High Altitude Vanilla Cupcakes

This recipe for high altitude vanilla cupcakes is perfect for baking at altitudes of 5,000 feet. The recipe makes picture-perfect vanilla cupcakes with a moist, vanilla cupcake base. Then, the recipe tops the cupcakes with a simple but tasty vanilla buttercream frosting! The best part? The recipe produces a smaller batch of cupcakes. Just 10 total! And it uses only 1 stick of butter to make both the cupcake batter AND frosting.

I adapted the recipe from the cookbook of one of my favorite bakeries, The Hummingbird Bakery, in London.

What is high altitude baking?

You may be surprised to learn that baking recipes work differently at high altitudes. Why?

Air pressure is less intense at altitudes of 3,000 feet and greater. That means that leaveners like baking powder, baking soda, and yeast don’t have as much gravity to work against. As a result, these ingredients typically need to be reduced.

Similarly, water boils at lower temperatures at higher altitudes. Because atmospheric pressure is lower, it takes less energy to boil water. People usually need to adjust the temperatures and the cook times of baking recipes at high altitude.

What is considered high altitude for baking?

High altitude is generally considered 3,500 feet and more. In the United States, these cities are considered high altitude:

  • Roswell, New Mexico (3,573 feet)
  • Amarillo, Texas (3,505 feet)
  • Bend, Oregon (3,623 feet)
  • Las Cruces, New Mexico (3,900 feet)
  • Salt Lake City, Utah (4,226 feet)
  • Sedona, Arizona (4,350 feet)
  • Reno, Nevada (4,506 feet)
  • Fort Collins, Colorado (5,003 feet)
  • Denver, Colorado (5,280 feet)
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico (5,312 feet)

Curious if your city is “high altitude”? Check out this list! The list contains all the cities and towns in the United States with elevations between 3,000 and 11,000 feet.

How To Adjust for High Altitude Baking

Most baking recipes online and in cookbook were developed at sea level. That means that, if you live somewhere high altitude, you need to adjust recipes to work accordingly.

Unfortunately, there is no magic shortcut or formula to translate baking recipes to work at high altitudes. You need to look at each one on a case by case basis. It’s a lot of work!

Luckily, I’ve started to do some of that work for you on this blog. Like this recipe! I developed this high altitude vanilla cupcake recipe when I was living in Denver, Colorado.

Why You Should Make This High Altitude Vanilla Cupcake Recipe

Here are all the reasons to make this high altitude vanilla cupcake recipe:

I adapted this high altitude vanilla cupcake recipe from famed London cupcake bakery, The Hummingbird Bakery.

The Hummingbird Bakery popularized American-style cupcakes in London, England. Their cupcakes are simple and delicious, with classic flavors like vanilla, chocolate, red velvet and more. I love their cookbook because most of the recipes yield small batches of 10 to 12 cupcakes. The recipes also rely on basic pantry ingredients, many of which a frequent baker will already have at home.

These cupcakes are no exception! The Hummingbird Bakery’s recipe for vanilla cupcakes is the dictionary definition of a vanilla cupcake. Think: a moist, fluffy vanilla cake base topped with a sweet and simple vanilla buttercream frosting. Of course, don’t forget the sprinkles!

I tested this high altitude vanilla cupcake recipe obesessively to work at high altitudes.

I lived in Denver, Colorado, for 6 months in 2012. Prior to then, I’d only lived in coastal cities like San Francisco and, Portland, Oregon.

The first time I made The Hummingbird Bakery’s vanilla cupcake recipe in Denver, I received an unpleasant shock. Instead of baking up into beautiful, fluffy cakes, the cupcakes baked into sticky puddles of goop.

That experience led me to research high altitude baking. I learned everything I shared with you above. And I became determined to adapt my favorite recipes from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook to work at high altitude.

Starting with these cupcakes! I tested the recipe for these cupcakes 8 times. Each time, I made a different adjustment to adjust for high altitude. I altered different levels of ingredients, and adjusted the bake times and temperatures accordingly. So rest assured that I did all the hard work adapting this recipe for high altitude so YOU don’t have to!

This high altitude vanilla cupcake recipe comes together quickly.

The best part? This cupcake recipe comes together really quickly! The batter takes just 10 minutes to make. The frosting takes even less than that—just 5 minutes! The Hummingbird Bakery is also known for frosting their cupcakes simply, with just a signature swirl on each cupcake. As a result, decorating the cupcakes just takes 10 minutes.

This high altitude vanilla cupcake recipe uses basic pantry ingredients.

If you’re a frequent baker, it’s likely that you already have everything you need to make these high altitude vanilla cupcakes! No special ingredients are needed here, folks: just flour, sugar, eggs, and butter.

However, my favorite part about this recipe is this: it uses just ONE stick of butter for both the cupcake batter and frosting! The cupcake batter needs 3 Tablespoons of butter, while the frosting needs 5 Tablespoons. Together, that’s 8 Tablespoons of butter… the exact amount in 1 stick of butter! Cool, right?

High Altitude Vanilla Cupcake Recipe Ingredients

Now that I’ve convinced you to make this high altitude vanilla cupcake recipe, here’s your shopping list:

Shopping List for High Altitude Vanilla Cupcake Recipe

  • all-purpose flour
  • granulated sugar
  • baking powder
  • kosher salt
  • unsalted butter
  • whole milk
  • large eggs
  • pure vanilla extract
  • confectioners’ sugar
  • sprinkles

More High Altitude Baking Recipes

Get the Recipe: High Altitude Vanilla Cupcake Recipe

This high altitude vanilla cupcake recipe was developed for baking at 5,000 feet! The recipe uses only 1 stick of butter and makes a small batch of 10 vanilla cupcakes topped with vanilla buttercream frosting. The recipe is adapted from London's famed Hummingbird Bakery!
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For the Vanilla Cupcake Batter

  • 1 cup (4.5 ounces or 128 grams) all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup (5.25 ounces or 149 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • a pinch of kosher salt
  • 3 Tablespoons (1.5 ounces or 43 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon (4.5 ounces or 128 grams) whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • 2 cups (8 ounces or 227 grams) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 5 Tablespoons (2.5 ounces or 71 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 Tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 drops pure vanilla extract
  • sprinkles, for garnish


For the High Altitude Vanilla Cupcakes

  • First, make the cupcakes. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners
  • Mix the dry ingredients and butter. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter. Beat on medium-low until the mixture, has the texture of coarse meal, with pea-sized pieces of butter throughout, about 3 minutes.
  • Add half the milk. Add half the milk all at once and increase the mixer to medium. Beat until the batter is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary.
  • Mix the egg, vanilla, and remaining milk. While the batter is mixing, whisk together the egg, vanilla, and remaining milk in a liquid measuring cup. Reduce the mixer to low and add this mixture in two or three additions, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition, then beat until just combined.
  • Fill the pan. Use a cookie dough scoop to fill each paper liner two-thirds of the way full with batter.
  • Bake the cupcakes. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top of a cupcake bounces back when gently pressed. A skewer inserted into the center of the cake should come out with a few crumbs attached. Cool the cupcakes completely in the pan on a wire rack before frosting.
  • Next, make the frosting. Once the cupcakes are cool, make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the confectioners' sugar and butter together on medium-low until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the milk and vanilla all at once and beat on low just to incorporate the liquid. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl once more, then beat on medium-high until the frosting is creamy and smooth, 5 minutes.
  • Assemble the cupcakes. Use a 1-Tablespoon cookie dough scoop to spoon 1 Tablespoon of frosting per cupcake. Use an offset spatula to spread the frosting across the top of the cupcakes. Garnish immediately with sprinkles.
  • Serve and store. Serve at room temperature. The cupcakes will keep, in an airtight container or underneath a cake dome, at room temperature 1 day. After that, transfer to the refrigerator and refrigerate for up to 2 more days.


Tips & Addendums
    • All spoon measurements are level and unsifted, unless otherwise specified. To level the ingredients, take the back of a knife and run it across the top of the measuring cup until the excess ingredients are scraped off.
    • Liquid and dry measuring cups are different; please make sure you use the appropriate measuring cup for each ingredient.
    • When creaming butter and sugar together, always make sure you keep creaming until the mixture is light and fluffy (this will usually take around 5 minutes). This helps the cupcakes rise nicely in the oven.
    • After adding flour to the mixture, don’t overbeat as this will overwork the flour and make the cake dense — simply beat or stir until the flour is just incorporated. In my opinion, making sure you don’t overbeat the batter is one of the hardest parts about baking.
    • Don’t open your oven until at least the minimum time recommended has passed. Too much cold air coming from a frequently opened oven door causes irregular oven temperatures that affect the baking process.
    • Specifically for the vanilla buttercream frosting: the longer the frosting is beaten, the fluffier and lighter it becomes.
  • Add your extra decorations (e.g., sprinkles, nonpareils) immediately after you have frosted the cupcake; if you wait to decorate the cupcake, the frosting will harden and the decorations will not stay on the cake.
Did you make this recipe?Please leave a star rating and review in the form below. I appreciate your feedback, and it helps others, too!
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Weeknight Baking:
Recipes to Fit your Schedule

Over the past several years of running Hummingbird High, I kept a crucial aspect of my life hidden from my readers: I had a full-time, extremely demanding job in the tech world. In my debut cookbook, Weeknight Baking, I finally reveal the secrets to baking delicious desserts on a tight schedule.