Friday, February 27, 2009

Bricks or Bread?

For the past 20 years I lived on the high plains of Wyoming at an elevation of over 6000 feet. Living at that altitude did present kitchen challenges.

I remember the first cake I attempted to bake. It was for my oldest daughter's birthday. She was in the 3rd grade at the time and birthday's were very important holidays. I took off early from work and ran home to bake her cake. I did everything right, for sea level. The result was a mess of batter over the edges of the pan, on the over rack, across the bottom of the oven.

I was frantic! Throwing on my coat, I ran to the local grocers and purchased a cake.

At 3:30, when the daughters walked in the door, I was standing proudly by oven, door open, fork in hand and exclaimed "Happy Birthday!" The look on Hija Primera's face when she saw the mess in the oven was priceless. She saw no humor in the lava of batter across the bottom of the oven. She saw no humor in the fork that I brandished. She saw no humor in any of it! I was barely saved from the doom of childhood anger by the cake decorated to look like a hamburger and the friends I had invited over to share it with her. Man, that kid could pout for days, even in the face of delight!

But, I digress.
I am once again at sea level.
My cakes are fine. I just omit the extra flour and add a bit more liquid.
It is my breads that are suffering.
What once were light, airy, crisp crusted loafs are now like...bricks!
Bricks for feeding the myriad birds in my yard.
Bricks for stopping up holes in the foundations of the house.
Bricks for beaning an annoying houseguest upside the head with.
Bricks! Bricks! BRICKS!

I have been baking a loaf a day, to figure out the right proportions. The flour/liquid ratio is not a problem. I don't believe that should change due to altitude. And, physics would lead me to believe that the leavening needs adjustment. At higher altitude, less is more. At sea level, atmospheric pressure would dictate a stronger rising agent.
But I can't seem to get it right!

I started with 1 tsp of yeast - that was before thinking about the altitude difference.
Brick of the heaviest nature.
The next day I increased the rising time and allowed the loaf to rise a bit more than I normally would. But with the addition of freshly ground whole wheat flour, the resultant loaf was...
A really dense brick.
The next day, I didn't change the flour or the rising time.
I increased the yeast by half.
The dough was left in the dough hooks for an additional 5 minutes.
It was silky and smooth and felt like a baby's bottom.
My instincts told me this was right.
I placed it in the oven.
It didn't want to give that last effort to rise beyond the initial rising.
It just kind of sat there and got brown.
It was still a BRICK!

Now, this would be alright. Bricks to have their uses. But, without the displeasure of Hija Segunda, all the fun has gone out of kitchen disasters.
I have nobody to throw these baked, whole grain bricks at.
I have nobody to torment with the thought of taking a ham and cheese on brick sandwich to school.

Today I will be in the kitchen again baking.
But, will the result be a Brick or Bread?


Boondock Ma (Kim's Mom) said...

LOL! Would it make you feel any better if I said I was jealous?

I'm once again without an oven and am thinking even baking bricks might be fun! Actually, I've never had to deal with differences in elevation to the point it would affect my baking and have often wondered about it..

Gina said...

The memories that just came flooding back!!! I remember that cake, as festive as it was, and I remember the week-long poutfest that followed. And even now I can still hold a pout for far longer than most people can tolerate, though as an adult I believe it's called sulking.
Either way, I'll send the bread fairy your way in hopes that she graces you with light and airy loaves, and in the meantime I suggest saving those bricks for when Hijo Segundo goes into one of HIS pouts, LOL...