High altitude bread machine baking

Bread machine baking at high altitudeAnyone who lives 3,000 feet above sea level knows how challenging it can sometimes be to modify recipes for high altitude. Some commercial recipes come prepared for the high-altitude baker, with instructions on how to modify the preparation. Aunt Suzy’s fabulous French bread doesn’t though. Neither do most bread machine recipes that you will find in recipe books or on-line.  You will have to learn how to modify your yeast bread recipes to get the best results at high altitude.

High altitude bread machine baking can seem intimidating to new bakers, but the process is actually not difficult. High altitude bread machine baking is no different than many other types of high altitude baking. With a few simple tricks, your baked goods will be as good or better than their counterparts at sea level.

To get the best results using a bread machine at high altitudes, it’s best to choose a programmable model like this Zojirushi BB-PAC20 so you will be able to make adjustments to the individual cycle times.

High altitude bread machine bakers have to deal with some specific challenges that can adversely affect bread-making. Bread machines are generally calibrated for use at sea level. They have fixed settings and lengths of cycle that can only be modified if you have a more advanced custom programmable machine. There isn’t a high altitude mode on any bread machine that I am aware of that can recreate the heavier air and atmospheric pressure of sea level. The only solution to adapt your recipes and ingredients to it, and to choose a machine that will give you flexibility on the cycle times.

There are two main effects that being at a high altitude has on your dough – it will make the flour drier, and it will make the dough rise faster.  These are the things you need to account for when you are adjusting your recipes. Any bread machine can bake great bread at high altitudes if you understand how to make the proper adjustments.

Here’s how to improve your high altitude bread machine baking.

Change your source of moisture

Baking at high altitude in some areas also includes working with a semi-arid climate. At high altitude, what you really need is a more moist dough. Consider changing water for unsweetened applesauce or adding a teaspoon or two of olive oil to your bread to help keep the flour moist. This helps to keep the machine cycling through the dough, instead of fighting a dry, lumpy mass or stalling. It will also keep your bread from being too coarse.

Increase the amount of moisture

Another way to make your dough more moist is to simply increase the amount of moisture in the recipe, and this is normally done with your main source of liquid (water, milk, buttermilk, etc.).  Depending on your altitude and climate, you may need to increase liquids as much as 2 to 4 tablespoons per cup of flour.  Unfortunately, you may have to experiment a bit with this to get it right because everyone’s climate is different.  A good idea is to watch the dough as it’s mixing in your machine and add the liquid gradually as you notice the dough is still dry.  Once you get the hang of this and the amount of extra moisture you need, you should be able to just put the ingredients in and walk away and not worry about it.

Salt is your friend

Trust me, not only is salt not your enemy at high altitude, it can be your best friend. Do not eliminate salt from your recipes.  If you don’t want excess sodium, switch regular salt for sea salt. This extra salt will keep your dough from rising too rapidly, and as a result, collapsing.

Decrease the yeast or sugar

If your loaves are still rising too rapidly, decrease the amount of yeast you use. Sometimes at high altitude, yeast goes wild. Cut it by 1/8 to 1/4 of a teaspoon to improve your results. Cutting the amount of sugar, honey, or molasses is also a good idea if your loaves rise too quickly, since yeast loves sweets.  For sugar, try reducing the amount in the recipe by 1 to 2 teaspoons.

Change the temperature of your liquid

Because bread will rise more quickly at high altitudes, your goal is to slow down the rising process.  Starting out with very cold liquids such as ice water instead of warm water will help your bread to rise more slowly.  Note that if your bread machine has a preheat setting where it will warm the ingredients before mixing (such as many Zojirushi models), this method will not work.

Adjust the cycle time

To get the best results, you may need to choose a programmable bread machine that will let you modify the rise cycle times to get exactly the result you are looking for. Either shortening or extending the rising cycles will allow you to compensate for the different conditions at altitude.

If all else fails…

Shrink your loaf size! Smaller loaves, for some unknown reason, perform much better at higher altitudes. The reason isn’t actually all that mysterious – it’s because they require less rise time, and your yeast has less time to grow like mad. This is definitely something to try if nothing else works.


High altitude baking can seem intimidating, even with the help of a bread machine. It doesn’t have to be, though. Play with your salt, sweetener, yeast, and loaf size. Soon enough, you will achieve perfect results.

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