High Altitude Gluten Free Baking Tips

Learning to make gluten free baked goods can be very challenging.  It was definitely a learning process for me!  It took quite a while, and many failures to learn how to handle these new flours.  Additionally, because gluten free flours don’t have the protein network of gluten to support the structure of the baked good, my altitude of 5,000 feet added an extra challenge.  After 8 years of learning, here’s some of my high altitude gluten free baking tips:

  • Gluten free flours cannot combine with the same amount of butter as wheat based flours.  This is even more apparent at higher altitudes.  When converting a recipe designed for wheat flours, I always reduce the butter.  Oil is not as significant an issue, but I still often reduce it a little.  So for example, if a recipe calls for 2 sticks of butter, I add 1 1/2, or maybe 1 3/4.  It takes a little trial and error.  But hey…fewer calories, right?!
  • Sugar also needs to be reduced in gluten free baked goods at higher altitudes.  If you have ever noticed a shiny, almost wet appearance on the top of a cake after it has cooled, it has too much sugar.  I even will reduce the sugar in gluten free recipes if I know they were created at lower altitudes.  I love Cook’s Illustrated, and I use several recipes from their gluten free cookbook.  But I usually reduce the sugar since I know they are cooking in Boston, at sea level.  It usually doesn’t require a huge amount of reduction.  For a recipe calling for 1 cup, I use 3/4 cup.
  • Let the batter rest whenever you can.  Gluten free flours have a lot of starch.  These starches will hydrate after the batter has been mixed and will perform better with a rest.  This is really key in cookies, and in muffins.  Cake batters are so moist it doesn’t seem to be such an issue.
  • Gluten free baked goods need xanthan gum, or guar gum, or psyllium powder to provide structure.  If you are converting a recipe, you will have to add this in.  I mostly stick to xanthan gum.  I have tried guar gum, and psyllium husk powder…meh.  Not so convinced.  Xanthan works for me, as long as you don’t overdo it.  Too much, and things get “gummy.”  Here’s the table I use:
  • For cookies, 1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour
  •  For cakes, 1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour
  •  For breads, 1 teaspoon per cup of flour.
  • While I’m on the subject, to prevent sinking of cakes, be sure to bake the cake thoroughly.  I err on the side of overdone with my cakes.  The batter is more moist than wheat based batters, and the cakes really need to bake completely.  I usually bake 5 – 10 minutes longer than suggested.  Touch the middle of the cake, in addition to testing with a toothpick.  It should spring back slightly, and not sink when touched.
  • Leavening is an undecided issue for me.  For wheat based recipes, it is recommended to reduce the leavening at higher altitudes.  But I am usually using yeast more for flavoring than leavening, and adding baking powder as a secondary leavener.  I have not needed to reduce leavening at 5,000 feet.  But I will have to do some baking at higher elevations to see if this holds true up in the mountains.

I hope this gives you some ideas for converting recipes, and for baking at higher altitudes gluten free.  Please feel free to ask me questions.  If I don’t know the answer, I will try to point you in the right direction!

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