High altitude bread baking

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!

26 Responses to High altitude bread baking

  1. Meena says:

    Wow! That really is quite interesting. I always knew temperatures and humidity affect bread making, but had no idea altitudes did too!

  2. danamccauley says:

    It’s all about gravity, baby! It can get you down you know.😛

  3. rona maynard says:

    Dana, what a great feature you’ve added to your site. Now I know where to pose my own culinary questions, not that I’m doing a lot of cooking these days. With all this move-related turmoil, I’m sticking to tried-and-true basics.

  4. Cyndi says:

    Another option for high altitude baking with a bread machine is to A) decrease the yeast and B) add to the liquid. I live at 6,000 feet and have learned to use my bread machine with success. Tonight’s bread, a 2-pound loaf, was perfect – I used about 1 1/4 teaspoon yeast out of the 2 1/4-teaspoon packet, and increased the water by about 2 tablespoons. You have to experiment, and eventually you can get it right. The yeast amounts are going to differ based on elevation. At 6,000, I used to have my bread “blow up” first, then collapse – producing little bowling balls of wasted flour and other ingredients!

  5. Dana says:

    Thanks for your tips Cyndi – experience is the best teacher. : )

  6. Randi says:

    High Altitude baking and/or cooking can cause problems for those who do not know the proper ingredient adjustments.
    I have been doing both at higher elevation for over 30 years and considering that I reside at 8000 feet, I have yet to increase the required temperature and have had fabulous results.
    For the life of me I cannot understand why anyone would want to increase the dry heat in a dry environment such as the ROCKIES or the ALPS!

    Rather than raise the temp, I simply allow the product to cook or bake for a longer period of time. Whhen the temp required is raised, the crust will be dense and crispier than you may want, for the outer edges will bake much faster as the center trys to catch up in temp!

    For more tips and some wonderfully successful and absolutely delicious recipes please see these cookbooks:
    Baking at High Altitude
    or
    Sharing Mountain Recipes

    For yeast breads, I have found that the best tip is to yes, increase both the liquid and flour by 1 1/2 Tablespoon per cup and a tip that is useful is to make sure the dough is warm to touch for the 1st rise.

  7. danamccauley says:

    Thanks for sharing your tips and practical experience!

  8. rick Paul says:

    I get real tired of all of the people who have a secret or an ole family special super duper, die if you get caught bread recipe. All I am looking for is a simple, basic, tried and true White Bread recipe. Guess what…I don’t know the secret password.

    I live with people here in my adopted country of Armenia. These folks have been eating white bread all of thier lives. The stores only sell white bread. These people are in thier 80’s an very very healthy. All of the hype is hype pure and simple. Just another scam to get you to buy more useless stuff. Show me sometime clear scientific eveidence that white bread is bad for you…it ain’t out there. Must be hidden with the fancy, dancy, super, duper, bread making machne…or not!

  9. Thanks for sharing Rick Paul. I’m not sure you’re on topic but glad you had your say nonetheless.

  10. Brenda Llanas says:

    Dear Dana, thank you so much for this website. I have a question needing an answer that has me stumped for the moment. How can I make bread in the bread maker which does not require sodium? I am on a very stringent low sodium meal plan because of hypertension and cannot have that much sodium in that meal plan. The altitude here in Greeley, CO is over 4,000 ft. so, I must figure that into the equation. Thank you for any help you can provide.

  11. danamccauley says:

    Oooh – that is a tricky puzzle. I’m going to ask a few smart folks I know for advice and get back to you. Okay?

  12. Brenda Llanas says:

    Yes, that is okay. I look forward to hearing the answers after you retrieve them. Thanks so much. Brenda

  13. danamccauley says:

    Brenda, I’ve emailed someone I know who works for a bread machine manufacturer asking him to put me in touch with an expert. I’ll email you (and post here) when I get more info from him.

    In the meantime, I fear I’ve only found bad news. At http://www.summitcolorado.com/summit-county/high-altitude-bread-making.php , a website devoted to high altitude baking tips, they say “Salt acts as a yeast retardant. Do not bake bread at high altitude without it. ”

    My fingers are still crossed that we’ll find a clever person who has cracked this nut, though!

  14. danamccauley says:

    Hey Brenda,

    My contact at TFal reports that they have a salt free bread machine recipe – not sure how it will behave at high altitude but it’s worth a shot!

    You can get in touch with TFal by emailing Noel Gallagos: ngallegos@ca.groupeseb.com

    Good Luck!

  15. danamccauley says:

    Here’s what I’ve learned about your question Brenda. This response come from Amanda Mendicino who contacted the bread experts who work with her at TFAL:

    Amanda,

    Brian Crowe asked me to respond to you regarding low sodium baking in a bread machine at high altitude.

    Quite frankly, putting all of those factors together could pose quite a dilemma. Salt has a couple of important functions in a yeast dough. It not only contributes flavor, it also acts as a ‘regulator’ on the rate of yeast activity, assuring that the dough rises evenly at a moderate rate. Salt also strengthens the gluten structure of the dough; eliminating the salt can easily result in a collapsed, dense, heavy bread.

    At high altitude, a yeasted dough will tend to rise faster, due to the lower atmospheric pressure. Typically, this effect becomes more significant above 7000′, but should be considered even at 4000′.

    Lastly, the bread machine could create even more issues in this scenario as the rising parameters, time and temperature, are set within the cycle that is selected. If the dough rises too quickly, due to the high altitude or lack of salt in the recipe, no adjustment can be made. I noted one comment below in this set of emails from Noel Gallegos that your machine has a ‘salt-free recipe’. If your machine has a salt-free cycle, then I would assume the parameters are made to account for the faster rising.

    Aside from that, the only other solution, would be very strict temperature control to slow yeast activity and/or a reduction in the amount of yeast used.

    Thank you for your inquiry. If you have further questions, please let me know.

    Kelly Olson
    Lesaffre Yeast Corporation
    414.615.4043
    kelly.olson@lsaf.com

  16. Larry Sims says:

    I guess I am old fashioned, but I like to get my hands on the dough, and would not have a bread machine if you gave me one! And, I have made many a loaf without salt that turned out just fine. I now mostly use a sourdough starter, but when using yeast, you can accomplish almost the same thing by: Put only a quarter-teaspoon of yeast in the recipe amount of water (I usually start with about 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups water), and about 1/3 of the flour (again, about 1-1 1/2 cups). Stir this up, cover it and let it sit overnight in a warm place. It should be bubbly in the morning; if not, let it sit another 12-24 hours, perhaps adding a bit more of the flour if it is very “runny.” Then stir/knead in the rest of the flour, knead ’til “smooth and elastic,” let rise, punch down, put in the pan or form a free-style loaf, and let rise again, always covered with a damp cloth or a piece of plastic wrap or a big bowl – anything to keep it from drying out. Bake until nicely brown and “hollow sounding” when you thump it. Without salt it will be a little flat tasting, but I have a friend with sodium intolerance, and she likes it, so I guess it is in the getting-used-to. You can add other flours – whole wheat, rye, ground nuts or seeds to give it more flavor and interest, but it will also be a denser loaf. I usually use at least half King Arthur bread flour to avoid “doorstop” bread. Actually, it is pretty hard to make a bad loaf of bread; some of mine are not pretty, but they always get eaten!

  17. danamccauley says:

    Larry,

    Thanks for your comment – I, too, am a hand kneader. Do you life at high altitude? I think the issue for baker’s at higher elevations is that they must use salt to keep the bread from over rising.

  18. Larry Sims says:

    6,000 feet, western Colorado. Reducing the yeast slows down the process, as well as allowing time for the flavor to develop. Ergo, no salt is required for the process, only for flavor. And, the two-stage process is very forgiving. 12 to 24 hours for the first stage (sometimes “feeding” it a bit more flour at the half-way point if you are not ready after 12), and then knead it up when you are ready. It will rise slower than you might be used to with a full load of modern, “hot” yeast, but that is the point, right? And, if you want to try to make a sourdough starter from it, take a spoonful of the first mix after it has “worked,” and put it in a container (I use plastic storage containers) with about a quarter cup of water and a quarter cup of flour, mix well, cover loosely and leave on the counter. Next day, it should have some bubbles, but maybe not many. Add a bit (1/4 cup) more water and flour, mix well, leave on the counter. Do this daily until you have about 2 cups total. If it is “right,” it will be about the consistency of thick pancake batter, really bubbly, and smell slightly fruity. To make bread from this, use about half of it (1 cup, more or less) with a cup of water, enough flour to make it a thick goo, leave it overnight, and finish the bread the next day. You will soon know when it is bubbly enough to finish. I use a large pyrex-type glass pitcher (2 qt) to do my bread, and after the first step, it will be within an inch or two of the top and very bubbly. To keep the starter, “feed” it water and flour to replenish it to the original 2 cup volume, and put it in the fridge. It will keep a couple of weeks without attention, but a weekly feeding is better. You can double it every 12 hours or so and end up with a bathtub full if you want to bake for a platoon, or you can make bread once a week. Another trick: knead up the dough, and instead of letting it rise and baking it, put it in a plastic bag in the fridge. Next day, make flour tortillas! Two-inch size balls, roll out thin on a floured surface, cook on a hot griddle. You can do this the same day as the kneading, but letting it chill out seems to make it easier to work with. It will keep in the fridge several days, or you can make all the tortillas at once, and keep them in the fridge. So much fun, so little time! Pizza crust, too. . .

    • Tina says:

      Larry, in Monument 7200 feet, my sourdough is delicious but dense and chewy – longing for that holey light bread, any ideas?
      Using about 75 – 80 hydration. Still dense… 😦 thanks Tina

  19. Nigelinspain says:

    Hey, that´s interesting! I never would have thought that altitude could effect baking bread but now it seems so obvious.

    I knew that temperature can have an effect and that the Panasonic SD-257WXC has a programme to maintain the stability of the baking process regardless of what the surrounding temperature is.

  20. tzatziki sauce recipe…

    […]High altitude bread baking « Dana McCauley’s food blog[…]…

  21. how to fall asleep fast…

    […]High altitude bread baking « Dana McCauley’s food blog[…]…

  22. Steve says:

    Thanks for the tips. It was hard finding a breadmaker which produced good bread at high altitudes, but the Panasonic SD-YD250 seems to produce good results with a bit of tweaking to the recipes.

  23. Tanya says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been trying a multitude of things since I moved to Calgary and it has been unsuccessful. I will try again tomorrow with some rising tweaks😀

  24. Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a totally different topic but it has pretty much the same page layout and design. Outstanding choice of colors!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: