The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Hello everyone, from 6000 feet

ivorybow's picture

Hello everyone, from 6000 feet

Hello everyone. I am a life long bread baker, like 50 years, but at or near sea level. I have baked bread in Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Romania with no problems at all. I am hoping you brilliant bakers here can help me solve once and for all my serious problem with bread at 6,000 ft.

I moved here to Denver several years ago from Romania at sea level, and I had no problems there. But being at 6000 ft. has ruined my bread baking. I read several forum discussions of hi alt. bread baking where people say they are not having problems. One person at 8,000 ft said they make no adjustments. I talked with my local county extension agent and she gave me a lot of adjustments and told me to pretty much throw out all I knew from baking in Houston. Even with her suggestions I am not having success.

The problem I have every single time, until I have given up, is my bread collapses at the end of my second rise. It looks perfect, but then collapses. Especially when I move it to the oven, it deflates before my eyes. My last effort, hot dog buns, came out miniature flat breads. I have tried putting it in the oven before it has fully doubled but it deflated in the first few minutes of baking. A Pullman loaf is impossible. I didn't have luck with making my own sour dough starter either. After one successful loaf, the starter just died on me. Even my bread machine bread collapses. I have used both diastatic malt and gluten additives. I have tried every brand and type of flour from artisan to spelt. What am I doing wrong? I am desperate for a solution. Any advice will be most welcome.

Precaud's picture

is quite a change. Here's lookin' at ya from 7,000  (well, 6,950...)  :)

Your complaint is quite familiar. Oven spring = oven shrink. It is indeed frustrating to watch it collapse right when or after it goes in. I never learned to bake at sea level, and I haven't mastered it yet, but here's how I'm adjusting.

  • Most important - I typically use only 1/2 to 2/3 the amount of yeast in a given recipe.
  • With altitude usually comes dryness, so I usually have to add a little more water/liquid ingredients. I say usually, because it's been very humid in the high desert this year. (this is tricky, because too moist dough is prone to collapse)
  • Autolysing the flours definitely helps.
  • Water boils at a lower temp up here, so increase your baking temps to get the same penetration. Make sure your oven's temp settings are accurate - my gas oven's were 50ºF low !
  • For rye, spelt, etc. add vital wheat gluten.
  • Smaller, thinner geometries tend to work better than large, thick ones.

Personally, I like less-airy breads so the 'failures' are more of a visual aesthetic quandary... they still taste great.

Will be interested to hear what works for you.

UVCat's picture

i feel your pain! i moved to the denver area from sea level about 3 years ago. i’ve also baked bread while visiting places in the mountains, up to 9000+ ft. 

precaud has given you some good suggestions and advice. a few additional things that come to mind based on my experiences adapting to altitude (i use sourdough exclusively, but i don’t think that matters much):

- perhaps too obvious, but have you tried decreasing your final proof time? rise happens faster at lower air pressure, hence the advice for decreasing the amount of yeast. decreasing the proof time may be a step in the same direction.

- i found i need to degas (what  old recipes called a “punch down”) during bulk fermentation and really adapt my understanding of what the dough will look like when it is fully-proofed. you get the same visual/volume rise with less fermentation, so i have learned to “go long” on bulk fermentation, but with at least one degassing so that the dough does not over-inflate and collapse. it is a tricky balance!

- how do you develop gluten in your doughs? it sounds like the gluten network is failing during final proof and/or the bake. perhaps more strengthening during mixing, bulk, and/or shaping would help?

- this is a long shot, but given your struggles with starting/maintaining a sourdough culture i wonder about your water. new place means new water. have you tried doing an entire bake with bottled water? that would at least eliminate that possibility.

hope something in here helps!


Abelbreadgallery's picture

Good morning. I live in Mexico at 6300 ft high, and I dont have any kind of problem while baking bread. There are other aspects (quality of water or flours) that can interfere more. I believe that if you lived in Bolivia (11000 ft) maybe can have some problems because of the pressure and how affects to the expansion of gas. But in medium-high places there's not a big problem. Have you tried with other recipes (a traditional sandwich loaf, poolish baguettes etc)? I mean, if you take care of Hydration, Time, Temperature of the dough and pH of your sourdough, you can't go wrong wherever you are.

Abel Sierra (Mexico)