Cooking at altitude — with attitude
Updated: Jul 20
I get a lot of questions from people about baking at high altitudes, but, honestly, it's not something I have expertise in. Last weekend, I finally had my chance to try my hand at it when I was cooking at the Beaver Creek Winter Culinary Weekend in Colorado, at an elevation of 8000 feet. One of the items that I made was a batch of cornbread croutons; because they're twice-baked — first in a sheet pan and then torn into pieces and toasted in a hot oven until crispy — I cranked up the oven a little bit and checked them regularly during the baking process to get the right texture.
One of the viewers of The Chew, however, knows a lot about high altitude baking and it was so fun to get an email from her about how she transformed my recipe for Ginger Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Icing into a birthday cake for her daughter. Pam Kraft, who lives in Encampment, Wyoming, at an altitude of 7200 feet above sea level, sent us a photo and her adapted recipe, which I just loved, and I'm thrilled that she was willing to let us share it.
Here are also a few tips that could come in handy if you are trying to transform a standard recipe for one that is being prepared at a high altitude:
• Reduce sugar, oil, and baking powder and/or baking soda
• Increase liquid ingredients, flour and oven temperature
• For breads, the gases that cause the dough to rise will expand faster
• Check items frequently while baking, because baking times will likely be shorter than on a standard recipe
Here's Pam's recipe — enjoy!
Pumpkin Ginger Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
3 tablespoons butter (or more, if needed for greasing)
Flour (for dusting pans)
1 ½ cups light brown sugar minus 2 tablespoons
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 can pumpkin puree (15 ounces)
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
Scant ½ teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup crystallized ginger (finely chopped, tossed in 1 tablespoon flour)
Carla’s Cream Cheese Frosting (see below)
1 10-ounce jar lemon curd
Preheat oven to 385°F. Grease three seven-inch cake pans with butter and line with disks of parchment or waxed paper cut to fit the bottom of each pan. Grease waxed paper or parchment and dust lightly with flour.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the eggs, sugar, oil, water, and pumpkin and mix until combined.
In a large bowl add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and black pepper and whisk to combine.
Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in batches, and mix until just combined. Add the crystallized ginger and fold to incorporate. Divide evenly among the three pans and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes or until the cakes pull away from the sides of the pans. Gently run a knife around each pan and invert onto a cooling rack. Carefully peel the parchment or waxed paper from the bottom of each cake and allow to cool completely.
Prepare the cream cheese frosting according to Carla’s recipe.
If necessary, level tops of two of the cakes with a serrated knife to make them relatively flat. Invert the first layer on a serving plate. Using a piping tube with a 1/2 “ diameter opening, pipe a circle of frosting around the outside edge of the first layer. Fill the piped circle with lemon curd. Place the second trimmed layer on top of the first layer and repeat the process by piping the cream cheese frosting around the outside edge and filling with lemon curd. Place the third, untrimmed layer, right side up, on top of the second layer. (If you want a very flat top on your completed cake, you may want to trim the top of the third layer and invert it in the same manner that you did the first and second layers. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.
Carla's Cream Cheese Frosting
2 packages cream cheese (softened, 8 ounces each)
1 stick butter (softened)
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the cream cheese and butter and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the powdered sugar gradually, beating until well combined. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.