Lora's Tips for High Altitude Yeast Baking
by Lora Brody
You are baking in a high place. You are baking in a dry place. You are baking in a place that can have sudden changes in barometric pressure. All these factors impact on how yeasted bread kneads, rises and bakes.
It is essential to use the finest quality flour when making bread—especially at high altitude. When choosing white flour, look for unbleached, unbromated flour that has at least 12 grams of protein per cup. Check the nutritional panel (remember that the measurements are given in 1/4 cups). This amount of protein will give you about the right amount of gluten to form an elastic dough. Whole grain flours (typically lower in protein) should be used in combination with good quality white flour.
People who bake in dry conditions have to compensate for dehydrated ingredients. Flour is hygroscopic: it acts like a sponge. The drier your environment, the drier your flour will be. It is essential to add additional liquid. Liquid is anything that pours, puréed fruits and vegetables, and anything that melts during the baking—such as cheese. Fresh fruits and vegetables add liquid to dough as it is extracted during the knead cycle. The more liquid in a bread (to a certain point) the more interesting, complex and varied the crumb and crust. With practice (you have to feel the dough to know), you'll be able to figure out how much liquid to add. Whole wheat and other "dark" flours require more liquid than white flour. Bread machines are great places to knead and proof (rise) slack (wet) doughs. The problem with baking a slack dough in the bread machine is that often the vertical loaf cannot sustain itself and collapses during or immediately after baking. To use the bake cycle in the machine, you must be very careful about the amount of additional liquid. You will have more success if you give up the "overnight" or time/delay mode.
When yeast feeds on the carbohydrates in the flour, sugar and other ingredients in your dough, the by-product is carbon dioxide. When this carbon dioxide expands in the dough it forms air pockets in the dough and makes the bread rise. The longer and slower this process is, the more complex and sophisticated the taste and texture of the finished bread. The decreased air pressure high altitudes means that there is less air pressure pushing back against these air pockets, so the bread rises higher and more rapidly than it should. Typically, the dough will rise way up, then collapse during the baking process since the structure of the bread cannot support the volume of dough. Decreasing the amount of yeast by 1/3 to 1/2 will certainly help. Use the best quality instant active yeast (not rapid rise), like Red Star or Saf/Instant. Also, allow the dough to have an additional long, slow rise before it is formed and baked. After the first knead and rise, punch down the dough, place in a large heavy duty zipper plastic bag and refrigerate from 2—24 hours. If you are using a bread machine, program for manual and remove the dough after the final cycle. Then the dough can be formed and given a final rise before baking. If you have a programmable machine you can place the dough back in the bread pan, program for "Final Rise" and then "Bake". Don't allow the dough to over-rise during this last proofing—remember that it will rise more during baking.
When making sweet breads it is advisable to cut back on sweeteners (including honey, molasses and maple syrup, as well as dried fruits such as raisins) which tenderize the gluten structure and can result in the center of the loaf collapsing. Use 1/4 to 1/3 less than the amount specified in the recipe.
Salt acts as a yeast retardant. Don't bake bread at high altitude without it.
- Oven temperature
At altitudes higher than 3500 feet reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees, but keep the baking time the same. Bread is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 190-200 degrees (use an instant read thermometer). Try to prevent overbaking as this will contribute to dryness.
All About Bread
Lory Brody Products and Cookbooks
- Bread Machine Baking: Perfect Every Time (with Millie Apter)
- Plugged In The Definitive Guide to the 20 Best Kitchen Appliances
- (this Plugged In article appeared on our site April 1998)
- Stuff It! Fun Filled Foods to Savor and Satisfy (with Max Brody)
All About Bread
This page created September 1998