I’m so happy you follow my blog posts and want to try my recipes, and I want you to be successful in your baking! As I develop my recipes, I test most of them dozens of times over the years, and I stand behind them. I’ve put together a few FAQs that I hope will help answer your questions.
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Where do you live?
I live near Denver, Colorado (5,280 feet above sea level, which is why this is called the “mile high city”), but specifically, I’m in the city of Aurora, at about 5,400 feet above sea level. I personally develop and test every recipe on this website at this altitude.
Why does high altitude affect recipes?
As elevation rises, air pressure falls. So a city that resides at 3,000 feet above sea level will have lower air pressure than one at sea level or low altitude. The higher the elevation, the lower the air pressure, so someone baking at 10,000 feet will face even more challenges than someone at 5,000 feet. This lower air pressure at high altitude affects baked goods by causing them to rise more quickly and lose moisture faster. The reason liquid evaporates more quickly at high altitude is because water actually boils at a lower temperature.
Every baker who lives in the mountains or foothills has seen the effect that low air pressure has on their baked goods. Cookies, cakes, muffins, breads, and even candy making and canning can all be affected by altitude. Think flat cookies that spread all over the baking sheet. Cakes that are sunken in the middle with a dense, coarse or gummy texture. Muffins or cupcakes that spill out onto the pan instead of rising with a nice domed top. Results like this are a sad reality for many home bakers, but it doesn’t have to be this way. And I’m here to help with recipes that I’ve tested and adjusted repeatedly to ensure consistent, reliable results at high altitude.
How do you adjust a recipe for high altitude?
Generally speaking, when baking at high altitude, you need to use more flour, more liquid, less sugar and less leavening. The additional flour will help to stabilize the structure of the dough or batter. The extra liquid adds moisture to compensate for what is lost through quicker evaporation (this liquid may be in the form of milk, oil or even an extra egg or egg yolk). Less sugar improves the texture so that your baked goods aren’t gummy or overly caramelized, since sugar becomes more concentrated at high altitude. And by reducing the leavening (baking soda and baking powder), you’ll better control the rise of your baked goods, so that they rise steadily and evenly, rather than rising quickly and collapsing.
Here is an excellent article by King Arthur Baking with charts on how to convert a recipe from low altitude to high altitude, which sea level bakers can simply reverse for converting from high altitude to low altitude. Another good resource is the Colorado State University Extension for high altitude food preparation.
And if you are more than about 1500 feet higher than me (elevations of 6900 feet above sea level and higher), then you will likely need to make a few more adjustments to my recipes to ensure good results.
Will your recipes only work at high altitude or can I make them if I live at sea level?
This is the most frequent question I get from visitors to my site. If I’ve labeled a recipe as “high altitude” in the title, then it’s something that’s more affected by altitude than other bakes. For example, baked goods containing chemical leaveners, such as cakes, cupcakes, cookies, muffins, brownies, bar cookies and some breads are the most affected by high altitudes. Other recipes like ice cream, no bake cheesecake, cutout cookies (without leavening), buttercream, fruit crumbles, pies and tarts are affected the least, if at all.
So to answer your question, you may or may not need to make adjustments for sea level baking. For cakes and other baked goods, you will likely need to reduce the flour by several tablespoons and slightly increase the leavening for it to rise correctly at sea level or low altitude. However, I’ve had feedback from many people who make my recipes at sea level without adjusting them, and they’ve reported back that they’ve worked out great for them.
Can you provide me the specific recipe adjustments for my altitude?
This is not something I’m able to do, obviously since I cannot test my recipes anywhere but where I live, so I’m not comfortable telling you something will work if I haven’t personally tested it. When you see a recipe that was created for sea level or low altitude, and the author provides high altitude adjustments, chances are, they’re simply making an educated guess. So unless they’ve hired a recipe tester to test every single one of their recipes at high altitude, there’s no way they can predict the outcome. It would be the same thing if I were to make a guess as to what would work at an altitude other than the one I live in. Some people might advise just to add an extra 1/4 cup of flour or an extra egg, and they’ll tell you that will solve everything, but unfortunately, it’s just not always that simple or straightforward. Even things like the type of leavening you use (baking soda vs baking powder, or whole eggs vs just egg yolks) or the type of fat (butter vs oil) will make a difference at high altitude, and these are variables that I test in my recipes to get the results I’m looking for.
How many times do you test your recipes?
I test most of my recipes at least three times, but there are some that I’ve tested as many as a dozen times to get them just right.
Do you take all your own pictures?
Yes, I photograph all of my recipes myself. See this post for how I learned food photography.
What camera do you use?
Currently I use a Nikon D5200, with 50mm and 35mm lenses.
Do you use bake even cake strips for flat level cakes?
No. I’ve tried bake even cake strips (both the Wilton ones and the ones made at home out of damp towel strips), and I hate them. HATE them. Cakes take about twice as long to bake, and they seem to end up with a weird, damp, gummy layer at the bottom, causing the cake to collapse as soon as you take them out of the oven. I don’t waste my time with them. It’s just not a big deal to have to slice off a tiny portion of cake to remove the domed top for even stacking of layer cakes.
Is your oven gas or electric?
I have an electric oven. I have baked in gas ovens before, and found them to heat very unevenly, with the temperature rising and falling dramatically while in use, leading to poorly baked goods. So hands down, I prefer electric ovens. I also suggest you keep an oven thermometer inside your oven to ensure your oven is calibrated correctly and heating to the temperature it should be.
Why didn’t my cake turn out?
There could be many, many reasons. Please read this blog post where I’ve addressed many of these types of questions.
What about substitutions?
Can I substitute skim milk, buttermilk or non-dairy milk for whole milk, yogurt instead of sour cream, egg substitute for eggs, margarine or oil for butter, etc? Once you start making substitutions and deviating from the recipe I’ve tested, I can’t tell you how it’s going to turn out. Sometimes a substitution will work well, and other times, not so much. If you use a liquid fat (oil) instead of a solid fat (butter), the result will be different. If you use an acidic dairy product (buttermilk) instead of a non-acidic dairy product (whole milk), it will react differently with the leavening and the result will be different. My advice would be to always try a recipe as it’s written and tested, and then gradually experiment with substitutions to see how it turns out. I also have no experience with non-dairy, vegan or gluten-free baking, and can’t offer advice for substitutions.
Are cake flour, all-purpose flour, self-rising flour and gluten-free flours interchangeable?
Absolutely not! I use all-purpose flour for many of my cakes, but if a cake recipe calls for cake flour, it will yield a lighter, fluffier crumb than all-purpose flour (a quality that is especially desirable in a white cake). In a pinch, you can create your own cake flour by removing 2 tablespoons of flour from each cup of all-purpose flour and whisking in 2 tablespoons of corn starch.
Self-rising flour is popular in the South and contains leavening; it is never a suitable substitute for cake flour or all-purpose flour as the added leavening would require the entire recipe to be re-written. I have no use for self-rising flour, and don’t even keep it on hand, although I have occasionally used it in crumb toppings, and it’s just fine in those. It’s most commonly used in recipes for biscuits and pancakes, but again, I have no use for it, and when I’ve experimented with it in biscuits, found that it made a far inferior biscuit.
Gluten-free flours are also not great substitutes in cake recipes, and in my experience, tend to make baked goods a little more dry, coarse and crumbly. I’ve used gluten-free flour in my fudge brownies recipe with decent results, but have not tried it in any of my cake recipes. There are some “measure-for-measure” gluten free flours on the market that get good reviews, though, it that’s something you want to try.
Another question that comes up is regarding Hungarian High Altitude Flour. This is a hard wheat flour grown at high altitude in Colorado, the Dakotas and Montana, and it’s available in grocery stores mainly throughout Colorado, New Mexico and a few other Southwest areas. This flour contains about 12% protein, similar to bread flour, making it a good option for yeast breads, cinnamon rolls, homemade buns, and even some cookie recipes. So although it’s grown at high altitude, this flour doesn’t work any better than other flours when baking at high altitude.
What type of cocoa powder do you use?
First, did you know that cocoa powder is acidic, and affects the way your cakes rise (in addition to the use of other acidic ingredients such as buttermilk, coffee, brown sugar, pumpkin, fruit purees, vinegar)?
To simplify things, there are two basic types of unsweetened cocoa powder: natural and Dutch-processed. Natural cocoa powder contains acid and will react with the baking soda in your recipe. In Dutch processed cocoa, an alkalizing agent has been added to the cocoa nibs, and as a result, it will not react with baking soda (meaning your cake will need baking powder for leavening as well, and/or other acidic ingredients that can react with the baking soda to give it rise). This difference is important when baking cakes, but will have no impact on a recipe that doesn’t contain any leavening, such as ice cream, hot chocolate, chocolate sauce, fudge brownies, buttercream, pudding, etc.
My personal preference for years was Hershey’s Special Dark (which is actually a blend of natural and Dutch process) for cakes and brownies, because I liked the dark chocolate flavor and rich, dark color it lends to baked goods. Sadly, they recently changed their formula, and it’s no longer the dark cocoa powder I’ve used and loved. Now I mostly use Rodelle Dutch-processed cocoa powder, which I really love, as well Drost and King Arthur Double Dutch Dark Cocoa Powder. I tend to use natural unsweetened cocoa powder for buttercream, or a combination of natural and dark/dutch. For a more comprehensive look at cocoa powder and the chemistry behind the different types, please read this article.
Do my dairy products need to be at room temperature or can I use them cold from the fridge?
When baking cakes, it’s a good idea to let your dairy (milk, eggs, sour cream, etc.) warm up a bit, as they just mix up better into the batter than when you use cold ingredients.
What size eggs do you use?
Large eggs. They average about 1/4 cup each (2 ounces), so if a recipe calls for 4 eggs, it should evenly fill a liquid measuring cup. If your eggs are on the small side, use more to get the correct volume. Generally, an egg yolk makes up 1/3 of the volume and the egg white makes up 2/3 of the volume. If you are using egg yolks for making ice cream, lemon curd, or custard, save those whites; you can freeze the whites, thaw them out and use them in my White Velvet Cake.
Can I microwave my butter to soften it for buttercream?
Please don’t. It will soften unevenly with melted spots and will not whip up into a good buttercream. Plan ahead and set out your butter with sufficient time to soften on your kitchen counter. If I’m going to be frosting a cake in the morning, I will set out my butter the night before. That said, in the winter, sometimes my kitchen can be too cold to sufficiently soften butter, and I will occasionally help it along by microwaving it very briefly, and on a very low power setting. I do this very cautiously.
Do you measure your ingredients by volume or weight?
I mostly use US volume measurements (cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons) for both dry and wet ingredients. Although many professional bakers insist that weighing your ingredients is the best way (and I’m certainly not arguing the accuracy of it), I’m comfortable using volume measurements, and it works well for me.
To measure flour correctly by volume, you should always aerate your flour before measuring, by using a spoon or whisk to move it around the canister and make sure it’s not compacted. When measuring cups of flour, be sure to use the “spoon and sweep method”. This means that you do not use the measuring cup to scoop flour out of the bag or canister, which can compact it into your cup causing you to measure out more than you should; instead, you should use a spoon to lightly spoon the flour into the measuring cup, then use the back of a knife (or your finger) to sweep the flour off the top to level the cup. For brown sugar, I lightly pack it into the measuring cup.
There are many online calculators you can use to convert my recipes to ounces or grams, if you’re more comfortable measuring by weight. I will often use weights (in pounds and ounces) for ingredients such as chopped chocolate for ganache, or fruit for pies, and other ingredients that are difficult to measure in cups. Make sure you use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients like flour and sugar, and liquid measuring cups for liquids like milk, lemon juice and oil.
Why do you add meringue powder to your buttercream?
I add a tablespoon of meringue powder to every batch of buttercream as it adds a little extra stability, but it can be left out. You can find it in the baking aisle of craft stores such as Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, and Joanne’s, or online.
Do you use salted or unsalted butter?
I always use unsalted butter for both cooking and baking, so that I can control the saltiness of the recipe. I’ll usually add a little pinch of salt to my buttercream which plays nicely with the sweetness.
What kind of salt do you use?
Coarse Kosher salt, Kroger brand. If you use a finer salt, then the saltiness of the dish will be more pronounced, and you will need to use less. For every teaspoon of coarse Kosher salt, you should use 1/2 teaspoon table salt.
How do I keep the buttercream on my cake from melting on a hot day?
I understand the angst of baking and decorating a beautiful cake and then worrying about it sitting for hours in a hot kitchen, or even outside at an event. If it’s outside, you should ensure it’s sitting in the shade, and never in the sun. A little trick you can use to stabilize your buttercream in warm weather is simply to substitute vegetable shortening for half of the butter. Shortening has a higher melting point than butter, and when whipped into buttercream, it creates a more stable product without adversely affecting the flavor. I would never use just shortening, since that won’t taste as good as half butter and half shortening will.
My buttercream is ivory/yellowish in color from the butter, so how do I make it nice and white?
First, substituting vegetable shortening for half of the butter will give you a nice white buttercream. Second, the longer you whip your buttercream, the lighter it will be in color, so be sure you whip it on medium-high speed for at least 4-5 minutes with your stand mixer. Third, some cake decorators swear that by adding a teeny tiny dab of violet gel food coloring, it neutralizes the yellow color of the butter and whitens the buttercream; I’ve only tried this once, and wasn’t sure if it worked or not, but it’s worth trying.
Can I make a cake ahead of time and freeze it?
Yes, I often bake cakes a week or two ahead, if I know my schedule is going to be tight when it’s time to frost and decorate them, and I also find that freezing a warm cake seals in even more moisture so that the cake tastes incredibly fresh when you thaw it out. Just bake and cool your cakes, then wrap each layer individually in two layers of plastic wrap. You can freeze for up to several months, if needed. Thaw the cakes out at room temperature the night before you plan to frost them.
Can I make buttercream ahead of time and freeze it?
Buttercream freezes very well, and I always have zip-lock bags of leftover buttercream in my freezer which I use for various projects, like spreading over brownies, filling cookies, frosting small individual cakes or cupcakes, or for extra piping on cakes. In fact, when I make buttercream, I almost always make more than what I know I will need for that cake, because a stash of extra buttercream is extremely useful. You can freeze buttercream for up to several months, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, and bring to room temperature for a few hours before you need to use it. Sometimes I will re-whip the buttercream with my mixer if the texture seems to be a little dry after freezing.
How do you get a cake to bake more level?
Most of my cakes bake pretty level without my doing anything special to them. After filling them with batter, I usually tap them on the counter a few times to release any large bubbles, and give the pan a gentle swirl to swirl the batter up the sides a little, which helps encourage the batter to climb the sides of the pans and rise evenly across the top. There are “bake-even” strips available that you can wrap around the outside of your pans, which is supposed to conduct the heat more evenly resulting in more level cakes, but I’ve only used them once (with disastrous results).
May I share your recipe on my own blog?
I ask that you do not re-post my recipes or photos on your own blog, even if you’re giving me credit for them, as that is copyright infringement. You can write on your blog that you made my recipe, and then link (a dofollow link) to my original post to direct your readers to my website for the recipe.
Why do you have so many ads on your website?
I totally get that ads can be annoying, but having them on my site pays my bills. While my recipes and website are free for you to use, it’s definitely not free for me to maintain. Many costs are associated in running a website and developing recipes, including cost of ingredients and groceries, baking pans and equipment, labor and time to test recipes, website hosting and domain costs, website security, e-mail subscription costs, social media planning apps, photography equipment (camera, lenses, tripods, lighting, backdrops, photo editing apps), photography courses, and dishes and other photography props. By scrolling through each post to get to the recipe card at the bottom, you’re helping to cover these expenses, and I’m so grateful! With this ad income, I can continue to provide high altitude recipes and tutorials for you to access and enjoy.
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