High Altitude Baking: Coffee Cake

Happy January!  I have two weeks left of my maternity leave and I'm trying to make the most of it by spending lots of quality time with Baby Ady before she starts daycare.  It's going by so fast!  While I'm home I've been using my crock pot a lot, working on some yarn projects, taking long walks with Ady and Kua, reading, and doing some baking. 

I have struggled with high altitude baking since moving to Santa Fe 5 1/2 years ago.  Cookies turn out okay, but I usually have to make some adjustments with cakes, and my breads are often mushy in the middle and crispy on the ends.  I can get by okay with a few of my favorite recipes that I have practiced multiple times, but it's often hit or miss.  For Christmas, my secret santa got me this amazing cook book, Pie in the Sky: Successful Baking at High Altitudes, that explains the chemistry behind high altitude baking and gives suggestions for adjustments to make at various altitudes.  Ingenious!  The idea for the book actually originated here in Santa Fe, at 7500 feet elevation.  To be honest, while I have experimented with an additional egg or changing baking times, I've never given much thought to oven rack position or strengthening the batter with extra flour.  I'm learning a lot already.  I used the book for the first time this month by baking coffee cake for my book club brunch.  It was moist and fluffy and the consistency was perfect!  (I also got to use the homemade vanilla extract that another friend gave me for Christmas!)


Pie in the Sky: Successful Baking at High Altitudes

Sour Cream Streusel Coffee Cake
From Pie in the Sky

At 7,000 feet and above:

For Topping-Filling Crumb Mixture:
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon

For Cake:
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (softened)
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs (room temperature)
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/3 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

1.  Position oven rack in lower third of oven.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the designated pan.  (The recipe calls for a Bundt pan, but you can also use a 9x13 rectangular pan.)

2.  Prepared the topping-filling crumb mixture by mixing all ingredients in a small bowl, then set aside.

3.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until well blended.  Scrape down the bowl and beater.  Beat in the eggs a couple at a time, along with the sour cream, milk, and vanilla.  Beat well to blend, then scrape down bowl and beater.

4.  With the beater on the lowest speed, slowly add the dry ingredients, stirring just to incorporate them completely, but don't over-beat.  Scrape down the bowl again, then beat another few seconds.  The batter should be smooth, thick, and creamy.

5.  Sprinkle about half the crumb mixture onto the bottom of the prepared baking pan.  Spoon about half the batter over the crumbs, sprinkle onto the remaining crumbs, then cover with the remaining batter and smooth the top.  Bake 50 to 55 minutes (for this altitude), or until cake is well-risen, golden-brown, and a cake testing in the center comes out clean.  Cool the cake in its pan on a wire rack for no less than 20 minutes to release steam.

Note:  I don't own a Bundt pan, but I discovered some good resources about converting recipes to different size pans at Comfortably Domestic blog and Food 52.  I baked for 45 to 50 minutes, and put the crumb mixture on top instead of on the bottom of the pan.  Also, I added more walnuts and cinnamon to the crumb mixture.

Letting the cake cool


I look forward to exploring more recipes from this book throughout the year, so stay tuned!


  1. Made it in Santa Fe. Substituted Cup for Cup to make Celiac friendly.

    Thought it was good. The crust is a bit thick..probably necessary for altitude.

    Also changed topping to local pecans and brown sugar. Would add more topping next time.

    Thanks.. we make a pear cardamom sour cream coffe cake and will use this dough as a base... High altitude baking became easier.


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