The Perfect Altitude Cake

After many failures.  After much crying and tears shed.  After near moments of sheer rage where I simply wanted to throw caution and my entire kitchen setup to the wind, I have FOUND it.  I have DONE it.  I have made the perfect Altitude Cake.  I have made an adapted chocolate cake for high altitude!

It is chocolaty.  It is delicious.  It is moist!  And it is NOT dense!  I made this cake once before, but it did not turn out as good as it did this time.  This won’t be something for which all of you get to joy and jump around the kitchen screaming praises to God, because all of you are not living at 12,000 ft above sea level, you lucky freaks.

For those of you who have to deal with falling cakes, well you will love me!

Alright, so I can’t take full credit for this cake recipe.  It is a tweaked recipe.  The original I found on All Recipes.  If you have never been to said site, you are missing out and need to head over there as soon as you are done reading this!   Dark Chocolate Cake is the name of the recipe that I found and tweaked.  If you live where altitude is no problem, then you can just click that link and make according to that recipe.  NOTE: I would highly suggest using the comments as a guide.  More often than not, you will find adjustments there that make all the difference.  

Here are my adjustments with notes provided with each ingredient as needed.

Dark Chocolate Perfect Altitude Cake

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour PLUS 2 tbsp
    Note: Don’t measure the flour exactly.  The goal is to measure out more than needed.  Spoon the flour out into the cup and instead of scrapping off the excess flour that piles on top of the measuring cup, just pour it in.  Then, add two tbsp more of flour.  This gives the mixture more structure.  
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
    Note: When you are baking at high altitude, leavening products become a huge challenge.  The idea is for each tsp of leavening called for reduce to a 1/4 tsp.  So, 2 tsp was the original amount so we reduce it to 1/2 tsp.
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    Note: Again, more leavening.  Since there was so much, I cut this in half from the original amount which was 1/2 tsp.  
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, melted
    Note: Usually you would cream the butter and sugar together.  Instead, you are going to melt the butter and mix the sugar with it.  I’ll explain that later.    
  • 2 1/4 cups white sugar MINUS 1-2 tbsp
    Note: Baking at high altitude, sugar also affects the outcome of a product.  It’s necessary to take out a certain quantity of sugar.  I left out about 1-2 tbsp of sugar.  
  • 5-6 eggs
    Note:  The original recipe called for 4 eggs.  You will want to add more, this also contributes to the amount of liquid in the mixture and the out-coming structure.  The eggs we get in Peru are various in size, some are extremely small, so I used 6 eggs in my mixture.  If you have all pretty well sized eggs just use 5.     
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
How It’s Done
Note:
explanations and more in-depth directions are all in italics.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).  When baking at higher altitude, it’s necessary to increase the temperature of the oven.  It’s usually the basic rule of thumb to increase the temperature by 25 degrees.  You need the liquid in the batter to evaporate quicker so the overall structure will set before it can rise too much and then break and fall.  

Grease 3 – 9 inch round cake pans or one 9×13″ pan.  In a medium bowl, pour the boiling water over the cocoa, and whisk until smooth. Set aside and let cool.
In another bowl sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Basic note for baking at high altitude.  Mixing and beating the batter by hand will give you more control over how much air is incorporated into the mixture.  I will explain as we go along why the amount of air in a batter is so important.  

All seems nice and normal until this point.  Here I did something that I thought was going to ruin my cake.  I melted my butter over low heat on the stove and added the sugar to this, whisking until well incorporated.  Now, the first reason I did this was because the Handicap Kitchen mixer caught on fire and is out of commission.
 The second reason is my theory for why this is necessary.  When you cream your sugar and butter together you are essentially creating pockets of air in your fatty product (butter).  Butter is not the only thing that does this in a cake batter, eggs also do this.  But, while a cake is baking at high altitude it’s important to not have TOO many air bubbles.  The leavening products react with the air pockets and cause them to grow.  This is their job!  But, at high altitudes this process happens a lot quicker and if there are a lot of air pockets and a lot of leavening product in your cake batter it will break and fall.  You will cry.  So, the challenge is to beat air into the batter in moderation with a reduction of leavening.  Make sense?  So, by melting the butter, I basically removed one more constituent of the danger of getting too many air pockets.  

Once you’ve mixed your sugar and butter together beat in the eggs.  It’s important to not beat the eggs in all at once.  However, you do want to be careful of beating the mixture too much.  I beat in two eggs at a time twice and then the rest of the times one egg at a time.  Does that make sense?  If you beat the eggs too much you will have to problem of too many air pockets.  You need to beat in the eggs just until they are mixed into the batter.  This should be approximately beating ten times for each (or pair) of eggs.  

Then stir in vanilla.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa mixture.  It’s important at this point that you stir instead of beat.  If you beat you may add too many air pockets.  Work carefully, folding the flour into the batter and mixing in the cocoa mixture.  

Spread batter evenly between the 3 prepared pans or into the 9×13″ pan.
Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool.  I find that at high altitudes it takes a bit longer to bake cakes all the way through.  You may need more like 30-45 minutes.  

Please, if you have any questions, leave a comment and ask, or send an email to thehandicappedkitchen at gmail dot com.

Have you ever baked at high altitude?  What were your experiences?
Also, find me on Facebook and like the page to get updates about what I’m making and when!  Find me here.
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61 thoughts on “The Perfect Altitude Cake

  1. Trevor, thanks for all the high altitude baking tips. I live in northern Arizona at about 5000 ft, which is very low compared to where you are, but this altitude still has its baking issues. I really appreciate all your explanations as to why you incorporate certain ingredients in certain ways. No one has ever explained that before.

  2. I recently moved from sea level (literally as we lived 5 miles from the beach in California) to Colorado at 6200 feet. I love to bake but have been struggling to make a worthy chocolate cake. After several attempts at what was claimed to be the perfect cake recipe for my elevation (and many failures) I am so glad I gave this one an attempt. It was PERFECT! I did make a couple slight adjustments since I am at a much lower elevation from you but not many. Thank you for going to all your trouble and posting this recipe. I will make it again and again…
    PS… I’m also a huge fan of All Recipes – have used it for years and far more successes than failures.

  3. I’m at 5400 feet in Colorado and trying this cake today for my husband’s birthday. We’re so looking forward to it. I’ll let you know how it goes – Thank You!

  4. 7,3000 feet in Colorado here (lots of Coloradans here, it seems :). Looking for the perfect high-altitude chocolate cake, thanks for the recipe – can’t wait to try!

    squidbasedink.wordpress.com

  5. I made you amazing chocolate cake and it was a dream. My husband loved it so I shared with our neighbors. It was a hit! You need to know I’ve never made chocolate cake from scratch before so I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your winning recipe. Living at 8200 ft in the Andes in Ecuador I share not only the altitude challenges but also the ingredient limitations. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • Finally! Someone over 8,000 ft!! Hard to find good info on recipes at this kind of High Altitude. Can’t wait to try it here in NM! Thanks to all!

      • That’s exactly why I had to make this recipe because no one had any information for those of us loving in the clouds!!! :P How did it turn out for you?

  6. Great recipe! My question is after you mix the butter and sugar together and start adding everything else, do you still leave it on low on the burner? Or do you take it off the burner to add the rest of the ingredients? Also, how high do we fill the 9″ pans? All the way to the top, half way, almost to the top? Thanks! Delicious cake, I could not stop eating the batter!

    • Hi Carol! Good questions! This is what I do. After I melt the butter on the stove top I remove it from the heat and then mix in the sugar and everything else. You don’t want it to be super hot when you start mixing in the egg because then you’ll be cooking your egg. Just melt the butter enough to get it into liquid form. As to the cake pan, I would use a 9×13″ pan and I’d fill her all the way up. If you’re using two 9×9″ pans just split the batter between them. I hope this helps!

  7. Hello and thank you for this amazing recipe. I live across the lake in La Paz and this is the first recipe that I have tried here that works! Thank you for bringing cake back into my life.

  8. I had to try this recipe, not only because I’ve struggled with high altitude cakes since I moved to Corado, but also because your introduction to the recipe had me in stitches.. (It’s funny because it’s TRUE!) Anyway, I made cupcakes with your recipe and they turned out just perfect. I was never even able to make cake like this at sea level! YAY! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Oh… and…. THANK YOU!

    (One side note: since I’m only at about 6500 ft. I followed the high altitude instructions only up until I got to the butter. That, I creamed and finished the recipe as you would in a low altitude recipe. The proportion of flour to leavening was the real silver bullet for me as was the baking temp. Just this bit of adjustment produced the perfect cake at 6500 ft.)

  9. This looks great! I’m 16 years old and absolutely love baking. I am trying to find good cupcake recipes that actually work in Denver. Do you think this will work for cupcakes?

  10. I’ve just moved to Colorado from the UK and found that none of my UK recipes are working! They’re all a disaster! I can’t wait to try this receipe! Thanks for all details!
    One question- Do I allow cakes to cool while in the pans, or remove from the pans and place on a cooling rack to cool?

  11. Great (no – really great – I love it) chocolate cake recipe. I live in Taos, NM at 7800Ft. I have struggled with sad ugly cakes, too. This has a lot of really great tips and a perfect recipe guideline – leaving room for creativity by educating the baker on the inportant factors of HA baking. Thanks. My family is much happier for having known it.

  12. I live in Bogotá at 8500Ft, and have been afraid to make a cake from scratch. Your recipe was perfect!! It not only didn’t sink in the middle, but the texture was great, too. Many thanks! I also appreciated the explanations so I can apply the principles to other recipes.

  13. I have to make a second comment about this cake. It was such a hit at my work, that everyone is begging me to make it again. I best get started.
    Sheila

    • Good! You know, I’ve never tried, but I bet that you could! I wouldn’t take out the extra cups of boiling water though, even though you are not putting in any chocolate, especially if you are baking at high altitude. The extra liquids in the cake are essential for high altitude baking. :)

  14. Hi! I live in Colorado Springs :-) and I tried this cake last night. It worked!!! The cake didn’t fall, it wasn’t dry and best of all, it is deeeliiicious! I did everything you said. Melted the butter in the saucepan. Turned off the heat then stirred in the sugar. Transferred it to my mixer and stirred for a bit. Put in the eggs one at a time ( at about 10 strokes or less each lol) I used 5 extra large eggs at room temp. Then just followed all your instructions!!! Do you have other recipes :-) Thanks so much!!! Love love love!

    • Hey Pam! Awesome! I’m so glad this worked for you! Unfortunately, I don’t have any other high altitude baking recipes. I have been out of commission in the kitchen and haven’t experimented lately. I really want to try to implement some of these ideas for cookies too. Actually, now that I think about it, the recipe I have on the site for brownies is PERFECT for high altitude baking because it doesn’t have any leavening product. So, you should give that one a go! :)

  15. Okay I’m a foodie and really enjoy baking just about anything. I have to say Trevor this is a awesome cake. I followed your directions to the tee ( except I did add 1 tsp of cinnamon to the chocolate water because I think it really makes the chocolate shine and not the sugar). Living in Jackson hole at 6200 feet I was impressed at the height of the cakes (3 rounds). The taste is perfect very moist. Between the layers I put Carmel sauce and toasted pecans and then frosted with a chocolate butter cream. The only thing I would do different is I will flour just the bottom of the pans as I did have a bit of a struggle getting them to release even with a 10 minute rest time. Thanks so much for the recipe and instructions. Great commentary and very useful information that can be used on other recipes!

  16. I just baked this yesterday and it is wonderful. Finally a chocolate cake recipe that is delicious and works in the high altitude here in Colorado. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. Can’t wait to make it again.

  17. Have tried many cake and brownie recipes since moving to Bogota — this one works great — I goofed and left out the last 3/4 cup of flour — however — I had used some whole wheat flour, 4 eggs and about a cup of cooked pumpkin along with some cloves — and once the crowd gets home I doubt it will last the night. Thanks for your explanation and great instructions.

  18. I’m at about 7500 feet and this is the first cake that actually worked for me! Great! It did take about 40mins baking time for me. Nice and fluffy and a good flavour that I can play with. :)

  19. I could just CRY. My umpteenth chocolate cake at 8200 feet in Cuenca Ecuador…flat as a pancake in the centre! I’ve always lived at sea level in Nova Scotia Canada, so baking at high altitude has been…well…a CHALLENGE…I’ll try your cake tomorrow, once I’m over the latest trauma. Thanks!!

  20. I moved to vail Colorado about 2 years ago and this is by far the best chocolate cake recipe I’ve tried at high altitude. Thanks!

  21. Thank you soooo much for this recipe! I moved to Shawnee colorado at 8,200 ft from Pittsburgh pa and have been so incredibly frustrated with baking and cooking here. Def not used to it taking an hour to boil potatoes let alone baking! My husbands birthday is next week and I’m excited to give this a try!

    • I’m glad you found this recipe. I didn’t have anyone to explain all the high altitude baking stuff to me so I’m glad that I can share my wisdom. Let me know how this recipe goes for you!!!

  22. Hi! I’m curious; in the instructions it was mentioned to divide amongst 3 9″ cake pans, but in the comments it was recommended to split the batter between 2. Can you speak into this? Thank you! Very excited to have a fully-risen chocolate cake!

    • Hello Meredith! You know, I think I made that comment about 2 9″ pans and I goofed. I definitely meant 3. This recipe makes a pretty large amount of batter, and it wouldn’t fit in just two pans, I’m pretty sure. Also, you may want to make sure you dust the bottom of your pans with flour before pouring your batter in. That’ll help the cake release once it’s cooled. Thanks for visitin! Keep me posted on how your cake turns out!!! :)

  23. Hi Trevor! My daughter Laura just posted your recipe on my FB page and said it was perfectly delicious! She lives in Breckenridge Co. at 9600′ Funny but I never thought that altitude had ‘TUDE’ when baking a cake! Then, of course I live in Florida at 10 feet above sea level~~~ so what do -I- know?
    Nice blog! I noted you were on wordpress and thought I’d check it out. Keep up the informative work. You made my girl happy which made -me- happy! Thanks so much! Gina

    • Haha! Oh yes, it has quite the bad ‘tude.’ Maybe worse than a teenagers! I’m so glad this recipe has been working for your daughter! Even though you’re just at sea level (jealous) reading through how to make a cake at high altitude can help you understand what makes a cake a cake! I find it very interesting. Thanks for your comment!!!

  24. I am so excited to find this website! I have been searching everywhere for high-altitude baking tips. I live in Bolivia, so we are at exactly the same altitude. I have cried and cried and almost gave up baking altogether!! Everything I have tried before never worked. My cakes always came out super gooey and flat no matter what adjustment was made. I will have to give this a try because I am desperate for a good chocolate cake. You can not find it here!!

    • Yes, those feelings of desperation are completely familiar. I encourage you that you don’t give up!!! Only remember your limitations. You won’t be able to make everything, but you can make a lot with some practice. :) yes, good cake is hard to find down there. From what I remember its dry and has a weird citrusy taste regardless its intended flavor! Good luck my Altiplano friend! May all your baking endeavors end with fluffy cakes!

    • Awesome! You should be good using 8″ rounds as long as you use three. This makes a lot of batter! Hope your daughter has a happy birthday!!!

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