Last updated on
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!
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, water and vanilla.
- With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 16-18 minutes.
- Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
- 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.
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
I’m so glad it worked well for you in Denver. I worked on it a ton to make it just right here in Utah and hoped it would be good in higher altitude too.
So excited to make this cake! How many people does this feed?
You’ll get about 18 slices out of it.
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…
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.
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?
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).
Is this Course kosher salt???
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!
I’m so glad it was a hit!
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!
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.
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 🙂
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!
Have you tried making this batter as cupcakes? Just wondering if it would work…
Yes I have and they don’t work as cupcakes for some reason.
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.
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.
I live at 5,252 feet altitude.
I made the chocolate cake from the Oreo cake version which had slightly more flour in it than this recipe and it came out perfectly. The only other thing I did, besides the tips Courtney pointed out, was WEIGH my flour in grams as I’ve been putting way too much flour in my cakes. A book on high altitude baking I have has also suggested raising your oven temperature 15-25 degrees F (the author claims doing so helps “set” the batter before the cells formed by the leavening gases expand too much).
This doesn’t apply to any of Courtney’s recipe because she bakes at high altitude, but the author of that book says that adding an extra egg to your sea-level cake recipes may help prevent a “too-rich” cake from falling. If you are like me, it will take trial and error for you to figure out what works best in your altitude.
I wanted to also add that the cake recipe for the “Cookies and Cream” cake not only uses a bit more flour than this version, but also LESS SUGAR.
Can I use normal cocoa rather than high quality dark cocoa?
Yes, it will be a lighter chocolate flavor
Do you have any other recipes that are adjustable for high altitude? I’ve discovered my baking is very different above sea level in Colorado!
Actually, all my recipes are great at high altitude 🙂
I live in Santa Fe, 7500 Feet. They totally collapsed. Crying. The other ones I’ve made and adjust for altitude are domed. Help! How do I get a flat cake at 7500 feet?
Oh no! Try taking out about 1/4 cup sugar in this cake to adjust for your altitude. For the domed cakes, make sure your ingredients are room temperature and add a few tablespoons of sugar.
Was the bake time a typo?? Is it really 18 min. Mine aren’t even close to being done
No, not a typo. Have you checked your oven temperature with an oven thermometer lately? If your cakes are taking that much longer to bake then I wonder if your oven is running cool.
Thank you, I’ll check that. Also my cakes caved. Would using sea salt contribute to that? Or maybe my oven cooking cool? I also live at a higher altitude then Utah. Any suggestions?
I was wondering the same thing. When I make this recipe, it always takes 30+ minutes to bake. I do use an oven thermometer. The recipe, as written, divides the batter into three 8″ cake pans. I always use two. Maybe that’s the difference?
I made this for my daughter’s 2 year birthday because she loves loves loves chocolate and we live in Aurora, Colorado so at high altitude and this cake was AMAZING. It was so moist and mouth watering. I had so many compliments on it – most of my cakes in the past have been dense and dry but this was hands down the best cake I’ve ever made so thank you for sharing!! It was literally demolished within minutes – everyone wanted a piece!
Yay! Love hearing that!
I made this recipe today in three 8-inch pans and they fell slightly — not as bad as some of my past chocolate cake failures, but I was disappointed. I have not leveled them yet so I don’t know how much height they’ll lose. I’m not asking for advice or feedback, just wanted to share my pain. I’m in SLC, Utah and was really hoping this was the one.
Just wanted to post an update — I was able to salvage the cake by placing pieces trimmed from leveling the cake into the slightly-sunken middle to even it out. Since it’s such a moist cake and top was sticky after being frozen that worked great. I’m not sure what I’d do differently next time though since I followed the recipe to a T. I even measured the ingredients rather than weighing them, just to be fair to the recipe. I must say, the taste was delicious!
Thank you! I live in Denver and have been dying to try Ina’s chocolate cake recipe, but was afraid I’d mess up the altitude adjustments and wind up with a sunken mess. I made this cake last week, following the recipe exactly as written (other than having to bake it a little longer), and my cake was perfect! It was rich and moist and delicious! I’m so happy I found this recipe. I will be making it again and again. Thank you for doing the work to get the altitude adjustments just right.
You’re a lifesaver. I just moved to Denver and was about to make Sweetapolitas chocolate cake recipe and then realized I’m now at 5,000 feet! This is so great that you love her cake recipe too. Thank you!!!
Questions: should the batter be runny? How long do you bake the cake?
Yes it’s a thin batter and the time is in the recipe. Should be about 18 minutes
Thank you for this post! I recently moved from California to Idaho, and I had the same experience, and also thought it must be my baking powder or soda! What of your other recipes here are high altitude friendly?
They are all high altitude friendly now!
Hello! I need (2) 10-inch cakes. May I use those pans with this recipe? Thanks!
Yes. Just make sure you are doing an extra half of the recipe so you have enough batter.
I’m at 7200 ft and this came out perfectly!! Thank you for this huge improvement on the standard Hershey’s high altitude cake (which has been my go-to and a gold standard) but yours is far more moist and the crumb much finer. Won’t you please do a vanilla cake for high altitude ?! 💜
All of my recipes are made for high altitude!
This was so helpful! I used the sweetapolita chocolate cake recipe and had the same problem. I was so sad and had never had a cake sink in like that before. I am in a new house and figured maybe it’s the altitude! I followed this recipe with total success! Thank you so much for sharing!
I have baked this cake probably a hundred times. I bake for a coffeehouse. It is super easy and comes out fluffy and delicious.
I love this cake recipe! I would recommend it to everyone
Hi there. Thank you for the recipe. I haven’t tried it yet but will do so tomorrow. I’ve recently moved from the seaside to about 1700m above sea level and ALL my cakes sink so I’m really glad to have come across your recipe. I am from South Africa and have moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg.
The altitude issue is so annoying and I’ve just about had it. It wastes so much!
Just a quick question about your list of ingredients. The grams in brackets, do these measurements include the added/subtracted Tablespoons or should I add or subtract from the gram measurements?
I hope my question makes sense!
It includes those subtracted tablesppons!
Since I moved to Colorado three years ago, I’ve been struggling with my baking. We found this recipe after searching for high altitude recipes and I’m so glad we found it. This recipe comes out consistently amazing at 5280. My wife now requests this cake *specifically* for special occasions. Thank you so much for sharing this; it’s saved me a lot of time and energy.
I am so thrilled to hear it!
Always a go to recipe… especially since I live in Colorado. However I always need to bake my cakes longer… almost 10 minutes. Could just be my oven temp though. Try it with a peanut butter frosting and chopped up peanuts! Yum!!
Have you tried making this in a 9×13? Any tips?
It’ll take longer to bake so keep your eye on it!
Thank you SO MUCH for converting these to grams! I use a kitchen scale all the time instead of measuring cups. It cuts down on the amount of dishes I have to do! This is my go-to chocolate cake recipe and it’s absolutely perfect! I’ve also made it into cupcakes by decreasing the sugar 1/4 cup and increasing the baking powder to 1 tsp and they are perfectly domed and beautiful. I’m in Ohio and it comes out perfect every time. Thank you for a great recipe!! xoxo
I’m so glad!!
I wish I had found your post a few hours ago! I made ina gartens chocolate cake twice today and 2x giant sink hole cakes. I’m in Denver. 🤦♀️🤦♀️Now I know
Shoot I’m so sorry!
Son of a baker, I truly admit having failed many times making cakes at high altitude. In Breckenridge at 9500′, cakes are not easy to make. Thank you so-much for posting this recipe, it worked fantastically and was able to make a beautiful cake that did not fall or dip in the center for my son’s 16th Birthday. This will also now be my go-to. Thank you!!!!
I’m so glad! Thank you so much!
I followed this recipe exactly as printed….in a brand new EG electric oven….it sunk in the middle , what went wrong….I never opened the oven so it couldn’t have been that???? What went wring?
The recipe said to bake for 16-18 minutes. I adjusted and baked for about 30 minutes, checking to see that it was cooked by inserting a skewer. It’s cooling now. Excited to taste tonight, here in Denver (the Mile High City.)
I love this high altitude recipe. The bake time though is approx. 25 mins.
Everyones oven is different!
can uou make thos in a 13X9 pan
I am trying to find information on cooking in a 9×13 pan?
Go check out my instagram. I have an IGTV there where I walk you through it.
Hi, I can’t remember if I made a comment in the past so I’m going to leave one just in case. I have been using the same recipe for the past 3 years.
I made my 4-year-old son a number two cake, a number three cake, and number four cupcakes using the same recipe.
I was never much of a baker, until I began this recipe, and it turns out perfect every time. I was able to make really nice number cakes. The cupcakes were just as fantastic.
If I don’t plan on changing the recipe up, I will use this recipe to make my son a number 5 cake and a couple months.
Thank you so much
Thank you for telling me! That’s so nice of you!
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)
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!
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.
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! 😁
This makes me so happy! That dang altitude can be so hard to figure out!
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 🙂
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. 😊
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.
I live in Utah and used this recipe and all of my cakes fell in the middle 😬😢 not sure what I did wrong!
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?
You’re totally ok to use the lowfat! No need to do half and half with the cream. xo
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?
I would 1.5 the recipe for slightly thicker cake layer and it should work well.
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!
Excellent the only chocolate cake I make now living in Colorado
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
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!
Bake times may vary depending on your oven. Adding 3 minutes and maybe another 3 is perfect.
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!
Yay I’m so glad! I made it with Utah elevation in mind!