The Fresh Loaf

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Elevation and effect on crust texture - I'm stymied and need help!

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bnom's picture
bnom

Elevation and effect on crust texture - I'm stymied and need help!

I live in Seattle and consistently make sourdough breads that have a russet-colored crispy/chewy crust typical of SF SDs.  When we go to our cabin in Idaho - elev. 6500 ft - the crust is comparatively pale and has a dry, crackly, tough quality.  The  crumb is nice and open and I get impressive oven spring but I find the quality really disappointing.   

I suspect the problem is the altitude and not just the fact that I'm working with a different oven.  I've had the same disappointing results when I've used yeast  (1 tsp) instead of my starter.   Ditto with different steaming methods (on a baking stove with steaming towel/lava rock set up, and in a dutch oven). 

I would really like to know a) there are bakers who are getting good chewy crisp crusts at high elevation, and b) what adjustments are you making to achieve that?

Thanks for any insight/ideas you can offer!

Barbara

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Most typically pale crust is a result of overproofing, which is a common problem in high altitude baking. How have you adjusted your proofing times to match? Yeasted breads will tend to rise more quickly at higher altitude, so if you're following your sea-level recipe exactly, there's a chance that it will be overproofed. 

However, if you're saying you're still getting good oven spring it may be that the dough is underproofed, or some other factor involved. Hmmm, bit of a mystery...

High altitude also means you may have to bake a bit hotter , and increase the amount of hydration slightly (if the flour is really dry).

So to troubleshoot further, maybe you could elaborate on some of the steps you've taken to adjust:

  • proofing time
  • yeast levels
  • hydration
  • baking temperature and time

 

bnom's picture
bnom

Thanks for the help Cranbo.   I didn't know that about pale crusts and overproofing (I thought maybe it was oversteaming). 

It's possible that this last batch was overproofed during the first rise.  I had used yeast (maybe  2 tsps) instead of my usual sourdough.  I let it rise a couple of hours in a 75 degree room until nearly doubled and then put the bowl in the fridge. When I checked on it a few hours later, it had continued to rise (maybe triple the original volume).  I've never had that problem at home so wasn't expecting it.  I shaped the dough into batards and then put them back in the fridge for the night.  When I baked early the next morning I judged them properly proofed.  I baked at 500 degree oven (as hot as that oven gets) with steam 10 minutes and then another 20 or so minutes after.   They were golden brown, just not that nice russet color I get at home. The bread reminded me of supermarket french bread in texture and color (not something I aspire to!).  A loaf I made last month with SD starter never even got to golden....it was super pale.   By the way, I don't have scales at the cabin so tend to just wing the formula but I think the hydration was at least 70%.  The dough felt lovely -- I really had high hopes for it.

BTW, I have read that high elevation  contributes to oven spring.

 

 

 

 

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

(maybe triple the original volume)

Yep, this sounds like classic overproofing to me. Try reducing the amount of yeast if you're going to let the fermentation run as long. Also, try letting it rise to only 1/3 instead of doubling, for all of your fermentations (bulk and proofing). 

I found this page to be a good guide to high-altitude cooking and baking tips.

 

bnom's picture
bnom

That page was really useful, thanks for the link.  I had no idea baking at high elevation was so fraught (perhaps ignorance is bliss because I've made cakes, pies, cinnamon rolls etc that have turned out really well).  Next month I'll be going back to the cabin and will try some of the adjustments to the bread I make and will post my progress.

hk1's picture
hk1

I can't really help you out but I can corroborate the problem. My problem is that I was able get crispy crust at high altititude but I've had trouble getting it at lower altitudes, specifically low altitude with humid weather.

After visiting Germany I came home and some months later decided to learn how to bake the small hard, crusty rolls with ate in southern Germany and Northern Austria. They are known there as Brotchen or Semmel. After quite a few flops, I started getting a crust that met my expectations. This was at 7500 feet above sea level with probably 35% to 40% humidity (San Luis Valley Colorado).

I've since moved back to PA where I'm about 500 ft above sea level with humid weather, and I've been unable to get the same crispy crust. I've actually had some good success with crusts on other bread such as ciabatta but my brotchen always turns out to be sort of leathery. I've even tried reheating them at 350 for about 8 minutes but as soon as they are cool enough to eat the crust has already changed from crunchy and crispy to chewy.

bnom's picture
bnom

The crust you describe sounds good - I had the same sort of crust when I baked at high elevation in a dutch oven. That loaf had a thin crust that shattered when you bit into it.  It was pleasant - much better than the thicker, drier crust I got the other day.  Maybe I need to go back to dutch oven cooking when at the cabin -- but I really like my baguettes and batards.