High Altitude Friendly Chocolate Cake


Apr 16

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!

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake

  • 1 3/4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups, minus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cups good quality dark cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot water

Instructions

  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.

24 thoughts on “High Altitude Friendly Chocolate Cake

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  1. I just made this cake (after many high altitude chocolate cake fails) and it is the best! It’s so soft and tender and doesn’t fall like all others! I’m in Denver and have always struggled with chocolate cake. This will now be my go-to! Thank you

  2. Help! I bake at 6,700 feet and my cake fell! I did make some substitutions. Not having a carton of milk in the fridge, I used 1/2 C. non-fat dry milk with 1/2T. vinegar and 1/2 C. yogurt as a substitute for buttermilk. I also used an egg product out of a carton. Baked my two 9″ pans containing very stiff batter for 17 minutes. Did any of my substitutions contribute to this failure…

    1. Hi. I do believe your substitutions played a role in your cake having problems. I always use fresh eggs, fresh buttermilk (or half milk and half plain greek yogurt as the only sub for buttermilk), and fresh levening agents like baking soda and baking powder (don’t use them if they are over 6 months old). The batter shouldn’t be stiff in this cake. It’s actually a runny batter compared to other cakes.

  3. I just made this cake and it completely fell, all three layers. I followed the recipe exactly. I live at over 5,000 feet elevation, would the s be a factor?

    1. Darn, I’m so sorry to hear that. No, your elevation shouldn’t be an issue because I’m at a similar elevation – there’s a few reasons it may have sank: your baking powder and baking soda are expired (they are good for 6 months from the day you buy them), your internal oven temperature is off from what the screen is actually telling you (use an internal oven thermometer to check), you’re over mixing the batter (once you add the wet ingredients, you only want to mix on low until the ingredients are incorporated).

  4. I love you for this! I made this cake (with razzleberry jam in the layers and the chocolate frosting from your post “classic yellow cake”) for my son’s birthday party and it turned out just PERFECT! Like @Marley, I have had many fails (I live in Utah) and this was so soft and tender, perfect for a crowd of über picky little taste testers. I am going to print this recipe and treasure it forever and forever. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  5. Pingback: Cake by Courtney
  6. Hi Courtney,

    So I was just baking my layers for the dark chocolate and salted caramel cake for a baby shower this weekend, and I followed the recipe perfectly. However, my layers barely rose in the oven, and although they came out spongy and moist, they’re only about an inch thick. I live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, so I’m not at a high altitude (we are only 230 feet above sea level), but when I came across your High Altitude chocolate cake recipe while trying to troubleshoot, I noticed it’s the exact recipe as for the Dark chocolate and salted caramel cake. So while I was just beginning to think I may have over-mixed my batter, I’m now wondering if it didn’t rise because this recipe has been adapted for high- altitudes. Any advice? how can I alter the recipe to rise more- less flour and eggs and more baking powder? if so, what adjustments for that recipe would you suggest? thanks in advance!

    Courtney Fennell

    1. Hi Courtney! So an inch for this cake isn’t too far off. The high-altitude adjustments actually won’t make a difference to you at sea level. I make my cakes in Los Angeles all the time. But, a couple things to be mindful of to make sure you get the best rise out of your cakes: don’t over mix your batter (which you seem to already know), use fresh baking powder and baking soda (nothing over 6 months old), use room temperature ingredients, and make sure your oven temp is correct inside with an internal oven thermometer.

      1. Thanks for your reply! The only thing I hadn’t double-checked was my oven temp with an internal thermometer as I don’t own one. Everything else was bang on. And the thickness turned out to be a non-issue as, instead, I made another batch to total a 6-layer tall cake. (which you saw on Instagram). I will definitely be using this recipe again, especially now that I know I didn’t screw it up! Thank you for sharing your recipes and your knowledge! I will be investing in an oven thermometer 🙂

  7. At first I thought my batter was way too liquid so I was afraid my cake would fail but as soon as I put it in the oven.. woah! It just started to rise like crazy. I do regret not dividing the batter into many containers, I put it all in a “big” one but is rised too much til it started to fall down.
    I do agree this is the best chocolate cake recipe! Thank you Courtney for sharing your recipes!

  8. I tried making this recipe and the cakes will not bake well. They have been in the oven over the amount specified and they are all liquid in the center. 3 small loaf pans.

    Can anyone suggest what went wrong?

    I hand mixed them. I’m at 5,500 feet also.

    All my pumpkin loaf cakes (2) are fine and also the lemon cakes (4) are fine.

    This baffles me.

    1. That’s interesting… I’m also at high altitude and I reworked this recipe over and over to make sure it was high altitude friendly for everyone. My two thoughts are: one, could your internal oven temp be off from what your screen tells you? Or second, when you say
      loaf pans” do you mean bread pans? That’s going to bake much differently than a cake pan.