Q&A High Altitude Baking

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Q: I live at 4,000″ and my bread is coming out flat, any ideas?

A: I haven’t personally experienced baking at that altitude. Living in MN we don’t get to such heights! But I’ve had many people ask about high altitude baking and this is what I’ve found out:

It turns out there is a big difference if you live above 4,000 feet in how the yeast behaves. It wants to rise really quickly, but then it collapses because there isn’t enough structure to support it. In other words you might try things that inhibit it from rising so fast and add more structure to the dough.

Here are a couple things to try:

Decrease the yeast to 1 tablespoon, instead of 1 1/2 tablespoons.

Replace the all-purpose flour with bread flour, which has more gluten, which will give it more structure. This may cause your dough to be drier, so you may end up adding a little more water.

Increase the salt to inhibit the yeast from growing too fast. Unless you find the bread too salty to begin with then leave it as is.

The last thing is to let the dough rise slower and longer before baking because you’ve reduced the yeast.

The refrigerator rise trick may also help with high altitude baking.

More in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and our other books.

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189 thoughts on “Q&A High Altitude Baking

  1. Thank you. We did hear about your bread book and then lost track.
    I will now try to buy it.
    Your comments on high altitude are quite interesting to us. We are Minnesotans but live in Vail in the winter. We sleep at 8500 feet and also cook there. (We ski on up to near 12,000 feet of snow/mountain and of course the cooks at the on mountain restaurants are cooking there too.)
    4000 does not seem high to us. There is a column in the local Vail paper that addresses hi alt cooking but your hints are excellent. Thank you.

  2. Hi Liz,

    I am still doing some research and if I learn anything else I’ll post it here!

    Please be in touch from Vail and let me know how your bread baking goes. Nothing like a day skiing and warming up with home baked bread!

    Thanks, Zoë

  3. I was really glad to come across this Q& A — I live at 6000 ft. and I decreased the yeast to about 1.25 tablespoons. The dough did rise fast, and then collapsed, but I thought it tasted great anyway. I will experiment a bit more as I’d like to see a lighter inside of the loaf next time. Will report back!

  4. Yogamum: Did you use bread flour? That’s the other thing you can do, plus the cold rise method detailed above. Keep us posted, thanks!

    Jeff

  5. Hi yogamum,

    Also try cutting the yeast to 1 tablespoon and see if that slows things down a bit. You can try starting with cold water to see if it helps.

    Good luck! Thanks, Zoë

  6. I am at 5,300 feet altitude. I have tried decreasing the yeast, changed to bread flour and longer rising times. I am still getting dense small loaves. Storing the dough in the refrigerator makes it get smaller and I only get three grapefruit sized balls of dough from a batch. I am wondering if the initial rise when you first mix the dough is too long and it is over proofing? I only let it rise until double which is about one hour or it goes crazy. I am also wondering about adding wheat gluten and how that might help and how much to use. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Thanks!

  7. Hi fairhavenranch,

    I have two thoughts for you to try out.

    1. Use cold water and let the dough rise entirely in the refrigerator. You may have to let it do this rise overnight, instead of two hours.

    2. Your thought about using vital wheat gluten sounds like a good one! It will improve the structure of the dough and perhaps give it more strength. The general rule for vital wheat gluten is about 1 teaspoon per cup of flour.

    The dough does deflate after the initial rise in the bucket. But, it should still have great oven spring once it hits the oven.

    Thank you for trying this and please keep in touch with your progress!

    Zoë

  8. I decreased the yeast to 1 tablespoon and actually got a better initial rise and a more “holey” dough. It didn’t rise much in the fridge, though. (This was the European Peasant Bread.) The bread was still a bit dense but absolutely delicious. I will try cold water next time and see what happens!

  9. High altitude means lower air pressure, so for most baking applications you reduce the water. 4,000′ is not terribly high, so try reducing your water by a couple tablespoons. This usually means allowing for a longer rise. Also, since hig altitudes tend to have lower humidity, it is important to keep your rising dough covered so it does not develop too much of a “skin.”

    HTH
    Joe

  10. We live at 7,000 feet and it is very dry. So far I’ve tried at least four of your recipes and they’ve all turned out fine in our book. (I read these comments first and decreased the yeast to about 1Tbs.) Of course our family will eat just about anything that resembles bread that is homemade! Today it was the spinach feta bread. I think this was the first time that the moisture content turned out just right for handling it. The previous ones were so wet that half the dough stuck to my hands.

  11. I live at 7,000 feet, and I haven’t done anything to adjust for the altitude when using the book’s recipes, and everything I have made has turned out perfectly. Now, using baking powder and baking soda is another story– a few disasters there!

  12. I’m at about 6500 feet. I got my copy on February 15, when this thread was the top blogline, and I’ve been toying around with the various suggestions ever since. My best results have come from cutting the yeast to 1 Tbsp, doing nothing else different from the recipe, but letting the dough sit for at least 24-36 hours before baking. I made a loaf from a week-old master dough last night that turned out just beautifully.

  13. Thanks Beth, this may be the simplest fix yet. Have any other high-altitude people tried this? Zoe and I can’t test this out on the prairie! Jeff

  14. I live in Fort Collins, CO at 5000 ft. Through experimentation, I came up with the following adjustments: I reduce the yeast to 1 T 1/2 tsp, increase to 3 1/4 cups water, 1 T kosher salt, 3 cups Gold Medal flour, 2 1/2 cups King Arthur bread flour, and 1/2 cup King Arthur white whole wheat flour and have had terrific results. I let it rise 2 hours and then always refrigerate overnight before baking.

  15. Hi Kate,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’m sure it will be so helpful to others who live at high altitudes.

    Zoë

  16. Just wanted to add in my experience–I am on vacation at 7500 feet (normally I’m at sea level!) and decided to try the advice above of reducing the yeast to one Tablespoon. I also added a leeeetle more salt–not a lot, just about half a teaspoonful. To make matters worse, we are sans baking stone up here so I used a regular cookie sheet for the first time.

    It turned out BEAUTIFULLY! The crust was crispy and chewy, the crumb was soft and not too dense, and the flavor, if possible, was even better than it normally is at home. I didn’t use anything fancy–Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour and whatever yeast packets were on sale–and refrigerated the dough overnight after a 2-hour rise. The bread was actually done baking after 25 minutes.

  17. This sounds great. Yes, salt inhibits the action of yeast, so I’m not surprised it helped a bit. But be aware that our recipes have a little more salt than is typical for most bread. So some people may find your results a little salty for their taste (probably not Zoe or I!). Jeff

  18. That’s why I only put a little bit more. I didn’t notice any particularly salty note to the flavor, and I’m EXTREMELY sensitive to salty flavors. I think I may have found the sweet spot. (so to speak.)

  19. Pingback: European Peasant Bread « Mission: Kitchen Ambition

  20. I live just south of Denver and the recipes turn out pretty good, although the bottom crust isn’t as good as the rest the bread turns out very dense, but the bread wasn’t flat like I read in some of the comments. Thanks for the tip. I’ll make the adjustment and see how that works out.

  21. I live at 9,000 feet and have found great luck with your tips. The loaf was great before the altitude, but a bit dense and not many air holes.

    I’m looking for a good recipe for high altitude whole wheat bread that doesn’t have milk, 100% ww if possible?

  22. You can try our 100% whole wheat on page 76, but try the tips on two other of our posts:

    http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/?p=141

    and in particular the tips about vital wheat gluten at…

    http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/?p=142

    There’ll be much more about 100% whole wheat breads in our second book, tentatively titled “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” which will be out in about 12 months.

    Thanks for visiting, welcome to the site! Jeff

  23. Hi – I also live in mile-high, bone-dry Fort Collins and have arrived at the following, which is working well for me:
    I reduce the yeast to 1T (I’m using Saf-Instant Gold; available on King Arthur’s website as well as others – shop around).
    After the first mix with the prescribed amount of flour and water, I usually end up adding a little more water – maybe 1T or at most 2T – so that the batter moves around (“conforms to the shape of the container”) but isn’t really loose.
    I preheat the oven to 450, but as soon as I put it in, I reduce it to 425.
    I get great crust and texture. I’ve mostly made the basic recipe so far and I usually use 2/3 white flour and 1/3 white whole wheat, for extra fiber. One thing I tried that was great was to brush the loaf with an olive oil/herb dipping sauce (an herbal mix that includes some parmesan cheese). It added a lot of flavor and even improved the crust. I just tried the rye for the first time and it was fabulous. Thanks so much for this book – it blows me away every time I get such fabulous bread out of my own oven!

  24. I bake your bread daily just above 7,000 ft. I generally use the master recipe and have tremendous success with adding a bit of water, sticking with 2 pounds of flour. Baking on the back of a cookie sheet rather than a stone actually seems to help develop an excellent crust here.

    We love the book, and are suggesting it to everyone we know who requests that I bring them more bread. Keep up the good work.

  25. Thanks for visiting, Tracy. Interesting about what you’re finding with the cookie sheet. Have you actually compared it with the result from a stone?

    And thanks for suggesting us to friends, it means a lot to us. Jeff

  26. I have tried both the stone and the cookie sheet, and found that for me the bread turned out better that way… I was new to the proces when I tried a stone last, so perhaps I will re-visit that one and see if I have the same result now that I am more comfortable with the process.

  27. “I live at 7,000 feet, and I haven’t done anything to adjust for the altitude when using the book’s recipes, and everything I have made has turned out perfectly. Now, using baking powder and baking soda is another story– a few disasters there!”

    I ditto this comment. I live at 7000ft and haven’t had problems following the recipe exactly. There aren’t a ton of large air holes, but they haven’t been too dense or flat. I’m going to decrease the yeast with my next recipe to see what happens.

  28. Traci: My only explanation is that this is a matter of taste. Some people have found the high altitude stuff too dense, but maybe they’re like me… I like dense bread.

    My guess is that increasing the yeast won’t help… we already use a pretty large dose of yeast, but let us know if you think that helps.

  29. I live at about 6000 ft., and have read the suggestions on your website for high altitude and whole grain breads. After experimenting, I came up with a recipe for (mostly) whole wheat bread that is not too dense and very tasty:

    3 1/3 cups water-room temp.
    (sometimes I’ll add even up to 1/4 cup additional water to get a very wet dough)
    1 T yeast
    6 1/2 tsp vital wheat gluten
    1 2/3 tsp coarse salt
    4 cups whole wheat flour
    2 1/2 cups high gluten white flour

    I make free form loaves, flatbread pizzas,foccacia, naan and pita bread with this recipe. While I would prefer to use only ww flour, I have never been able to get the “100% whole wheat sandwich bread” to turn out well (even when using the high altitude adjustments), and my family likes the above recipe so much that I have decided that I’ll just bake with it for now. I was never much of a bread baker before finding your book, and now I make it all the time. We haven’t purchased store-bought bread in over 2 months now. Thanks!

  30. I have been playing with the recipe here in Denver for quite some time, and have finally gotten it right!

    I followed previous reader’s suggestions and decreased the yeast to 1 T, and added a bit more salt (about 2 tsp. more).

    The two things that have made a difference for me are wetting my hands when I pull the dough out/smooth it, rather than flouring my hands. I also baked it in a pre-heated Dutch oven.

    I baked the bread for the first 15 minutes with the lid on my Le Creuset, then took off for the remaining time. I’m just happy to have finally made the recipe work at this altitude! Reading people’s experiences and comments has been extremely helpful- thanks, Zoe and Jeff!

  31. A: You might find 100% WW to work better with even more vital wheat gluten (2 tsp per cup of dry grain ingredient, let’s say). Probably need to increase the water if you do that.

    Emily: Sounds great, our stuff works nicely in a closed container (and then you don’t need to create steam in the oven).

    Emily:

  32. I’m at 5000+ in Boulder, CO, and while I didn’t originally make the following adjustments to adjust for altitude, I made some anyway, and get great bread! From day one, I’ve made the basic recipe with 3.5 c. whole wheat bread flour (home-ground) and 3c. white bread flour, plus a hair more water to account for the whole wheat flour. Great Stuff!

    Tonight is my first attempt at the actual 100% whole wheat dough recipe from the book. Nothing will be baked until Thursday, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

  33. Thanks MaryBeth: We’ve gotten a range of responses to this post. Some people at altitude tell us everything works as written, most need to make some adjustments. I think it may be a matter of taste– their tolerance for denser bread. For the 100% WW, take a look at this too: http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/?p=142

    Let us know how it works out.

  34. I’m at 5000+’ in Johannesburg, South Africa. Received you book two days ago. Last night I made the European Peasant Bread dough with stone-ground bread flour, rye and whole-wheat flour. This afternoon I baked a pound boule. I followed the recipe to the letter, except I first tested my oven’s temperature. Out by 90F! I only baked when the thermometer read 450F. My oven’s dial was off the scale by that time.

    Unbelievable! The best bread I have ever baked! I can’t believe how easy it was. I have many bread books and have been baking for quite a while.

    Thanks for the tip to test the oven temperature first and thanks for a great book!

    I should have taken a photo of the bread, but we polished it in one go…

  35. Hi Llew,

    How very exciting! I’m so glad the bread was such a success.

    I too had an oven that was 80°F off. I also had to prop a chair up to the door to keep it closed. Once I knew how to compensate it baked just great. An oven thermometer is key!

    Thanks and welcome to the site,

    Zoë

  36. Hello Jeff and Zoe, I live at 9500 ft in Colorado, and just wanted to say THANK YOU!! Baking anything at this altitude is a challenge, sometimes impossible (pecan pie will explode and catch your oven on fire!) but thanks to this little page added to your wonderful book I’ve made “the best bread since I lived with my Mom” according to my husband and some of his co-workers! Since that came from my first batch I must say I am really impressed with all the thought that went into your book, and this site. I used bread flour and decreased the yeast to 1T, and after the 2hr rise refrigerated the dough for 2 days. I also used a cookie sheet because I don’t own a baking stone yet and the crust was still amazing. Once I used the oven thermometer and found my oven was off by 50 degrees everything was fantastic! I’m going to attempt a wheat bread next and hopefully that will be just as gratifying as the boule dough. Again I thank you, from a sea level girl who never thought she’d bake again!

  37. Thanks for the suggestion. I have increased the ww flour and added more VWG (vital wheat gluten)and more water. It has produced a wonderful, soft ww bread. Now I use 5 1/2 cups ww, 1 cup white bread flour, 6 T (18 tsp) VWG, 1 T yeast, 1T coarse salt, 3.5 to 4 cups water.I let it rest about 3 hours, since it’s cool in the kitchen these days. (Tried letting it rise overnight in the fridge, but it did not work for me, FYI.) I am so happy to have discovered your book. Thanks!

  38. I just heard about your book and now have it on hold at my library. I am also high and dry (6500 feet in Colorado Springs, Colorado), so it’s great to get tips like these.

  39. We live at 7700′. We made the Artisan bread and it came out fine. After a week we froze the dough. The next time we tried to bake a loaf, we left the frozen dough in the fridge overnight. This time the bread came out heavy in the middle. Do you have any suggestions as to why it would have come out heavy in the middle.

  40. Hi Peter,

    Try allowing the dough to rest longer before it goes in the oven. It should no longer feel cold and dense, like it does when it first comes out of the refrigerator.

    Let me know how it goes!

    Zoë

  41. Jeff and Zoe, I just wanted to say thank you SO much for producing your book. I picked up a copy in February and haven’t bought a loaf of bread since then. I live in CO and am at a mile above sea level, so I really appreciate this discussion thread and how quickly you respond to everyone’s questions.

    I took A Parker’s suggestions and fiddled with them a bit myself and came up with a tasty loaf of bread that my husband and children really love. I wrote about it at http://womanwithahatchet.blogspot.com/2009/04/bread-bread-bread.html. Oh and apparently I’m the direct cause of a number of my friends buying your book and going on a baking spree as well. So I thank you and my friends and family thank you, too. Keep up the good work!

    I look forward to your second book!

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