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Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Life of Bread, from Sea Level to 4000 feet!, updated.

Imagine my surprise when all the perfect loaves of bread we enjoyed while living at the beach, were now nothing more than bricks! That was my our sad reality, as we settled into our Montana home...only one thing to do, it was time to back to school! And learn to bake bread at this altitude...

The Life of Bread, from Sea Level to 4000 feet!

I had always lived at sea level or close to it, for most of my life. Being a West Coast Native and always living in close proximity to the coastline, not once did I come up against any baking difficulties with altitude. Oh sure, I had heard all about them, but could not relate at all. 

When the decision was made to move to Montana, never once did I consider that we would be living at a higher altitude. Which would change how ingredients work and work together. When we got here there was so much to do, what with the unpacking, the organizing, and putting it all away! I have to say that bread baking was not my first thought as we got back to regular meals and daily cooking. But soon that itch to bake bread was tingling...


I might as well confess, right now. I have always been in love with bread baking. Always! And while I have been baking bread for over 45 years, I also need to say, I have not always baked perfect bread...some days as I played bread baker in the kitchen we would have a feast to take to the seagulls at the edge of the water. And here it was the duck pond down the road. But we still needed a loaf of bread for the bread box, so I would begin again... 

The Life of Bread, from Sea Level to 4000 feet!

Here in Montana I got out all my standard recipes and used the techniques that I had spent all those years perfecting and enjoying...only to be rewarded with hard, heavy bricks of what could be called bread, but not eaten as such! I won't lie, I was very disappointed. After a trip to the duck pond, there was only one thing to do, figure out what I needed to change in order to get fluffy, tender loaves of bread we actually wanted to eat.


I started reading lots of information on high altitude baking, hoping to learn what I needed to learn to get back to baking bread. And I am happy to say that it is just a few small changes from my own habits honed and used these past years. I thought it might be handy to share these new techniques, and if you have not had success with bread baking in your own kitchen, this might help.  

Here are my new techniques for bread:

The Life of Bread, from Sea Level to 4000 feet!
  • Proof the yeast! Even the newer instant yeast. If you do not "proof" the yeast and activate it, it will languish in the dough and you will get a doorstop. It is important to "proof" the yeast in water that is between 100 degrees to 110 degrees, no hotter. Use an instant-read thermometer, don't guess...
Proof the yeast, I now use the mixing bowl.
  • Update, I now proof in the bottom of the mixing bowl. Might as well save some dishes, we wash by hand around here!
  • Create a warm and moist environment to set your dough for rising. This is really quite easy, place a 9X15 pan of hot water into the oven on the rack below where the dough will rise, and turn on the oven light to maintain the warmth. Not too hot, not too cold. Plus with the light on for warmth, if there is a window in the door, you can peek without opening the door.
  • Update, the warm and moist environment will produce a tasty loaf in about three to four hours, start to finish. I have learned that proofing the yeast also allows for an overnight/cold rise in the refrigerator. Resulting in a fuller, richer flavored bread. If you want to proceed with an overnight rise, decrease yeast by half. Otherwise, it will take over your refrigerator! 
  • Due to the higher altitude, the second rise happens fast! If you let the dough rise beyond 35 minutes you may have flat top loaves. The problem with overrising is deflated loaves. The dough will collapse on itself in the oven when baking. To prevent this do not rise past doubled. Remove the pans of dough and the hot water pan from the oven while preheating the oven. Remember the loaves of dough will continue to rise while the oven is preheating. And if you need, just let them rise until you like the volume, then get them into that hot oven STAT!
The Life of Bread, from Sea Level to 4000 feet!

These beauties do show signs of overrising (dimpled top crust), it can happen to us all!

The Life of Bread, from Sea Level to 4000 feet!
Whereas these do not! No over-proofing here.  
  • Preheat the oven 50 degrees hotter than you will actually bake at so that when you open the oven door to place the loaves in to bake the oven is still hot enough to bake properly, preventing deflating and dimples. But this is quite important, immediately reset the oven temperature to what you need for baking bread. For example, I preheat to 400-degrees, load the oven with my pans of dough, and immediately reset the temperature to 350-degrees. 
On a personal note, I have found that the dough is a bit stickier up here at 4000 feet. I now prepare my bread pans just like a cake pan with shortening and a sprinkle of flour. Plus I let the loaves sit 5 minutes after baking before turning the bread out onto a cooling rack to cool completely. 

Update, if you grind your own flour for baking, grind up a bit of brown rice into flour, it is perfect for dusting bread pans to help keep the dough from sticking!

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  1. Great information. Many people don't know how elevation changes cooking in many ways. Thank you so much for sharing your artful food with us every week. Hope you have a safe and healthy week ahead.

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  2. I too have heard of elevation effects on baking but have never experienced it (living on the east coast!). Those loaves look yummy and I am glad you figured out how to make them in your new home.

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  3. Good to know! If I visit friends at higher altitudes, I can use this. It's fun to cook in other people's kitchens!

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    1. Simple changes make great improvements in the finished loaf. Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. I'm not a baker but have heard about higher altitudes affecting baking. Thanks so much for linking up with me at my #UnlimitedMonthlyLinkParty 11, open April 1 to 26. All entries shared on social media if share buttons installed. I’d like to invite you to check out my other current link parties too!

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  5. Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Pleas stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn

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  6. Bread is my weakness, these are great tips for baking that delicious bread! Thanks so much for sharing your awesome talent with us at Full Plate Thursday,and come back to see us soon!
    Stay Healthy!
    Miz Helen

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  7. Thanks for the great tips. The bread looks So so delicious! Also, thanks for sharing with us on the Homestead Blog Hop. Hope we see more this Wednesday.

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  8. Your bread looks delicious!
    I remember the challenges of cooking at high altitude when we lived in the Colorado Rockies. I learned so much, like weighing my ingredients :)

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    1. Thank you! I agree it is a challenge to learn the little steps that make big improvements in the finished loaf.

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  9. I remember the few years I lived at altitude ... it does take some getting used to.

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    1. This old dog has been so happy to learn these new tricks! Thanks for stopping by.

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  10. Beautiful bread! I've never lived at high altitude. I'm glad you didn't have to change your methods too much!

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    1. Thank you, I am comfortable enough now to work on more techniques. Bread baking is something I will never tire of!

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  11. There is just something about fresh baked bread that makes it taste so amazing! Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks with us over at You're the Star. Hope to see you again soon!

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