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. I’m at about 12,000 feet here in La Paz Bolivia.

    I am going to try the following:

    2 teaspoons of yeast
    6 cups of bread flour
    1.5 tablespoons salt
    3.5-4 cups COLD water

    I’ll let you know how it comes out.

  2. Haven’t been to La Paz since 1993, I expect it’s different. But not the altitude– let us know how your experiments turn out. Jeff

  3. Jeff, it is indeed different, even from the last time I was here. Lots of supermarkets now..

    I ended up using more flour, about 7 cups, and it still came out way too watery. Should I just add more flour, or something else? Help?

    • Carlos: Which of our books are you working from, so I know which recipes you have access to?

      Sounds like the flour you have is too low in protein and you need to increase it. Jeff

  4. Now that the weather here on the mountain(4848) is cold – With wind chill today at minus 27 my bread no longer sings……….suggestion?

  5. I’m impressed with your book about bread in five min. a day. I once had bread that had a mixture of cheese, onion, and green pepper somehow put in it. It always appeared at the top of the loaf after cooking. How can I duplicate this idea with your recipes which I think are great!! Thanks.

  6. re gluten free rcp’s
    here I am adding one more egg (5 not 4) and a little less oil/honey (-5%), and a little hotter oven +475 F
    it’s dry& cool in the house

  7. I’m at 8000 and have no problems with the basic rcp. however I’m am using fire brick (Thick) instead of a pizza stone (thin) and I would like to get the bottom a little darker. Should I try getting the oven up closer to 450 before I start baking?

    • Hi John,

      If the bottom crust is not dark enough you should try letting the fire brick preheat for longer. It can take 45 minutes or even longer for really thick stones. This should help!

      Thanks, Zoë

  8. I’m in Denver and I have a question. Both batches I have made (the first where I didn’t do the high altitude adjustments and the 2nd where I did), both times when I take the grapefruit size of dough out of the bowl, the dough just rips out… no need for a knife or scissors. What am I doing wrong?

    • Jenny: Which recipe are you working from (which book and page #). Some of them do “rip” this way.

      Once I know that… did the final result bake up the way you expected?

  9. I live at 7,500 feet and use the gluten-free recipes. The dough is very wet, especially the pizza dough (I finally used a GF pizza dough from Red Mill and that worked quite well.) I’ve tried all the tricks on your web site re: GF dough being too wet, but nothing seems to work. Next, I’m going to reduce the yeast. Wish me well, I love pizza.

  10. Hi Jeff,
    I’m working with the master recipe from the healthy bread book. The final result was yummy and the crust was perfect, but alas, it didn’t rise very much.

    • Hi Jenny,

      Did the two different batches result in any difference at all? You may want to try the recipe with a couple more tablespoons VWG to counter the high altitude issues. This will give the dough more stretch and allow it to rise better. If your dough was already too dry, you will need to add more water to compensate for the extra VWG.

      Thanks, Zoë

  11. Bought both books, but have only baked Master Recipe out of Artisan book. Live in Utah at 4,900 ft. My dough just rips out like Jenny’s ..even if I let it warm up from 36 degree refrigerator temp before attempting to pull of grapefruit ball. I measure everything exactly, add tiny bit of flour to handle, but am afraid to add more water. Lots of large holes in dough. Bread does rise in oven, tastes & looks great, but may not be quite as high as yours. I’ve not adjusted Master recipe based on reading everyone’s posts here. Any ideas on adjustments I should make to get the “stretch”?

    And, before I forget, THANK YOU for such great, user-friendly, do-able books.

    Beth

    • Hmm, it could be related to altitude, but I’m a little skeptical on that, given that you get large holes and decent rise. Is it spreading sideways? In which case you’ll probably like it a little drier. Assume you’ve tried suggestions on this page?

      What brand of flour are you using; are you certain it’s unbleached? Jeff

  12. Flour: Gold Medal unbleached, all purpose, measured using scoop & sweep. Formed ball holds its shape beautifully while it rests. I let it rest about 90-100 minutes, because that’s how long it seems to take before the ball “wiggles”. Interestingly, when dough bakes, it loses its round shape and become more oval. I read all the helpful comments on the FAQ (& your high altitude hints in “Healthy Bread”), but decided not to tamper with Master recipe, because so many reported good results at higher altitude. I’ve wondered if dough should be a bit wetter because it’s not really wet when I handle it….a little sticky, but doesn’t strike me as “wet”. (But I”m a total bread baker novice.)

    I’ve got 2 buckets going now with Master Artisan recipe because of ski house guests this week. When I break off dough, should I use wet, rather than floured hands to work them? Or, is it too late to make dough wetter? The dough was just mixed last night.

    • Hi Beth,

      You may want to try using “bread” flour instead of all-purpose to get more strength in the dough. This may help the dough keep its shape better. If you do this you will need to add a 1/4 cup more water to the dough.

      Have you watched any of our videos to see if your dough looks like ours? be sure it is of the ABin5 bread dough and not the HBin5 dough. http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/?page_id=63

      Thanks, Zoë

  13. Zoe & Jeff, thank you both so much for your responses! I’ve watched all your videos and found them very helpful…especially in shaping the dough. I do think my dough looks a bit drier than yours, but my fingers look like yours when I’m done working with the dough, so perhaps my dough is OK. I’ll make 8 loaves with the 2 buckets I just made and see if the stretch appears in any of the grapefruit balls. If not, I’ll definitely try your suggestion of bread flour & additional water in the next bucket.

    My friends and family think your bread is fantastic, even without the “stretch”, and I’m doing something I’ve never been able to do before. So I’m very much a happy baker….I’d just like to perfect the technique.

    Thanks again!

  14. Hello,

    I have been loving the artisan breads and the whole grain breads for a while. I also subscribe to cooksillustrated magazine and saw that they have a similar recipie to yours. I see in your artisan book that you adapted their recipe to your method which is great. I tried baking your Volcornbrot in my 8qt dutch oven per their method which worked awesomely. The only problem was that I had to use 2lbs of dough to get a decent sized loaf in my dutch ovan. The obvious solution would be to get a smaller dutch oven to bake the 1lb loaves that I would like to make. What sized dutch oven would you recommend to make nice 1lb loaves? I was thinking 4qut might be two small but i’m not sure if 5 or 6 would be best.

    Thanks

    • Hi Michelle,

      I have used both my 5 and 7qt Dutch Ovens to bake a 1-pound loaf. It is actually ok if the loaf has a little room around it. I think the loaf comes out with a prettier shape if it isn’t crammed against the sides.

      Thanks and enjoy, Zoë

  15. Hi,

    I have made the master recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 a few times now, but the last time I made it the bread tasted very yeasty. Because I live above 6000 ft, I decreased the yeast to a little over 1TB and increased the salt to almost 2 TB. I used unbleached flour. The only difference I can think of on this last batch, is that I just bought a 6 qt bread container and closed it up completely while stored in the fridge. Could you help me figure out why my bread was so yeasty and what I can do better in the future? Thanks!

  16. Artisan bread in 5 min p122 Bagels My 1st batch of 4 came out perfect, I let the dough store in the refrigerator for 7 days then made up the rest- this time the dough didn’t rise after the boiling- the oven was preheated and I added the hot water to the pan in bottom. please help

      • Just made the same bagel recipe and made bialys as well. The bialys were fabulous! Bagels looked like donuts! Would like to incorporate whole wheat into recipe for the bialys. What amount do we use for both whole wheat and white? Love the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes book…second time because first copy was loaned to a friend who never returned it!

      • Hi Michelle,

        You can add 1 cup of whole wheat in place of 1 cup of the all-purpose flour without having to change anything else.

        Enjoy! Zoë

  17. Does adding vital wheat gluten slow the rising process down?

    I am just about 7000 ft in altitude, and have tried many combinations of more salt, less yeast, cold water, 10 minute room temp rise, cold rise (in fridge overnight), etc. Results are heavy with hardly any air pockets, but a great crust. In my most recent attempt (rising right now) I have also included vital wheat gluten for the first time.

    Right now, I have mixed

    6.5 c King Arthur AP unbleached flour
    2 tsp yeast
    1.75 tbs kosher salt
    3.25 c cold tap water
    2.25 tbs vital wheat gluten

    and it has hardly risen after an hour at room temp – ack! In other attempts the dough would be up to the edge of the bowl by this point (if I let it). Do you see anything I have clearly done wrong? Thank you!

    • Maggie: Boy, with a cold-water start, I wouldn’t expect to see much rising at 60 minutes– it’ll take longer than that to reach room temp with wintertime tap water in cool climates.

      But– you may need more water– this isn’t our recipe, ours is wetter. Which book of ours are you using? Jeff

  18. I live in Colorado Springs (6,000 ft.) and tried baking your Master Recipe from the “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” book a couple days ago — it was a disaster (dough too dry, dough did not rise). Today I tried again using a fresh bag of King Arthur unbleached bread flour and a fresh jar of Red Star yeast. I also made the following adjustments for high altitude: decreased yeast to 1 Tbsp., added 3 Tbsp. vital wheat gluten,increased water to a little over 3-1/2 cups, decreased oven temperature to 425. I think I got the dough a little TOO wet this time, but it rose beautifully and the loaf came out of the oven looking great. However, when I cut the loaf in half down the middle, the bottom part (about 1 inch) was not done, and on the outside the bottom crust was not browned like the rest of the loaf. Any suggestions for my next try?

    • Elaine: I can’t imagine that altitude had anything to do with your initial “too-dry” result, shouldn’t affect that. So I’m at a loss. Did you use offbeat flours?

      Most important thing to check before going any further– oven temp, with something like http://bit.ly/czmco2 or the CDN one that comes straight from Amazon (don’t have the URL handy).

      Also, are you using an oven stone? How long did you preheat?

      • The flour I used with my initial attempt was well past its expiration date and had not been stored in an airtight container, so I’m sure that was why my first attempt failed — that, plus the fact that I didn’t make ANY altitude adjustments the first time but just followed your recipe exactly. As for my second attempt, I did use an oven stone, and I did preheat my oven all the way to 425 before putting the loaf in. My oven is pretty new and I think the temperature is accurate. Do you think the altitude adjustments I made need further tweaking? Less water? Decrease yeast further?

      • Hi Elaine,

        What dough are you baking that calls for 425°F?

        The stone will often take up to 45 minutes or longer to reach the full temperature, depending on how thick the stone is. The oven will say it is preheated way before the stone is ready. Your bottom crust and the under baked crumb are an indication that your stone isn’t preheated long enough. An independent oven thermometer is really the only true measure of the oven’t temp.

        I think the dough sounds like it is fine.

        You also need to allow the bread to cool before cutting into it or it may seem under baked.

        Thanks, Zoë

      • Zoe, as I mentioned above, reducing the temperature from the 450 in your Master Recipe for artisan bread to 425 was an adjustment I made for high altitude. I will try using the same batch of dough tomorrow to bake it at 450 and will preheat the oven longer. Will let you know if that works. Thanks!

    • OK, I tried baking my second loaf from the batch at 450, instead of the reduced 425. That worked better, but there was still a small amount at the bottom of the loaf that was not fully cooked, and the bottom was browner than the first loaf but still not as brown as the rest of the loaf. After this, I went out and bought an oven thermometer. Before I use it to test my oven, I’d like to know if I should set the thermometer in the middle of my baking stone to test oven temperature, or should I remove the stone from the oven for the temperature test? Also, I’m wondering if the bottom of my loaf would get browner if I used cornmeal on the bottom of the loaf instead of parchment paper?

      • Hi Elaine,

        Test the oven with the stone in, that way you will know exactly how long the stone takes to heat up. Using parchment will act as a slight insulator, so the bottom crust will brown more if you slide the loaf off of the paper for the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking.

        Thanks, Zoë

      • I tried baking my third loaf from the batch (basic artisan recipe from original book) at 460, and that turned out better, but still not quite perfect. Next I tried mixing up a loaf of your basic whole wheat bread from your second book (the recipe featured in your YouTube video) — I increased the water by 1/4 cup, cut the yeast down to 1 tablespoon, and increased the oven temp to 460. It came out very well — still slightly denser near the bottom than in the rest of the loaf, but very tasty.

      • Elaine: Maybe half as much water as you increased? If you haven’t tried the increased rest time (60 or 90 min), do that as well.

  19. Follow-up question: Any suggestions as to what I can do with the remaining dough in my refrigerator? (I have 3 loaves’ worth left.) Even if there’s no way to “rehabilitate” it to use to bake loaves of bread, could it be used for something else, like maybe naan?

    • Elaine– yes, flatbreads in general are more forgiving than loaf bread. Or you can use a little of the old dough to jump-start the flavor process in dough meant to age in the fridge.

  20. So, I don’t live too far above sea level, only 2192ft, in Edmonton, AB. But I have been making the 100% whole wheat sandwich loaf from the first book and my bread always flattens while baking. It rises alright, but then becomes flat and quite dense. I have tried steam while baking. And then I have tried adding 2 tbsp of VWG. Neither has helped. What else can I try?

  21. I live in Denver, 5280 ft amsl. I’ve made the basic recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 min/day book (first one?) many many times with decent luck. Chewy crumb, thick crispy crust. I use unbleached high altitude Hungarian Flour. I have no idea if the high altitude part of that means it is for high altitude baking or if it was made from wheat grown at high altitude. I often replace 2c of flour with whole wheat. The calzones turn out especially well. Today I’m trying 2 c wheat, 1 c rye, and 3.5 cups unbleached white flour with 1T yeast and 1.5 T salt.

    I find that storing/rising the dough in my salad spinner bowl with lid (minus the inner grid bowl and spinner mech.) works GREAT.

  22. I live at 4,950 ft., and I’ve had quite an odyssey trying to achieve oven spring. I first started trying an artisan bread using a recipe from a Julia Child cookbook. Result no oven spring. I then tried your “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”. Result no oven spring. Then Peter Reinhardt’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”. No oven spring (but learned how to make a great sourdough starter). Then Reinhardt’s “Artisan Breads Every day”. No oven spring. Then Jeffry Hamelman’s “Bread” (first edition). FINALLY, oven spring. I tied to figure out what was the difference in Hamelman’s method than in most of the other bread making methods. First was a decrease in mixing and kneading time and the second was the extensive preshaping and final shaping. For me the important difference seemed to be the extensive pre- and final shaping giving the dough structure (since Artisan Bread in 5 requires little mixing and no kneading, knocking out difference # one).
    So here is what I’ve done to get oven spring:
    1) Remove dough from fridge and do a stretch and fold. Let rest for 10 minutes with a plastic container on top.
    2) Do preshaping according to Hamelman and let rest 20 minutes.
    3. Shape according to Hammelman.
    4. Place on parchment on thin flexible plastic cutting sheet.
    5. Place in proofing box (cheap, plastic blanket/clothes box with water placed round the edges and used upside down.
    6. Let rise 90 minutes.
    7. Oven preheated at 440 F for 30 minutes.
    8. Preheated a cheap(er) 5.5 qt enameled cast-iron oval casserole for 20 minutes.(My range has really, really good oven vents.)
    9. After scoring, spritzed the bread with water, and using the flexible plastic cutting board placed the bread with parchment (initially cut to size of the casserole)into the casserole.
    10. Baked for 28 minutes with lid on, and then 12 minutes with lid off.

    For me the bread comes out of the oven crackling and the crust stays crisp and the crumb is good. I bake my bread shaped as a batard. After a 90 min raise the bread (1/4 recipe) was ~ 8 X 4.5 X 1.75 inches, while after baking was ~ 9.25 X 6.75 X 3.25 inches.
    For me this is great spring; previously the bread would widen out but not increase in height, so anything significantly greater than 1.75 inches is wonderful and exciting for me. I did find that after 60 minutes the dough was jello jiggaly so may try a shorter raise, since for me, I find that if I let the bread rise to much the oven spring is worse. Hope this helps someone.

    Love the inventiveness (and taste) of your recipes Zoe and Jeff. Thanks.

  23. Hi Jeff, to HA bakes the only adjustment I made (live at 7,600) was to cut the yeast by a 1/3. I read Jeff’s suggestion to cut the yeast, I didn’t not make any other adjustment. Perfect bread & pizza. Great book for HA bakers, finely real Bread! Thanks

  24. Hello!
    I just moved from 1500 ft to 5000 ft. I would like to make the enriched dough (for cinnamon rolls, brioche, challa). Before I “waste” all that butter, honey and eggs, though, I wanted to check and see if there are any alterations I need to make.
    Thank you!
    Melanie

  25. Hello Jeff & Zoe,

    I am just making your GF Crusty Boule for the first time, live and 7,600 FT in Durango, CO and forgot to decrease leavening/yeast in the recipe for accommodating high altitude baking. I measured everything as suggested for normal altitude. Any suggestions to alter recipe at this point, before I add wet ingredients? Also, I don’t have a dutch oven and will be baking it on a stone with the water tray in the bottom. Does the temperature need to be adjusted for this altitude. Thank you in advance for your response.

    Warm wishes,
    Linda

    • Hi Linda,

      Such an interesting question. We have never tried the GF dough at high altitude and you are the first reader to report trying it. If you have a scale, you can try splitting the dry ingredients in half and just make a half batch, using half the water. If that batch doesn’t result in a bread you are happy with, you can just add more of the flours to the remaining half, but don’t add any more yeast.

      Please let me know how it goes! Thanks, Zoë

      • Well Zoe…we baked the first batch of bread last evening. While it didn’t look like your sea-level altitude Boule, it was delicious…more like a yeasty soda bread. (It was extremely gummy coming out of the bowl, yet I just followed the instructions on covering with oiled wrap to rise 90 min.) Forgot to put the water pan in the oven (really?????????)….baked it on a prepared pizza/bread stone as instructed and it still had a nice crust. It was a dense bread, yet not like a hockey puck, which can often happen with high altitude baking when the leavening isn’t reduced. So I’d like to congratulate you and Jeff for your inventive creation of combinations of flours to make a GF loaf that doesn’t taste like cardboard and is gummy inside!!!! Brilliant!

        One note, I did add a bit more salt in the recipe after measuring all the ingredients according to the sea-level recipe, as per a comment on your website for correcting leavening at high altitudes. This may have been the saving grace. Also added about 2 more TBLS of the sorghum flour in the dough as it was really, really soft. And my sweetener was coconut nectar, since we’re mostly avoiding sugar.

        Thank you both for your efforts. I will let you know upon the next batch that I’ve adjusted for high altitude to see if we can get the Boule a bit loftier with an even crustier outside.

        Til then……

        Best wishes,
        Linda

  26. I’m making my second batch of Oat Flour bread from AB in 5, Page 174. This seems like a VERY wet dough and I have added additional flour both times. Are the measurements in the printed recipe OK? Should I try using less water?

    Thanks

    • Yes, it’s correct. But oat flours are pretty non-standard and may vary in the amount of water they absorb. Might be more efficient to decrease the water to 3 cups, but increasing the flour’s OK too.

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