Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Baking With Altitude - Flour Week

Welcome to Week 2 of How to Fix Common Baking Disasters.  

Week 1 How to Fix Common Baking Disasters

Crusty bread with air pockets formed by yeast

One of the key ingredients when it comes to baking is flour. In baking, the quantity of other ingredients, such as leavening agents, are calculated based on their ratio to flour. Using the right type of flour for your recipe as well as the right ratio of flour to other ingredients helps achieve the best end result possible.  

So let's learn a little about flour.

The protein in flour is called gluten. Gluten is what gives dough its stretchiness and baked goods their form and structure. The more protein a flour has the more it will create a stretchier, elastic dough and result in a chewier product. For bread this is a great thing but if you want a light, fluffy and tender cake a flour with less protein will give you better results.

Bleached flour has been whitened. Some bleaching methods can alter the flour proteins causing them to make slightly weaker gluten while other bleaching methods do not. Unbleached flour is an off-white color because it naturally contains beta carotene/vitamin A. Beta carotene is what makes carrots and other red/orange fruit and vegetables their orangy color. Bleaching  destroys the vitamin E and removes some of the vitamin A from flour. I tend to always use unbleached flour in my recipes. Personal preference and availability will determine whether you use bleached or unbleached. 

The main difference between these types of flour is the wheat used to mill the flour and the protein content of that wheat. There are other flour types such as pastry flour, self-rising and specialty flours (rice, garbanzo, corn, etc) but for the purpose of this progressive post on baking disasters we will focus on the three main types: Cake, All-Purpose and Bread flour.

Cake Flour:
Protein content is 6-8%. Made from soft winter wheat.

Cake flour is used for softer items where less gluten development is desired. Cake flour is used to produce tender cakes and pastries and fluffier items such as angel food cake. The lower gluten pairs better with chemical leavening agents such as baking powder and baking soda. 

All-Purpose Flour:
Protein content is 10-12%. Made from either hard or soft wheat 
or a combination of the two. All-purpose flour is a kitchen staple. It is the most commonly used flour for cooking and baking. All-purpose flour pairs well with baking powder, baking soda and yeast. If there is one flour you should always have in your pantry that flour should be all-purpose.

Bread Flour:
Protein content is 12-15%. Most often made from hard Spring

Bread flour is used for items where more gluten development is desired. If you want a hearty, chewy loaf of bread you need the high protein of bread flour to create a strong gluten structure. High protein flours such as bread flour are recommended for yeasted products that require structural support. The gas produced from yeast needs the more elastic dough and high gluten
development to capture and hold onto those gas bubbles. If you've ever noticed the large bubble pockets in a loaf of bread, these are formed by the yeast gas bubbles trapped within strong but elastic sheets of gluten. 

I tend to always have all-purpose flour in my pantry. When I bake something that requires cake or bread flour I go out and buy a fresh bag of the specific flour I need at the time I'm baking in order to have the freshest product.

Cities can vary in altitude. La Paz for example can range from over 13,000 feet above sea level in the Altiplano area to 10,600 feet above sea level in the lower residential areas. Look at the difference between Chicago and La Paz. 

Chicago, IL (USA) 625 feet above sea level
Santa Cruz (Bolivia) 1365 feet above sea level
La Paz (Bolivia) 13,000 feet above sea level

The difference in altitude is tremendous. How ingredients are used produces different results at different altitudes. To give you an idea of the differences, look at how water reacts to heat at different altitudes. You may think that water boils at the same temperature in the same amount of time no matter where you are but that is not the case.

Chicago, IL (USA)  212F
Santa Cruz (Bolivia) 209F
La Paz (Bolivia) 188F

At higher altitudes water boils at a lower temperature. Your cup of tea in La Paz will never be as hot as your cup of tea in Chicago. Water reaches its boiling point quicker at higher altitudes. I'll talk more about how this affects baking time in the Liquids/Dairy post on February 20th. 

Now that we know a little about flour's protein content and ability to form gluten we can discuss how each of the other baking ingredients work with flour. In next week's post I will talk about leavening agents and how much of each leavener you will need per cup of flour to achieve similar results in each of the three cities/altitudes I've highlighted above.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Chef Noly
To order saltenas please visit Noly's World Cuisine at
To read more about Bolivia please visit our friend Bella at

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