Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bread: the high-altitude edition

Cooking at five thousand feet has been interesting. Pasta and noodles need to be boiled for several minutes longer, because high altitude creates a lower boiling point. Braising requires a higher flame. Baked goods left out on the counter dry out in a day and not several. And making bread, which I'd thought I'd mastered, has become a game that I don't seem to know how to play.

As it's composed only of flour, salt, water, and yeast, it seems wrong that bread should be so tricksy. But the first time I tried to bake my customary loaf in my new digs, the dough was strangely wet and gloppy, almost like the dough for the Lahey No-Knead rather than the recipe I usually use. The second time, though I made no adjustments, the dough was almost too dry.

I've adjusted the temperature, adjusted the amount of flour I use, and adjusted the length of time I allow for the dough's second rise. Aside from how much faster the dough expands, few things have been consistent. Sometimes the bread bakes up small and shrunken, sometimes it rises so much the surface puffs and splits with complete disregard for the cuts I've made with my knife. Sometimes the crust takes on an unpleasant toughness; sometimes the crumb is dense and tastes heavily of yeast. Half the time, the loaf burns on the outside.

Although the olive loaf I brought to an end-of-summer barbecue at the beginning of the semester was well received, this is, unfortunately, not a post in which I reveal how to consistently bake up a perfect, crusty loaf at high altitude. I'm still learning, and I will post my findings once I figure it out. In the meantime, if anyone has suggestions, please let me know!

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