The Crestone Eagle • November, 2020

High altitude bread baking

Just in time for Thanksgiving

by Anoushka Perkert

People have been baking bread for millennia. It is so much part of our culture that we probably carry it in our genes. Honestly: What could be better than a slice of fresh bread slathered with butter and honey?

Baking your own bread can be just as satisfying as eating it. Every home baker will tell you that kneading a lifeless lump of flour and water into a living, breathing being that has a life of its own is the core joy of baking bread at home. When we bake our own bread, we are in close contact with those things that give (and sometimes take) life: Air, water, temperature, humidity and timing are all essential ingredients that every baker has to learn. In high altitude, these factors pose a particular challenge and can cause cussing and cursing from those who thought they knew what they were doing. Believe me. I know.

As I have fiddled with adjusting my baking to high altitude conditions such as decreased atmospheric pressure and low humidity, I have found that regardless of how much you read up on these things, only your diligent practice and commitment to your dough will eventually bear the fluffy, nicely crusted breads you are looking for. As you journey with your dough, it will teach you what you need to know. Be patient. Allow for mistakes. And don’t give up.

In the process of trying various recipes, I have come upon one that worked remarkably well. It is scaled to high altitude conditions, but I have added some of my own adjustments. The bread is baked in a lidded cast iron dish and comes out wonderfully moist with a nice crust. Good luck!

High Altitude Crusty French Bread

Baked in a Dutch oven, cast iron pan or round Pyrex with lid

Ingredients for 1 loaf

1 of the above baking dishes about 8” in diameter

2 tsp. dry active yeast

1 tsp. sugar

1.25 c. warm water

2.5 c. bread flour

2 tsp. kosher salt

Thoroughly oil your baking dish. It doesn’t matter which of the above you are using, but it needs to have a lid. The size of the dish will determine the size and shape of your bread.

In a small bowl, combine water, yeast and sugar.

In a different bowl combine the flour with the salt. Add the yeast/water/sugar mixture. Mix everything until you have a sticky mass and then turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough with your hands for a good 10-15 minutes.

Gluten strands develop during the kneading process, so this step is very important. The dough needs to feel smooth, elastic and slightly tacky to the touch. Alternatively, if you have a standing mixer with a bread hook, you can let the machine do all the work.

Form the dough into a ball and put it back into your baking dish. Oil lightly, cover and allow to rise about 30-45 minutes until it has reached approximately 1.5 times its size. The dough is ready when a poke with the finger leaves a slight indentation with a spring back from the dough. If there is no spring back, your dough is over-proofed and will have a tendency to fall.

You can give the dough a second rise by punching it down and letting it rise again. The second rise will be much faster.

While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 450°F.

When the dough is ready to bake, score it with a sharp knife.

Place the lid on the pot and move the pot to the oven. By putting the lid on, you are creating a hot steam chamber, which is the ideal environment for the bread’s final rise and bake.

After 35 minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 400°F and bake for another 20 minutes. Check after a total of 40 minutes; if the loaf hasn’t browned much, remove the lid and continue baking uncovered.

The bread is done when the internal temperature reads between 190° and 200°F.

Cool your bread on a baking rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing it.