The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Plastic-wrap, Altitude, Flours, oh my!

mcfarlanea's picture

Plastic-wrap, Altitude, Flours, oh my!

Hi all,

Love the site, excited about baking better bread.

I moved to rural Kenya in the past few months to teach music at a high school and have been frustrated by the lousy bread (mostly wonderbread, or a whole-wheat version thereof). I grew up in a French city and I love to cook, but my bread-baking has been limited to basic loaves from the Joy of Cooking. Now I'm trying to elaborate (the white loaf is a little boring), and I want to take a stab at the Rustic Bread ( found on this site. I have a few questions:

1) I'm at fairly high altitude (about 7,000ft). Do I simply reduce slightly the amount of yeast I use?
2) The only yeast I can find locally is Instant, either in tiny packages or in 1KG packages (much to my surprise). Will this do? Should I be springing for the large packages (only thought here is that larger quantity implies bakery usage and therefore better quality).
3) I've found all-purpose and whole wheat flour, but many people here use a corn flour (maize flour) to make an "african cake" called ugali (it's a firm, gluey texture, just flour and water cooked). Can anyone suggest recipes that might use that flour? Can I mix it into regular bread recipes?
4) Is plastic-wrapping the Preferment necessary? I understand this is likely to seal in the moisture, but plastic-wrap would likely require a trip into Nairobi to find. Part of the reason baking my own bread is appealing is due to the fact that I can be a bit self-sufficient, so if I can avoid importing plastic-wrap I'd like to. Can I cover with a towel? Or cover with a plastic bag cut open with an elastic band around the edge of the bowl?

Thanks. I look forward to sharing my experiences and learning from yours! Now if only I could figure out how to import a copy of "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" ...

subfuscpersona's picture

Unfortunately I can't help you with Q1 (high altitude baking) but here are suggestions for your other questions

> Q2 - dry yeast storage - Dry yeast is usually packaged in vacuum sealed, foil-lined bags so, if unopened, it will stay strong until the expiration date on the package. Once opened, a combination of heat plus humidity will reduce the strength of dry yeast. Can you freeze (or at least refrigerate) the dry yeast? It will keep for years if frozen (see If not, is it possible to find a vacuum sealed jar (I'm thinking of canning jars and lids but have no idea if something like that is available in Kenya). If it can't be refrigerated or frozen keeping it in something like a canning jar that gives a partial vacuum seal would help keep out moisture.

> Q3 - I wouldn't use corn flour in bread recipes. Corn has no gluten forming ability and could lead to a heavy, dense bread. You could, of course, make cornbread, which is leavened with baking soda or baking powder.

> Q4 - as long as the rising preferment won't reach the top of the bowl, I don't see why you couldn't use a cut up plastic bag (the plastic bag may not be food grade quality so you don't want the dough to touch it). The particular recipe you cite uses a fairly liquid preferment, so you could just put a plate on top of the bowl. For other shorter risings (just a few hours) you could use a slightly dampened (woven) tea towel over the rising container. Again, just make sure the dough won't ever touch the towel. Or maybe you have a tightly covered container that would work as a proofing box. People have been making yeast risen bread for millenia - plastic wrap has only been around for 50 years. I'm sure you can improvise satisfactorily.

if only I could figure out how to import a copy of "The Bread Baker's Apprentice"

I can't help you with Reinhart's book but you can download Part Two of Hamelman's Bread, which is the source for the recipe you liked. Here's the link:

The download is in Adobe Acrobat pdf format.

Hamelman's book is primarily aimed at professional bakers. Each recipe has a small scale version for home bakers which uses instant dry yeast but the large scale versions use fresh yeast. If you need to adjust a recipe to a quantity that's not given in the book, you will have to learn about the baker's percentage and always remember to adjust the amount of yeast from fresh to dry.

Russ's picture

Hi, and welcome to The Fresh Loaf! I think you'll like it here, I know I do.

As to your questions, I think I can give some help, but for the rest you'll need to wait to hear from others.

  1. Don't know much about baking at altitude, but there are lots of knowledgeable folks here who do.
  2. Instant yeast (sometimes abbreviated "IDY") is what I prefer to use, I recommend it. You will need to adjust some recipes a little if they call for active dry or fresh (AKA cake) yeast. Active Dry Yeast (usually abbreviated "ADY") appears in many recipes and often isn't actually named as such. You'll know the recipe is calling for active dry yeast if it tells you to mix the yeast with water. instant yeast can just be mixed in with the flour, so skip this step (simpler!). Also, with instant yeast you can (should) use a bit less (about 20% less) than with active dry. I recommend the larger packages over the tiny ones as they tend to be much more economical. Couldn't tell you which of the ones you're seeing are better quality, but I use SAF Instant Yeast because I read many good reviews of it and it works well for me, so if that brand is one of the ones you're seeing, I recommend it. For more on yeast see
  3. I know I've seen some recipes that use corn flours (is this similar to corn meal?) but I haven't tried any of them yet, so I can't recommend any personally.
  4. I don't think plastic wrap is the only way to go. A moist towel might do the job, though for long ferments like the one in that recipe it might lose its moisture and therefore its effectiveness. A plastic bag large enough to contain your bowl could work well, as could just transferring the preferment to a sealable container if you have one large enough. Your plastic bag/elastic band idea sounds fine too.

Well, that's all I've got, I'm sure others will come along soon with plenty more tips and advice. Happy baking!


mcfarlanea's picture

Thanks for the quick responses. I'd be interested to hear some more takes on this, but some more details, as requested:

- I have a small fridge with freezer that runs cold. I've been folding over the package of instant yeast, sealing it tightly with a rubber band, and storing it in the fridge. Next time I'll invest in the larger package and freeze it.

- The corn flour in question is very finely milled - not corn meal. I understand what you're saying about the gluten. This Maize flour is different than the stuff we get in North America, though - off the stock it's hard and milled directly. Maybe I'll experiment and report back.

- I don't have any tupperware, or large bowls for that matter (medium-sized glass bowls are what I've been using for the rising stages but my last batch rose much higher than the side of the bowl. I'll try the plastic bag/elastic band trick.

Some followup questions:

5) I'm limited by the size of my oven (small!), so I can bake only 1-2 loaves at a time. Making bread is time-consuming, and I work 14-hour days, 6 days a week. Any way I can freeze the dough at any stage to minimize the time it takes to get from ingredients to bread?

6) I'm going to start looking for a larger mixing/rising bowl as I can see that making 4 loaves at a time is a better idea than simply 2 (after you give away one and have friends over to share the other, you're down to only a few slices!). Big tin pots are easy to come by - any reason I should avoid them? I read somewhere that metal inhibits yeast growth? Is this a myth?

Thanks again.

rideold's picture

I don't think you need to worry about the yeast too much even at 7000 feet in elevation since the amount you are using is small. Generally speaking folks/books say reduce your yeast by 1/3 to 1/2 for high altitude but I have not had that experience when making low yeast/long ferment breads like you are talking about. I live at 5400 feet so you may find different results. If you were making a bread that used an entire packet of active dry yeast for two loaves then yes, I would reduce the yeast (hope that helps provide perspective). The one thing I would say is to pay attention to your fermentation times. Since your source recipe is shooting for a 2.5 hour fermentation you will want to adjust your fermentation temp and/or your yeast amount to get generally the same time frame (does that make sense?).

On the plastic wrap side....I never use it. I use damp towels. Depending on the weather I do have an old plastic bag from my weekly purchase of tortillas that I cut open and I lay that over the damp towel to keep it from drying out. I don't bother with rubber bands etc. If the dough is going in the fridge for a delayed fermentation I'm more careful about keeping things moist. Sometimes I put the towel and the plastic over the bowl and then put a plate or lid from a pot over that to make a better seal. Either way I use a big bowl that will accomidate the dough without it pushing against the towel.

In the end don't worry about it all too much. Pay attention to your dough and make adjustments as needed to accomidate the climate/environment. For example with wild yeasted breads one has to vary the amount of starter to accomidate the temperature as the seasons change. The same can be done with yeast to some extent.

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I lived at 7,700 feet for the past 8 years.  And it is considerably different from 5,000 or so.  It seems you pass a threshold somewhere along that change and the change is not simply additive.


Where I lived, in Colorado, it tended to be cool to cold to very cold and the humidity was astoundingly low.  You may not have all of these issues.


The basic dough rising issues, I found that using a higher gluten flour helped a lot.  I used All-Trumps unbleached and unbromated at 14% protein (compared to 12 for normaly bread flour and 10 for all-purpose).  I also made the doughs at about 5% lower hydration than sea level recipes.  And finally, I reduced the yeast by about 1/3.


I had, in the past, baked at sea level on the Gulf Coast and never had trouble with dough drying out.  In the Colorado moutains, dough started drying in about 5 minutes, and you were in trouble in 15.  I tended to spray the dough with oil and cover it with plastic wrap.  The oil was more to keep the dough from sticking than to keep the dough moist.


You need to check your own relative humidity.


The sourdoughhome web page has, if I say so myself, some good information on the topic at


Good luck,



Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and using this little recipe I threw together. Although I used corn meal, I did try to get it finer in the blender.  Browning the flour is easy, just keep an eye on it and stir often. 

Mini O