High altitude bread baking

March 14, 2008

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the interaction I have with my readers (In fact, it was a craving for more contact with the outside world that led me to begin this blog in the first place, so feel free to comment and ask questions as often as you like!)

As you may have noted, there’s a ‘?’ icon on the right hand side of each page of this blog. If you’ve never clicked on it, you might not know that it opens up an email form so that you can ask me a question. While some people have used this feature to ask for clarification or more info about something I’ve posted, every once in a while I get a question that I think deserves to be shared with more people. A question recently posed by Joyce from Saskatchewan fell into this category.

Joyce wrote:
I live in southwest Saskatchewan on the prairies. One of my sons moved to Calgary. When we visit I take my bread-making machine, as they love fresh bread. They live in the southwest part of the city up by the top of the Olympic ski jump. The bread that I make here is twice the size of what turns out there. Could the altitude – I think they are about 1500 feet higher there than we are here – make a difference? If so do you have any suggestions? Thanks.

The answer is that yes, altitude can greatly affect your kitchen activities. According to Susan Purdy, an expert on high altitude cooking:

“As the elevation rises, three major factors may cause a recipe to need adjustment in ingredients, cooking times, and/or temperatures. The higher in elevation you go:
1. The lower the boiling point of water
2. The faster liquids (and moisture in general) evaporate
3. The more quickly leavening gases expand”

Needless to say, moisture and leavening are both important when baking bread so elevation is certainly causing havoc with Joyce’s baking. Since the yeast is acting more quickly at a higher elevation, it sounds like the bread machine is allowing the bread to over-expand and then it is falling before the machine starts to bake. So, Joyce and other high altitude bakers, if your bread machine won’t allow you to cut back on the rising time, you may need to pull your dough out and shape by hand and bake the bread in the oven before it has a chance to over proof and fall.

The best source I’ve found for overall advice on high altitude cooking is Susan Purdy’s book called Pie in the Sky. She also has excellent info posted in an article at Epicurious. For advice specific to cake and cookie baking you can also check out the Crisco website for free.

Thanks again for your question Joyce!