High altitude bread baking

by Sarah
(Walkerville, MT, USA)

I’ve been told not to bother trying to bake bread because we live in the mountains of Montana and it just won’t work well. Is there any way overcome this problem?

About Bread Baking in the Mountains

by Harry
(New Mexico High Desert)

Hi Sarah, and thanks for the question.

The quick answer is you may be able to bake some bread recipes and get pretty much the same result as at sea level.

I checked to see what your elevation and find that it is just about the same as ours in Magdalena, NM (6500’). Most of the breads pictured on our website were baked here in the High Desert. We have found no need to change recipes for most of our breads, and you probably won’t either.

The biggest differences in baking conditions at high elevations are the fact that our air is less dense and generally dryer. Dough will rise faster due to reduced air pressure and may be dryer due to faster evaporation. Both the conditions are easily remedied.

With baking powder (used in Quick Breads), at over 5000’ the dough will rise about 1/5 more than at sea level. Remedy this by simply reducing the amount of baking powder by 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon in a recipe that calls for 1 teaspoon. Another way to reduce the rise is to use a little less sugar. And, you probably do not want to leave out salt because it retards the rise in both quick and yeast breads.

To deal with bread that is on the dry side you may increase the amount of water by 2 to 4 tablespoons per loaf and/or cut back on the amount of flour.

In the case of yeast breads, it important to watch the rise and not allow the dough to more than double. If it rises too much, it may collapse and fail to rise again (if a second rise is called for in the recipe or you will get no oven spring when you start to bake it.

Since salt slows the rise, you probably don’t want to eliminate it from your recipes. For health reasons – high blood pressure – you may want to reduce how much you use and substitute vinegar for taste. But, you want some salt at high altitude even if only a little.

Though we have no direct experience with baking sourdoughs at high elevations, sourdough is said to be quite sturdy and elastic and well suited to mountain use.

A while back we did some test loaves using Hungarian High Altitude Flour. The loaves were quite good and tasty, but we noted little or no difference between those and the run-of-the-mill bread flour that we usually use. The difference here is that this flour has a consistent 12-% protein content which make it higher in gluten than ordinary all purpose flour. Bread flour is 12-16-% protein and will generally produce excellent crust and crumb.

If you have high altitude baking experience we will welcome any comments you may have for this discussion.

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