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I just moved from CO to VA- having mastered high altitude baking. But here I can't bake anything: cookies are burned on the bottom and uncooked on top, pizza dough is nearly raw in the middle. Cinnamon rolls do not rise. I am stumped. Could I need a new oven? I am a very serious and experienced cook and 8000' altitude did not phase me. What could I be doing wrong? Help! I have tried adjusting temps, I am not following my usual high attitude tricks at all. I also lived in the low lands for decades.

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    Do you by any chance have a thermometer you can put in the oven? – Cascabel Jan 9 '16 at 3:22
  • Is it an electric or gas oven? If electric, are both the top & bottom elements heating up? (gas might do that too, I have no experience there) – Joe Jan 9 '16 at 3:25
  • Ovens vary quite a bit. In my electric oven (non-convection), if the top element is on things will get burnt on top - it's not supposed to be on for baking (only for quick preheat with the bottom element, or by itself for broiling.) I'll third the oven thermometer suggestion for a start, as well as for details of what type of oven it is. – Ecnerwal Jan 9 '16 at 4:01
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    Since you bring up altitude, where in Virgina are you? Do you know your current altitude? Virginia ranges from pretty high (almost 6000 feet) down to sea level. I agree with Jefromi, Joe and Ecnerwal, the actual problem likely stems from your oven, though. – Jolenealaska Jan 9 '16 at 7:14
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    As others infer: sounds like an oven issue. Most likely a mis-calibrated oven thermostat. Usually that can be fixed without purchasing a new oven. It could also be that the oven burner (gas or electric) is malfunctioning, 'sometimes' a burner issue leads to a new oven. – Paulb Jan 16 '16 at 13:14
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The whole "baking at altitude" thing is a beloved kitchen tale, but usually completely irrelevant.

Certainly, the different pressure is a reason why the same physical changes in baking happen at a different temperature. And 8000 ft is nothing to laugh at, there water boils already at below 80 C instead of 100. So, you're dealing with a difference of ~20 degrees Celsius. This is indeed a number to behold, as opposed to people who start talking about high altitude baking at 900 ft.

But what is much less known: Ovens are not a precise cooking method. I've regularly seen ovens which differ by over 40 C from the temperature shown on the thermostat. I've also regularly seen ovens where the difference in temperature between the back right corner and front left corner was at least 30 C. My grandma's oven doesn't even have degrees on its thermostat, just 6 settings. My other grandma and all her sister use a wood fired oven and regulate temperature by sometimes shifting the coals or throwing another log on. From ancient Sumer until the mid-twentieth century, humanity has baked without thermostats. And did so at all altitudes too.

When you moved, there are many variables which changed which might have made a difference on your baking. The difference in average oven temperature is one, but it could also be anything from a different flour type (flours which are considered "bread" in some parts of the USA are labelled "AP" in others) through maybe having bought a new cake tin because the old one was too scratched to take along on the move, to you being stressed out, making small mistakes sometimes when baking and then falling prey to confirmation bias (you think your baking has gotten worse, and only notice the times it turns out worse than average). There is no way to say what happened.

The key here is that there are two types of baker. One learns to follow process to the t. She uses the same utensils, the same ingredients, then sticks the cake in the oven at the usual temperature and sets the timer. With a few iterations, she has her process perfect, and starts producing successful cakes, then everybody is happy. But, if for some reason something changes, whether a known or unknown variable, a controllable one or uncontrollable, everything goes out of whack.

Then there is a baker who pays more attention to what is happening, and why. This baker might be interested to read a bit about the physics and thermodynamics of cake batter. Or maybe not even that. But this baker will experiment a lot, pay attention to the difference. And this baker will never just set a temperature and a timer and go away, unless replicating something she did a dozen of times in the same setting. This baker will observe the batter before baking, and then in the oven. And no matter if it is the first or thirtieth time baking the same cake, she will not care what the clock says. She will use her nose to decide when to start checking the doneness with a wooden pick, and take out the cake as soon as she observes that it is done, not when she has waited the "magical" amount of time. This type of cook is unlikely to have to adjust anything when cooking in another place, be it with a different altitude, different oven type, or whatever.

To your specific case: there is no need for a new oven. Any standard oven should be usable for baking cakes at any altitude found in Virginia. You just need to find out what it is that your cakes need - longer time, lower temperature setting, less baking powder, more baking powder, or something else - depending on exactly what goes wrong during making them. Without us being there and observing the signs, we can't tell which it is. From the scant description you give, "nearly raw in the middle", I'd suggest reducing the temperature as a first thing to try. And in any case, throw out your timer. It is convenient for your personal time management in the kitchen, but simply inadequate for deciding when to take a cake out of the oven.

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I used to live in Va and I had the same problem...until I got an oven thermometer. :) My new oven cooked cool. That was my culprit. Hope yours is an easy fix too.

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