Bread making at high altitudes

I’ve listened to Car Talk for 20+ years, but this is the first time I have been moved to write. On the show broadcast today, 5/25/13, in Boston, Tom & Ray took a question about baking in a bread machine from a guy who had moved from New Orleans to Arizona, from altitude 0 ft to around 4,000 ft. They suggested cutting back on the yeast which is indeed part of the answer. A fuller answer is more complex. At apprx. 4,000 ft:

  1. Liquid - increase 2 Tbs for every 1 cup of liquid in the recipe
  2. Gluten - increase 2 tsp for every 1 cup of flour in the recipe
  3. Yeast - decrease by 1/8-1/4 tsp for every 1 tsp of yeast in the recipe
  4. Sugar - decrease by 1Tbs for every 1 cup of sugar in the recipe (the text says per 1 Tbs, but it is realistically per 1 cup)
  5. Baking powder - decrease by 1/8-1/4 tsp for every 1 tsp of baking powder in the recipe

The adjustments may take a bit of experimentation. The recommendations above come from the book “The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook”, by Beth Hensperger. The rationale and a table for different altitudes are on pages 37-38 in the book. It is avaliable from Amazon for $14.63. Besides addressing altitude and other technical aspects of bread machine bread making, it has great collection of recipes. I’ve been trying them out for years with kudos from family and friends.

(Beth, when do I get my 15% cut) :wink:

Make a tortilla/flatbread/naan/pita bread and don’t worry about the substrations. In may experience, Every mathematic operation increases the chances of a goof.

Shoey, do you how long it would have taken Tom to derive those adjustments? :slight_smile:

Cars, bread machines, same thing.

According to my manual, high altitude adjustments include decreasing your liquid (be it milk or water) by 2 Tbsp and your yeast by 1/4 tsp. Be sure to try only one adjustment at a time. If neither of these work, another tip for a fallen loaf is to increase your salt by 1/4 tsp. You may also want to try checking out your manual online… Good Luck!

I would consider a different variable altogether: humidity!
The flour will absorb more water in NM than it did in LA, so in using the same amount of flour, your dough will be drier and consequently, less elastic, preventing it from rising into a nice, fluffy loaf. The solutions would be to either reduce the flour slightly (I would start by about 1/2 c in a recipe that calls for 5-6 c flour) or add a little more water.
There should be no need to use additional rising agents to account for elevation; I’ve never had an issue living at 5000’.

When I heard the call about the bread machine, I couldn’t help but think about two things from the Cartalk archives, neither related to baking bread.

  1. Cattle trailer electric brakes
  2. The Imfamous “Andy Letter”.

For those who only barely remember, long long ago, shortly after Marconi invented the radio, someone called the show to ask a question about electric brakes on a cattle trailer. Tom and Ray forthrightly said they were clueless about electric brakes, then proceeded to answer the question anyway, in spite of their complete lack of knowledge on the subject.

Sometime later, weeks I guess, a guy named Andy wrote a letter which was read on the air, explaining how he and others had always wondered about a particular philosophical question:

"Do two people who don't know what they are talking about know more or less than one person who doesn't know what he's talking about?"

Andy concluded that Tom and Ray’s answer about the cattle trailer proved conclusively that indeed it was possible for two people to know less than one.

If there was ever any doubt about Andy’s conclusion, I think the breadmaker call put that doubt to rest for Eternity. Or at least 14/15 of Eternity

Here’s Andy’s letter:

You can hear the hilarious show on which the guys read and discuss Andy’s letter, it’s worth the 99 cent itunes download for a moment of classic Cartalk lore: