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High-Altitude Whole Wheat Bread Recipe

A yeast bread for folks living around 7,000 feet above sea level.

Andrew C. Bairnsfather

Loaf of Drew's whole wheat bread. Below is a recipe for whole wheat bread. It took me months to get it right. For folks who don’t know, there is signficantly less air pressure “up here” at 7,000 feet above sea level. For comparison, 1 mile is 5,280 feet.

The first time I made bread, according to a recipe in the book that came with the bread machine, the dough rose so much it billowed over the edge of the mixing bowl, then it rose even more and opened the lid of the machine! I noticed what was happening and had to help the dough back in the machine! Obviously the recipe needed modification. Basically the ratios of the ingredients needed to be adjusted.

If you don’t have a bread machine, I highly recommend you buy one. I can’t say I have any recomendations beyond what Consumer Reports might say. Except to note that one doughball from the machine will make a very large loaf, or two regularly sized loaves. (Loaf pan sizes: 1.5 qt, 8.5" x 4.5" x 2.5")

One final note with regard to bread machines and this recipe. I have noticed that my particular bread machine doesn’t knead well with a dough ball that’s too small (it just knocks the ball around the machine instead of kneading it), on the other hand a too large dough ball may not be kneaded enough. So I’ve found a happy medium with the recipe below. Your bread machine may have a larger or smaller mixing area and ideal dough ball size, so you might have to pay attention the first few times it kneads to see if the dough it being kneaded thoroughly; or just compare the amounts of the ingredients in this recipe with the amounts of the ingredients in the recipes that came with the book that came with the bread machine. (Which I’m sure you still have or came along with the machine when you acquired it. :-)

I will try to be as descriptive as possible for folks not used to baking a yeast bread, but will assume you know a few basic cooking principles. You should be able to find all of the dry ingredients in the baking aisle of your grocery store.

This recipe will take about 3 hours from the time you begin until the time the two loaves come from the the oven.

Obviously you will not have to tend the machine the whole time, that’s why I use a machine and don’t knead by hand, um, I have other things to do. :-) However, you might want to look at the ingredients when it first starts out, to make sure there’s enough water, or not too much water (add flour), and to make sure any mixed-in ingredients are being distributed evenly. I use a spatula to help the dough ball if it needs it, or scrape the sides of the mixing bowl clean. So you should keep an eye on the dough ball the first few minutes; to make sure it gets a good start.

Below are two versions of the recipe. The first iteration worked out very well. However, in recent months something has messed up my recipe, it’s like the flour itself has changed. More air? If you find that to be that case with you, you may try the updated recipe.

 

Older: Version 1

 Ingredient   How Much   What It Does 
 Water   1 3/4 cups  Provide moisture.
 Butter   3 tablespoons  Helps brown crust.
 Whole Wheat Flour   5 cups  Bulk. Nutrition.
 Sugar   1/4 cup  Food for the yeast.
 Salt   2 1/2 teaspoons  Influence rising.
 Gluten   8 teaspoons  Traps gasses released by the growing yeast; adds protien.
 Yeast   1 tablespoon, 2 teaspoons  Eats the sugar, creates gas, causes the bread to become more airy, less dense.

Newer: Version 2

 Ingredient   How Much   What It Does 
 Water   2 1/3 cups  Provide moisture.
 Butter   4 tablespoons  Helps brown crust.
 Whole Wheat Flour   6 cups  Bulk. Nutrition.
 Sugar   1/2 cup  Food for the yeast.
 Salt   3 teaspoons  Influence rising.
 Gluten   4 tablespoons  Traps gasses released by the growing yeast; adds protien.
 Yeast   1 tablespoon, 2 teaspoons  Eats the sugar, creates gas, causes the bread to become more airy, less dense.

 

What To Do

  • Mix the dry ingredients (except the yeast) in a container, I use a dinner fork or whisk.
  • Put the kneading paddle in place in the mixing bowl.
  • Put the wet ingredients (water and butter) in the mixing bowl.
  • Put the dry mixture in the mixing bowl, on top of the wet ingredients.
  • Put the yeast on top so it doesn’t get wet immediately.
  • Plug the bread machine in, select the whole wheat setting, and start it.
  • Prepare two loaf pans. I use clear Pyrex, so I butter the inside completely, and coat with corn meal.
  • After the machine’s final kneading cycle and the final rise, take the dough ball and cut it in two.
  • Turn them around on a board so they’re nicely shaped.
  • Cut shallow grooves and butter in the grooves to help rising. (Otherwise a not-very-elastic skin forms and the bread won’t rise as much as it could.)
  • If a big gas bubble forms between the dough and loaf pan (obviously you have to bake this recipe first) then butter the loaf pan and lightly coat with corn meal. This will facilitate the gas’ escape and prevent large bubble-caves from forming between the loaf pan and dough.
  • Put the dough in the loaf pan.
  • Let the bread rise at room temperature for one half hour. I let the loaves rise in the oven where I’ll bake them.
  • Turn the oven on to 375 degrees F.
  • Bake for 20 minutes.
  • Turn loaves around in the oven to brown them evenly.
  • Bake for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the loaves from the oven.
  • Put the loaves on a cooling rack.

Bonus

You should also experiment with adding other ingredients to your bread, like walnuts, curry powder, cinnamon, raisins, etc...

My main thoughts and experiences are

  • Let the mix-ins come to room temperature before starting.
  • Don’t put the entire amount of mix-ins in at once, add it slowly during the first kneading cycle.
  • More than one kind of nut is good. I like walnuts, cashew bits, and sunflower seeds.
  • If you put the raisins in during the first kneading cycle many of them will be very mashed or completely mashed and not recognizable as raisins when done. You can use this to hide raisins, or put the raisins in during the second kneading cycle.
  • If you put too much of the mix-in in at once you may have to use your hands to help the kneading paddle do a good job of mixing. BE VERY CAREFUL IF YOU PUT YOUR HAND IN THE MACHINE WHEN IT’S RUNNING. I do it, but don’t take this as an endorsement for you to do it. You know yourself and your situation better than I do.

A Few Final Thoughts

If you are at a lower altitude, say 5,000 feet, you will probably have to adjust the ratios of the ingredients.

I know I need to take a better photograph of my bread. :-)

Please let me know how it turns out for you.

Comments

This is an extraordinary article,why ?Because I've not got any article yet around the internet world specifically telling about recipe on high altitude.So I think you've done some good experiments before preparing the recipe.The tips of adjusting ingredients according to altitude is very nice.Thanks for all of this.

As a longtime whole wheat bread baker moving from sea level to about 6000 feet, I appreciate the specific whole-wheat recipe. I've baked my usual recipe twice now at higher altitude and both times I've had a result opposite what's predicted at altitude: zero oven-spring. Dough rises well in the bowl and in the loaf pans initially, then doesn't seem to continue rising (at sea level, it'll rise indefinitely). Might be that non-elastic skin you wrote about? I'll try the butter trick on the rising loaves. If you've got any ideas about the oven-spring problem, I'd love to read them.
About the too-small bread bags: I've been ordering bread storage bags from the King Arthur catalog for years now and highly recommend them. They're just the right size for my not-quite-2-pound loaves, they work in the freezer, and I reuse them numerous times before they wear out. K.A. also sells baguette-sized bags.

Hi Denise.

Thanks for your comments. There are a few things I'd try. But since baking bread is chemistry, chances are you will need to adjust all the ingredients some.

My first thought is the yeast ran out of sugar to consume, so add more sugar. Don't add more yeast, as you may know the yeast eats the sugar and replicates. So it's possible the yeast "overpopulated" and during the final rise there were too many yeast cells and not enough food for it to eat for the final rise.

Also, make sure there is enough water in the dough ball when it first starts. At higher altitudes water evaporates much faster than at sea-level.

Another idea is adding some extra butter. Butter adds a moisture which may help some.

And like you point out, I found out that right before the final rise (in bread pans) in the oven, taking a serrated knife and slicing the length of the bread really made a big difference. Swabbing some butter on the crack is also a good idea, as it will help brown it and make it look really good.

Keep me posted!
Take care, Drew.

p.s. temperature during which it sits in the over during the final rise is also very important. "Room temp" fluctuates wildly for me, depending on which season it is. In the winter time it's just too cold to let the bread rise in the oven without pre-heating it. So I try to time things such that I warm up the oven a bit hotter than it needs to be, then turn it off 5 to 10 minutes before I take the dough-ball from the machine and chop it in two and do the prep work for the final rise.

This is a bit tricky for me since I don't have a fancy oven with an exact temperature readout, and I only barely trust the oven thermometer I have. :-)

Ive lived at around 8000 feet and know that just driving up the mountian from sea level with groceries and cooking when i arrived home was tricky thats if all the bags bottles and containers didnt pop or burst as i was driving up the mountain from the alt pressure change. wouldve loved to have found this site sooner

I am going to try this recipe today. I have been looking for a white bread recipe that will work at 6700 feet. I have worked at it for five years and have yet to come up with the perfect recipe. Thanks.

I am new to bread baking and have recently purchased a bread machine. My confusion is about what kind of yeast to use and do I proof it or add it dry to the other ingredients? I live at 7800 feet. Also where can I purchase gluten and types of yeast in Santa Fe?

Hi Judy, I’m not sure where 7,800 feet is in Santa Fe, but here goes …

I can not stress enough the importance of reading manuals. This is especially important since you are new to both baking bread AND the bread machine.

Chances are your bread machine recommends a rapid rising yeast, sometimes called bread machine yeast. Where you buy it is up to you, there are more than a few stores that carry it, or you can buy it online. The same goes for buying gluten or whole wheat flour.

Probably the best advice I can give you, as you strive to bake the best loaves you can, is:
1. Each time make bread, write down the amount of each ingredient, so you know exactly what you put in there. Write SHORT notes detailing times and important factors.
2. Realize you will make mistakes, eat your mistakes, this should increase your resolve to do better next time. :-)
3. As you evolve your recipe, only change one thing at a time, so you can witness how that one variable affects the bread. — If you change more than one variable at a time, you will not be sure which change affected your bread. I.e. did the new variety of yeast make the difference or was it because I used butter instead of margarine? Did it rise higher because I used a different brand of yeast or because I put it in a warmer oven or because I slit the top?

If you’re like me, it will take you about a year, and many dozens of loaves, to feel comfortable you’ve made really good progress.

As for the not-so-great loaves, be creative. Make them in to bread pudding, or french toast, or dry them and make them into croutons. Only as a last resort would I consider imperfect loaves fit for the compost pile.

Let me know how things progress!

I just moved to Colorado Springs and my usual bread recipe has turned into a flop due to the altitude. I was soooo excited to find your recipe. I do have a few questions before I get started. The gluten that you mention in your recipe, that is a wheat gluten flour such Bob's Red Mill, correct? Also what size loaf does your recipe make? My machine has settings for 1, 1 1/2 and 2 lb loaves. Your help is greatly appreciated.

I just moved to Colorado Springs and my usual bread recipe has turned into a flop due to the altitude. I was soooo excited to find your recipe. I do have a few questions before I get started. The gluten that you mention in your recipe, that is a wheat gluten flour such Bob's Red Mill, correct?

Yes. It should say “gluten” on the package. I am not an expert, but according to all the varieties I’ve purchased gluten is all-natural, comes from the wheat berry, and is somehow obtained by using water only. I’ve used Bob’s Red Mill as well as other brands. At this point I don’t have a favorite brand.

Also what size loaf does your recipe make? My machine has settings for 1, 1 1/2 and 2 lb loaves. Your help is greatly appreciated.

Hm… that’s a good question. Does it say what the difference is? In other words, what does the machine do differently based on whether you input 1, 1.5, or 2 pounds?

Perhaps it means more kneading and longer rise times.

One way to figure things is to weigh the mixed dry ingredients, then weigh the butter and water, then add it all up. :-)

Personally I would go with 2 pounds which I would take to mean longer kneading and lengthier rise times, then see how the whole thing turns out. If it comes out good, then bingo, stick with it (or test the others for fun). But if it doesn’t turn out so great, then don’t change a single thing with regard to the recipe, but try a different weight input on the machine.

Like I mentioned in my comment to Judy, as you evolve your recipe, only change one variable at a time. And make a note of what you did, on paper (or iPad ;-), as well as how it seemed to affect the bread. You will find it MUCH easier to adapt the recipe the next time you are ready to bake.

I look forward to your success!

Hi,

Since moving to Colorado (altitude 7,700 ft.), I’ve had nothing but bread-baking heartache. We even began buying bread (*gasp*), something I never thought I’d do. I couldn’t find any whole-grain recipes that worked (and we’re not about to go back to the mostly-white-flour-‘whole-wheat’-bread). I'm so glad I found your site!

This is the only bread I make now, and it turns out perfectly every time! Well, except for the first time, when I measured out 6 cups of flour by weight rather than volume.... I’ve tried both recipes, and the second one seems to work better for me.

Again, thank you for doing all the experimentation! You had infinite patience. Since finding your recipe, I’ve used some of the ingredients (gluten) in other recipes that haven’t worked for me in the past … and they still didn’t work for me! My husband questions why I would even try to tinker with those other recipes when “we already have the perfect bread recipe!”

Thank you.

Thank you, I’m glad you both like it!

I am new to baking bread and I was so happy to find your recipe since I live in Colorado. I know it saved me a lot of hassle and I would have had quite a frustrating start to bread making, I am sure. Every time I use this recipe, it comes out great. I hand-knead my dough, though, since I don't have a bread maker. I knead for about 12 minutes which is the requirement for whole wheat flour, which I grind here at home. I like to do two rises; one for 10 minutes on the counter-top just after kneading and one for at least 20 minutes in the warm oven once halved and placed in loaf pans (I just preheat the oven to the lowest setting and then turn it off right before putting the dough inside.). Just some tips there for anyone who has any trouble with rising. Thank you again for your recipe - it's my bread-making staple!

I am very glad you found the recipe and found it works!

Your work is inspiring! Hand grinding the wheat! What an adventure for a new baker! But I have to admit the more variables you have under your control, the easier it is to see what happens when any of them change.

I definitely agree on the need to warm up the oven a bit before the final rise.

Thanks for your constructive comments!

What’s next? Are you going to tell me you grew the wheat too? ;-)

Haha, well we're embarking on growing a lot of things... however, I think we'll always be buying our wheat berries. :)

OH and I use ground rolled oats as my gluten! I don't know how great of a substitute that is, but it's cheap, easy to grind with the wheat, and it seems to work just fine.

Thanks for the extra info, I would not have thought of that. I have to plead ignorance on the gluten content of most grains since I am not in the crowd who must not consume them.