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Those are some sexy loaves...
I live approximately 5,760 feet above sea level.  Now, baking bread from scratch is tricky enough, but add all sorts of wacky pressure changes from high altitude?  Yep, we're in trouble.

But never fear!  High altitude baking can be done.  I've been using this homemade bread recipe for months now, and it just keeps getting better.

The recipe yields two loaves of whole-wheat bread that rest between sandwich-grade fluffy and moistly dense.  For those of you at sea-level, I'll include some alternate ingredient measurements.  

Ingredients:
Sponge
~ 4 teaspoons fast rising yeast or 1 package active dry yeast
~ 3/4 cup warm water
~ 2 Tbsp honey

Dough
~ 2 cups warm water / whey
~ 4-6 cups whole wheat flour
~ 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
~ 1 tablespoon salt
~ 1/3 cup honey (1/2 c. for sea-level)
~ 1/4 cup olive oil

+ extra goodies: pepper, cheese, garlic, herbs, etc.  (optional)
Materials:
~ large mixing bowl
~ measuring spoons & cups
~ stirring tool (fork, spoon, stick, whatever)
~ chopping block or other kneading surface
~ kitchen knife (optional, to chop goodies)
~ 2 cloths to cover rising dough
~ baking pans
~ oven
~ 4 hours

+ good company, if only yourself
+ good music
+ homemade margarita (optional)


First, develop your sponge... huh??  I know.  It means get your yeast active and bubbly. 
In your mixing bowl combine the yeast, 3/4 cup ~100 degree (F) water, and 2 Tbsp of honey.  Stir 'til fully mixed. 
Cover with a dishcloth and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour (I stop when it's nice & bubbly, about 30 min) in a warm place, like on top of the oven.  It's aliiiiive!
Add the 2 cups water, 2 cups whole wheat flour, salt, honey and oil
Mix until combined - beat extremely well, to develop gluten.  This is especially important for high altitude:  gluten will help the risen bread retain its fluffy structure. 

But... since this is high altitude and we need all the help we can get: add 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten and mix well.  This is actually optional, whether you're at sea level or altitude - but it will give you a fluffier, more sandwich-like loaf.

Now start adding flour in 1/2 - 1 cup portions.  Fully mix in the flour before adding more.  Here's where your concoction moves from liquid to dough-like. 
You can stop adding flour when it starts to get sticky and stiff, and starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  It won't look like full-fledged dough quite yet, but you'll add more flour during the kneading process... deciding when it's ready is really an intuitive process, and you'll get better at it the more bread you bake.  Here's what mine looked like:
Flour your kneading surface (chopping block or otherwise) and dump the dough onto it. 
Now, knead the dough!  If you don't know how to knead bread, go check out this video tutorial.  Essentially, you fold the dough in half, press down firmly with the heels of your hands, then rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat.  It should be satiny and elastic by the time you're done, after about 8-10 minutes of vigorous kneading.
Time for the first rise.  Put your kneaded dough in the mixing bowl and cover with a dishtowel.  Put it in a warm place and let it rise 45 minutes to an hour.  Another good rule is to try poking the dough in an inch with your finger - if it stays, it's done.  It should increase in size by 1.5-2x.  
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Before...
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... and after!
Click to see better detail.
Oh yeah - while your loaf was rising back there, you should have chosen and chopped your add-ins, if you want any.  I chose rosemary & cracked black pepper, and poblano pepper & cheddar cheese.
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Oooh...
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...aaah...
Now punch it down!  No, literally, punch your dough.  It likes it.
The second knead is important, for reasons I still don't fully understand.  But it is, and apparently makes the bread rise higher, so divide your loaf in two and knead in the various optional goodies

Form your loaves into, well, loaves - flatten each piece out to a rectangle about the size of the pan then roll it up tight and pinch the seams together, tucking the ends underneath. Grease pans with butter (& cornmeal, if on a shallow sheet).  Put your loaves in the buttered pans, seam side down.

Time for the second rise.  Cover your formed loaves with a dish cloth and let sit (in a warm place!) for 20-45 minutes, or until 1.5-2x larger. 
This is a good time to preheat your oven to 375 F - the heat will make the loaves rise faster.
I confess, I've never had the patience to let my loaves rise to a full 200% of their original size.  Maybe if I did, I'd have fluffier bread - but also less free time. 

Once your loaves have risen, bake them in the oven for 25-35 minutes.  About 10 minutes before they're done, rub some butter on top to give the bread a golden, delicious finish. 

Check done-ness with a knife: Insert a clean knife, and if it comes out pretty darn clean, you're good to go.  If it has all sorts of dough goop stuck to it, keep it in the oven for another few minutes and check again.      
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Mmm... golden delicious bread!
Once your bread comes out looking and smelling awesome, resist the temptation to cut them open!  Let your bread cool (at least 20 minutes) on a rack - it somehow gets better during cooling, so it's worth the wait!
Finally, tuck in!  I cut off end slices of each to try - gotta love the cross-section.
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Rosemary & Cracked Black Pepper
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Poblano Pepper & Cheddar Cheese
Mmmm... delicious.  I made an egg-in-a-hole with the pepper-cheddar bread today!  So good.

How did this recipe work for you at altitude?  How about at sea-level?  What sort of goodies do you like to add to your bread?

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This post shared at Sunday School, Seasonal Celebration Sunday, Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Traditional Tuesdays, Homestead Barn Hop, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Wildcrafting Wednesday and Fight Back Friday!


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3/28/2012 12:52:54 pm

Stopping by from the Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Wednesday Blog Hop! http://queenofsavings.com

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3/28/2012 12:56:25 pm

Thank you for posting this recipe.....I too live at a high altitude and have trouble with bread from time to time.....I made this bread today and it turned out very nice...only I think for my oven I might have to lower the temp a bit.....my bread crust was a little darker than yours but the bread is very good! It rose high and it is soft and has a great flavor...again, thank you...I found your like off of the Barn Hop
Susan

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3/28/2012 01:21:00 pm

I'm so glad to hear it turned out well for you! Thanks for reading!

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3/29/2012 03:23:01 am

I too spent many years living at altitude in the French Alps- know exactly what you mean! I'm trying this recipe next week! Thank you for sharing this with at Seasonal Celebration! Rebecca @ Natural Mothers Network x

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Jennifer Guajardo
5/7/2012 10:53:16 am

This looks yummy! I live in Colorado Springs, so altitude definitely impacts the breads I make. I think the altitude at my location is between 6 & 7000 feet above sea level.... with that make any difference in the bread when I try it here?

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Anna @ Patchwork Radicals
5/7/2012 11:07:02 am

Hey Jennifer ~ I don't think the extra 1000 feet will make that much difference, but if you try it and it doesn't work, you can try decreasing the honey by a tablespoon or so, and baking the bread at 10 degrees higher.
Good luck!

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7/30/2013 07:04:58 pm

Thanks for posting on the preparation of homemade bread. I have been searching for this for a long time. It’s rare to find the recipe and I am very happy that you shared it. I think this will be made by me next Christmas.

Katherina
9/18/2013 07:24:28 am

Thank you so much for having this recipe online! I swear, every bread recipe I looked at was written for bread machine makers! I live in Tahoe, and while the bread is still baking, it smells, and looks AMAZING! I allowed the loaves to rise 1.5x at the 2nd stage, but they're now doubled in size in the oven. I made one plain, and one with garlic and goat cheese, with thyme and herbs d Provence. Thank you!

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10/5/2013 03:08:45 pm

Lovely blog, thanks for posting.

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Maggie
9/5/2014 08:42:10 am

I live at around 6,500 ft and I love this recipe. I just made it, amazingly delicious. I've had three pieces in the past hour. Thanks for posting!

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Eli
8/8/2015 08:37:37 am

Yeah, I'll run down to the local grocery and pick up vital wheat gluten. Pompous...

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1/16/2016 01:11:01 pm

I think the altitude at my location is between 6 & 7000 feet above sea level.... with that make any difference in the bread when I try it here?

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1/22/2016 08:32:08 pm

I made this bread today and it turned out very nice...only I think for my oven I might have to lower the temp a bit..my bread crust was a little darker than yours but the bread is very good! It rose high and it is soft and has a great flavor...again, thank you

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