The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

It's about the dough and the challenges of high altitude and low humidity

Skibum's picture

It's about the dough and the challenges of high altitude and low humidity

Okay, the short story here is that for to get the dough to come together properly, I had to add an additional ¼ cup of water and if my bakers math is correct this says it is a 84% hydration.  The dough however is performing like a normal 66% dough.  I am a relative newb, but serious in my baking.  Am I making a math calc error?  Is anyone else baking in a similar dry environment having to make this large an adjustment?  The rest of the story:

Julia’s French loaf, take 3

When I got my bag of bakery bread flour, I thought I would use Julia Child’s classic French loaf recipe as a base and then figure out adjustments.  I have also started weighing the ingredients to track my baker’s math.


16 oz. or 31/2 cups of flour, (my flour weighs 140 grams/cup, so 3 cups less 2 Tbs)

1 Tbs whole wheat or rye flour

11/3 cup water

2 tsp yeast

21/4 tsp salt

When I mixed this 66% recipe I could not even get the dough to form a ball, there was excess flour in the bowl.  I needed to add 1Tbs water and mix with wet hands, just to get the dough to form a ball.  I live at an altitude of 4,400 feet and the ambient humidity inside rarely goes above 50% and the humidity outside is 25%, so very low.

On my second crack at the recipe, I added an additional 2 Tbs water and the dough came together very well.

This is my third test of the recipe and I have added an additional 4 Tbs of water and this is the best working dough from this batch of flour.  It stretched and folded nicely and was not difficult to work with.  When I did the baker’s math the dough is 84% hydration:

454 g bread

12 grams WW

Total flour 466 grams, 392 grams water = 84%

In my environment this dough is just beginning to look like the dough featured in this King Arthur flour video an mixing and folding:

I am a little surprised with the hydration number and can’t help think I am making a calculation error.  As they say, it is about the dough and my dough likes a lot more moisture and I figure the altitude and low humidity are the reason.  Here is how things looked after the first 1 hour bulk ferment:


My plan is to bake the next batch with an additional 2 Tbs water above this formula and continue adding water to subsequent batches until I get dough resembling something like Peter Reinhart’s ciabatta or pain ancienne photos from BBA and ABED.

 The adventure continues . . .