High Altitude Friendly Chocolate Cake

A rich, moist chocolate cake that won’t sink at high altitudes and still bakes beautifully at low altitudes.

As I mentioned in my last post, “Six Reasons Your Cakes Are Sinking,” I’ve had some trouble with my favorite chocolate cake recipe that I adapted from Sweetapolita. Since moving to Utah a year and a half ago, the cake has been sinking during the last few minutes of baking and when I take it out of the oven. My heart breaks each time this happens and even more so when I hear it happens to some of you. I did love hearing that like me, you didn’t toss it, but instead filled in the middle with trimmed cake pieces from leveling the cake. We can’t waist perfectly good tasting cake!

I did a lot of research as to why my chocolate cake was sinking and tested each possible culprit.

I checked my oven temperature with an internal thermometer and it’s right on target. So that wasn’t the problem. I checked all the expiration dates of my leavening agents. That wasn’t the problem either. Then I started working on my ingredients. Most sources I read said for high altitude baking (anything over 3,500 feet above sea level), you’re likely going to have to adjust the ingredients. So, I started with my baking powder and reduced it a bit. I also reduced my sugar too, and added a bit of flour and an extra egg to help create a stronger foundation and stabilize it. I also increased my baking temperature just a tad.

I’m not getting a dome like I do with white or vanilla cakes, but this recipe, adapted from Ina Garten, still comes out nearly level and has the rich, dark chocolate flavor I love about the Sweetapolita recipe. If you were having the same problem as me, you’re sink hole was nearly half way down the height of the cake. This is a HUGE improvement, if you ask me.

I was also just given the suggestion a couple days ago by Si from Abountiful Kitchen to try “Laurie and Amy’s Amazing Chocolate Cake” from her website. I haven’t had a chance to make it yet, but I’m definitely planning on it. I’m always open to suggestions!

High Altitude Friendly Chocolate Cake

Yield 3 8-inch round cake layers

A rich, moist dark chocolate that won't sink!


Chocolate Cake

  • 1 3/4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons (225 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups, minus 2 tablespoons (375 g) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cups (88.5 g) good quality dark cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons (8 g) baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3 g)baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5.6 g) kosher salt
  • 1 cup (240 g) buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup (109 g) vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon (4.2 g) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (236 g) hot water


  1. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Spray three 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray. (You can also use four 6-inch pans). Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper, then spray the pans again.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
  3. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, water and vanilla.
  4. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 16-18 minutes.  
  6. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
  7. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until ready to use. You're still going to want to level your cake layers to ensure a completely even surface for frosting and stacking.

Courtney Rich

I’m a self-taught baker, obsessed with cake.

I long ago ditched box mixes in pursuit of melt-in-your-mouth, to-die-for flavor combinations, fillings and textures. I believe cake must be decadent, life-changing and worthy of celebration! And I believe anyone should be able to bake that kind of cake – and I’m here to teach you just that!

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  1. Made these as cupcakes today even though she said they wouldn’t work (because I love this recipe for cake so much I had to try it) and they turned out great! Made roughly 28. Make sure not to fill them a drop past 2/3 though, err on just more than 1/2 full and they were perfect. Baked for 19 minutes. (Utah’s elevation)

    1. I also made cupcakes here in colorado (altitude 6000). I sifted all the dry ingredients and then hand mixed with a spatula versus electric mixer. Put only 1/2 in the cupcake pan and cooked for 15 mins. They came out wonderfully!

  2. I live at 5300 ft elevation and needed a chocolate cake recipe for a birthday cake. I made this and it was perfect! Thank you.

  3. Thank you, thank you for this recipe! I’ve lived in Colorado for the past 10 years and hadn’t found a recipe for chocolate cake that didn’t sink until now. I’m over 5000 feet and made a further couple adjustments. Added 2 more T flour, reduced sugar by 2 T and reduced leavening by about 25%. My cake rose beautifully, domed just slightly and didn’t sink at all. I’m forever grateful! 😁

  4. Hi Courtney, hope you are doing well. I love your recipes. I wanted to make this cake but eggless. Doesn’t need to be dairy free. What can I substitute for eggs. Please advise 🙂

  5. You are a lifesaver!! I’ve been having terrible cake luck lately (I live in Colorado, at about 6000 ft) and all of my cakes have been sunken and sad. I tried a bunch of different things (brand new leavening agents, not overmixing, adjusting sugar amounts, etc) and nothing was working. But I just made this recipe and it’s perfect! A beautiful fluffy cake with no sunken middle. Thank you! I’m excited to try other recipes of yours. 😊

  6. Hello Courtney,

    I promised my young grand daughter a rich chocolate cake so I made this today. I live at elevation 8500. I will let you know what everyone says. My grand daughter said she loves it so much that she could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thank you so much.

  7. My husband bought low-fat buttermilk. I do have a half cup of heavy whipping cream, though. Do you think I can combine those to end up with a mixture pretty close to full fat buttermilk?


  8. Have you ever made this as a 1/2 sheet cake? This is my daughter’s absolute favorite cake recipe and she’s requesting it for her 13th birthday party. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Like does one recipe = enough batter for a 13×18 pan?

  9. Made this cake several times at 9000 ft, works every time. Great tasing cake, my favorite chocolate cake.

    A baker’s son, i tend to use half soft flour and half all purpose for a lighter texture. Use best ingredients, dutch process cocoa, organic ingredients, you will love it!

    Thank you!

  10. We have maybe made this recipe 20+ times. Originally used this recipe at 7100’ – We currently live at 4600’ and works great for both desert SW locations.

    – try different cocoa brands. We love Rodelle’s, Guitards, etc.
    – we bake in 2 each 10 in round cake pans. Increases bake times to around 50 minutes. Check often with knife blade
    – rarely use butter milk. Home make with T of white vinegar.
    – tried with cup 4 cup gluten free flour and worked fine.
    – try adding 1/4 cup fresh ground coffee

  11. I live in the Boulder area. I made the recipe for the chocolate cake. After 18 minutes, 2 of the layers are still not completely baked. Is this an oven problem? I’ve switched the position of the pans and setting for 3 more minutes. Has anyone lese had this problem?
    Thanks! Smells delicious!

  12. Loved this! We live in Utah and have been on the hunt for a good high altitude chocolate cake recipe that has ingredients we already have in the pantry. All other ones I’ve come across require something like sour cream or Greek yogurt, which we never have on hand. Tried this last night and it came out AMAZING. The only things I adjusted were replacing plain hot water with strongly brewed coffee, and I used a 13×9 pan since we don’t have rounds. Just baked it for an extra 10 minutes to make sure the middle was done and it came out perfect! Thank you for this!

    1. Absolutely LOVE this recipe, it is my go-to recipe and pairs so amazingly with a swiss buttercream!! I want to try to make cupcakes instead of a cake, any recommendations or changes to the recipe to do so? Thanks so much for posting this delicious recipe!!

  13. Hi,
    I am wondering, what altitude do you live at? I am at 6600 feet. Do you think this will work for me?

    1. I’m at 5000 feet, so I think it will but you can also reduce sugar by 3 tablespoons and add 3 tablespoons of flour to ensure it rises well.

  14. Just tried this recipe for the first time and I seem to have trouble with consistency. The batter is very liquid and it starts to leak from the bottom of my round cake pans (masterclass). Anyone else having this problem? And how can I make sure this doesn’t happen the next time?
    Thanks in advance for replying 🙂

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