Whilst in the French Alps I played with the making of Sourdough Bread. One might wonder why this is proving such a novelty or difficulty. People make sourdough bread all the time! So what is the problem?
I have my lovely starter but the elusive dough or bread remained a mystery.
The reason being ALTITUDE! Yeast, Bread, Baking, Cakes, they all react very differently to being made at Altitude.
I already knew the set of rules regarding cakes etc but didn’t really realise what the difference would be with bread and actually it is crucial.
However, as my starter was beautiful, I decided to freeze until we are here sometime in the future.
Life here in the mountains was very quiet ( well maybe not so quiet with three grandchildren around, especially the smaller one who at 5 years old is very noisy !)
Parents have been working from home, but have made the most of using Dave’s Gym ( small private gym) and Lac de Montriond, a mountain lake that has a surface area of 32 Ha. With a depth of 62 feet. This beautiful lake was formed several hundred years ago and is a popular tourist spot in the summer, with swimming, sailing, paddle boarding and horse riding on offer. Our lodgers on the other hand chose to swim it 2-3 times ( only 1.3 kms long and cold! Wet suit is really needed).
According to Rick Stein, the French do have Sourdough bread, or at least their version of it. It is called Pain de Campagne, but the general consensus is, that it doesn’t quiet hack it!Usually pretty small and do not on any account use the wonderful bread cutting machines, that will be found in all Boulangerie and even supermarkets. The slices will be far too thin and not at all satisfying.
This loaf I bought in the UK and is so much better. But what about the rules for baking at Altitude?
Most of us do not encounter these problems, but number 1 daughter did, when she lived in Mexico City. For the uninitiated Mexico City sits at 2400 metres which is about a mile and half, ( almost 8,000feet) so pretty high !
Lower Air pressure at high elevation causes air bubbles trapped to rise at a faster rate, resulting in either uprisen cake/ bread or dry or both.
To combat this proportions need to be changed as well as the oven temperature, at heights over 3;500 feet the oven needs to be at least 25 F higher than at sea level. Baking powder needs to be reduced, as does sugar, liquids need to be increased and certainly for anything over 7,000 feet these ingredients need considerable alteration as well as the baking time!
Then of course there is the flour. When I lived in Belgium I have part of The Hints class to American expats. My job was food and food related subjects. I was actually astounded that many of them were very naive about the food and country in which they were living. They too were astounded that a packet of frozen assorted, deep fried nibbles had horse meat in them! And why not ?
Many of them would trot off to Antwerp to the Robber Lady, who as an enterprising Belgian, imported American food stuffs ( flour included) and sold them on at exorbitant prices. But then again, there was the English equivalent, who many of the Brits could not live without. For me shopping in Belgium was a revelation, after Germany, where I found the shops rather dull, but now I find food in London just amazing, it’s availability and quality.
But I digress, yes flour is different, here we talk of strong flour ( bread flour) whereas in France they sell flour by numbers, and Baguettes are made with a Lean Flour, which is why they go stale quickly. Even so I bought the French equivalent of Bread Flour, but failed miserably to make a decent loaf and froze my Sourdough Starter for my return ( whenever that maybe.)
However help is at hand. I have a bread machine in France, for which I use a bread mix! Cheating I know, but when faced with driving down 7 snow covered hairpins, just to buy some bread it comes into its own. BINGO, whilst perusing a Lakeland catalogue, I came across Sourdough mix for Bread Machines, so I bought a bunch, already for our next French sortie! Cheating , I know, but when needs must !