my recipes needed adjustment at that altitude. I moved up to 8200 feet 16 years ago and THAT was when all baking went haywire. I have discovered that "adjusting" certain recipes simply doesn't work. Example is my Perfect Pecan Pie I spent years perfecting is NOT workable at my altitude. I have tried reducing sugar, changing time, EVERYTHING, but have decided you can make it LOOK good at high altitude with the adjustments, but it will never taste the same if you start adjusting the sugar and butter requirements. Some things simply cannot be reproduced at high altitude. After 16 years of attempting some of my former recipes, I know some simply won't work. Some things just implode or even explode when baked. The taste is greatly changed when adjusting things that will make the baked item look good but the same taste is not there.
Leil October 28, 2019
Have you looked at Susan Purdy’s Pie in the Sky book? she shows the adjustments for recipes from sea level to 10,000 feet—and actually went and baked at each of the 6 levels. The ingredients are laid out in a chart so you can easily compare. I especially remember pecan pie and her story about it exploding at I think 8000 feet. Something about the sugar I think. She redeveloped the recipe to work at 8000 and 10,000 feet. Her overall conclusion was that there is no silver bullet for high altitude—it’s really recipe dependent. I do consult it sometimes when I am curious because the book covers a nice range of items so you can usually find something similar enough to compare.

I did find this article interesting. I live at 6000 feet. The main thing I have done is switch to weight measuring. I find it makes up for a lot of the issues. I do add liquid and sometimes will reduce sugar or raise the oven temp but it’s hit or miss.
mtnnewf November 10, 2019
I concur with looking at Pie in the Sky, by Susan G. Purdy. (Look in your library.) I live at 9200 ft and it's saved me. Not only does she have recipes adjusted for every altitude (unless you live in a cabin at 12000 ft), and gives some advice about "altituding" a recipe. As for your pecan pie recipe, Susan Purdy says that precooking the filling on the stove before filling the pie will help; it's saved my pie.