First I have to give credit, where credit it due! I live for 14 years at 9000 feet. Any idea how hard it is to bake at that elevation? Super duper hard! In fact, in moving to Denver, a mere 5000 feet, I can bake just about anything. Yet all box mixes say anything over 3500 feet should be “enhanced” for altitude….
A couple of years back my husband got me a GREAT kitchenade stand mixer. The grand-daddy of them all (must weigh 50 pounds), and I started wanting to make bread. Well yeast does funny things in that low oxygen environment and most of my loaves, while still edible, were very dense and chewy. I was always looking for good high altitude cook books and one day found this: http://www.highaltitudebaking.com/thebook.htm.
For those of you who love cook books- this is a pretty amazing one. It gets into great detail of the technical aspects of cooking/baking at Sea Level, 3000 feet, 5000 feet, 7000 feet and 10000 feet. Each recipe has detailed instructions and ingredients adjustments for each altitude. I’m now baking at 5000 feet and loving it.
This is the basic bread recipe I use. Its labeled in the book as “Buckhorn Baguettes” but I use it for all shapes and sizes and mix all kinds of stuff into it. I’m going to give you the sea level version of this knowing that most of my peeps are much lower than I.
Combine 1 1/2 cups HOT water, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. Your looking for a temperature of about 115 degrees, so if you used really hot water let it sit until that temp comes down. I just stick a digital thermometer in it and watch it.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine 1/4 cup of WARM water and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar if you can then add 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast (= 1 packet, I don’t use fast acting, just normal yeast). Stir in the yeast and set aside for 3 or 4 minutes or until the mixture bubbles. (if it takes longer than 5 minutes your yeast is probably old and you need to start over with new yeast).
Measure about 2 1/2 cups of flour into your mixing bowl (1 cup should be all purpose, with the balance being bread flour). Pour in Water/oil mixture when it hits 115 degrees and add yeast mixture and mix HARD for 4 minutes using the mixer’s paddle attachment. Stop and scrap sides of bowl down. Continue mixing on low working in another 1 1/2 to 2 cups of bread flour, using just enough to make it slightly gooey but coming together in a ball.
Switch from paddle attachment to dough hook and knead with the mixer on low for 12 minutes. The timing on the knead as well as the 4 minutes of hard mixing at the outside is very important. I set my timer so that I make sure to run both of these full-time amounts.
Once your 12 minutes of kneading is up your basic dough is done and ready for its 1st rise. Place your rounded dough ball in a well oiled bowl, covering with oiled plastic wrap and a towel. Place bowl someplace warm for 1st rise. At sea level 1st rise should be 60 to 80 minutes. Dough should double in size.
**Here is a little hint. This makes a good amount of dough. At this point, I divide the dough in half and put half of it in a well oiled zip-lock bag and stick it in the fridge for use later in the week.
Once dough has risen, punch down to remove large air bubbles. You can turn it out onto the counter and give it a gentle knead once or twice if you want. I just punch it down, pick it up and turn the bottom under until I have a nice ball again. Place back in the bowl and cover for 2nd rise. 2nd rise should take 50 minutes or so.
While you wait for 2nd rise, you should prepare your cooking surface. I have a bread bell http://breadtopia.com/store/round-la-cloche.html that I use. I also sometimes just bake on a pizza stone. Make sure to dust the surface of the stone with corn meal so the bread can expand and rise without sticking.
Now dough has risen from its second rise, punch down, knead to form into the shape you want to make. You can go with long baguette ( you will have to divide the dough) or a round boule, or loaf. Place your dough on your stone for 3rd rise. This should take about 30 minutes.
You can pre-heat your oven while the 3rd rise is happening. Preheat to 425. Once your dough has risen use a very sharp knife to cut slits in the top. This allows it to expand as it cooks better.
Even though you have preheated to 425, you are going to bake at 400 for 15 minutes then 350 for 15 or 20 more. They also so to add steam to the baking process. You can place an oven safe pan full of water under the pan. I have also tossed in a few small ice-cubes to the bottom of my oven during the baking process.
Here is what I used to enhance mine tonight for dinner. The boys like it spicy…. I just like the cheese, so its easy to do 2 small loaves.