Saturday, June 12, 2010

Best Chocolate Cake for High Altitudes Yet

This year I decided to perfect the high-altitude from-scratch cake. Owl was very supportive of this New Year's Resolution. (He likes baking goals better than my occasional threat to ban sugar.)

Today I hesitated as to whether I wanted to make a cake. He said, "I don't think you're all that serious about this food blog."


Ah...then I realized he was playing with my mind. Well, it worked. He got his cake.

This is a very good chocolate cake for high altitudes--the best I've found yet. Those of you who bake way up here know that often (even with the best of intentions) you end up with frisbee cakes or sucken centers that require some serious frosting action in the middle to cover it up. Or if they don't fall, they can be dry.

Unless you use a cake mix. But I'll get to discussing that later.

Hershey's High Altitude Chocolate Cake

Hershey's has adjustments at the bottom of their recipe, which made me feel singled out as abnormal. High-altitude bakers can be very sensitive. If you are blessed to bake at sea level, see the recipe here.

1-3/4 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

1. Heat oven to 375°F. (Vital temperature change.) Grease and flour two 9-inch round pans or one 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick or handy-dandy cake thermometer inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes, then remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. (Cake may be left in rectangular pan, if desired.)

4. Frost if desired. I used this recipe, also from Hershey's, but for a different cake.

What we thought: This cake was very easy to make and required only the most basic ingredients, which is what I want for my go-to cake. It was very moist. It had the perfect domed top that did not fall. The chocolate flavor was very good. Owl did fault it that it wasn't as moist as carrot cake, but the man (or bird, I guess) could live on carrot cake. I mean, he faults my lasagna that it doesn't taste like carrot cake.

I have also tried Susan Purdy's recipe, a high altitude recipe from a state extension, and a Pillsbury recipe with adjustments. This was by far the best. Let me say, that this is, again, in competition with basic chocolate cakes.

And no, Hershey didn't give me the old payola here. They don't even know I exist.


  1. I live in Denver, CO and tried this recipe tonight just for fun! It was DELICIOUS and turned out beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you! I moved to about 4200ft about a year, and since i can't cook, i like to bake, but it has been frustrating and inconsistent :( Wish me luck!

  3. A little update: this recipe works great for cupcakes too!

    1. Can you verify that the cupcakes are baked at 350 degrees for, say, 18 minutes?

    2. I have had good results from retaining the 375 degree temperature with a shorter cook-time. Maybe closer to 14 or 15 minutes? Altitude and oven will determine this. Let us know how this worked for you! High altitude bakers unite!

  4. Excellent recipe, pretty fast and simple. I tried it in Quito, Ecuador at 9350 feet and came up very well!!!

    1. I'm so glad it worked for you. You win the award for highest altitude to report on this recipe (so far)!

  5. I am a cake decorator in Colorado Springs and need to make a stacked cake with a 10"x3" round, an 8"x3" round, and a 6"x2" round. Could you please give me the temperature and times for each of these cakes? I've not been a good baker at high altitude and have ruined many a cake and am hoping this recipe will be the answer to my prayers!

    1. Oh, goodness me. Getting different cake sizes right at different altitudes requires some trial and error.

      4 suggestions

      1. I would start here for time tables:

      2. I would raise the temperature listed on those time tables by 25 degrees and then start testing for doneness 10-15 minutes earlier than listed. (and even earlier for your 6" pan since it is only 2" deep).

      3. I would try it out early enough that you aren't stressed at the last minute! (Though all the cake decorators I know have nerves of steel.)

      4. A great baker once told me to keep a pizza stone at the bottom of the oven to help maintain temperature (vital for delicate baked goods).

      Good luck to you!

    2. One clarification: the pizza stone goes on the bottom rack, not by the heating element. Happy baking!

  6. I hope this works. We just recently moved to Denver and I was wondering why my go-to birthday cakes were overflowing the pans. Poor dad and son had to have a Mr-Twit-looking cake. It was a mess,,.. until I realized that there's such a thing as high-altitude baking. I am not into baking so it took me a while to clue in..Thank you for your post.

  7. I'm testing this recipe for the first time on cupcakes for my grandkids preschool graduation party tomorrow. I sure hope they turnout well. I'm at a 4500 ft. elevation, in beautiful Glorieta NM. The kids love chocolate so this was an easy pick. I'll post my results barring any mishaps ! Thaks for sharing these recipes.

  8. I live at 5400 elevation. I made this cake and followed it to a T and both rounds sank :( what could I have done wrong??

  9. This recipe rocked it here in Lake Tahoe, elev. 6226. I used a bundt pan, baking for 40 minutes. Perfect!

  10. I tried this recipe tonight and it turned out incredible! Thank you so much. (Denver) Instead of 1 cup of boiling water, try using 1 cup of hot coffee instead. The coffee boosts the chocolate flavor.

  11. This reminds me so much of my granny's recipe (may she R.I.P) but we used buttermilk in place of regular milk and as one stated above if you use hot coffee in place of the boiling water...ooooohlala....Good stuff...Thank you so much for posting this recipe....I love chocolate cake fresh out of the oven with butter....even better then frosting...

  12. Tried this today -- just moved to Spearfish, SD and have had plenty of cake-fails. This one looks gorgeous, can't wait to eat it!

  13. thank you so much finally a recipe that actually works in the high altitude I changed it a little bit I used fine sugar and I also used buttermilk in this recipe I did have to cook it at 375 for exactly 20 minutes they are so yummy thank you thank you thank you! Your my hero!