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Bakers adapt to the altitude, climate

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Ask any baker and they’ll tell you the most satisfying part of breadmaking is the moment a beautiful, round loaf comes fresh out of the oven; with its brown, crispy outside and warm, chewy inside, it is no wonder bread has been a staple on tables around the world for generations.

For years, bread making has stayed relatively the same — mix a few ingredients together, let it rise, and voila, you have your own artisan-style bread ready to be shared!

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However, when you add elevation and a drier climate, breadmaking can become a complex process that deters many people. But, what if expert bakers told you there was a way to demystify this process, and within 24 hours you could be satiated by your own homemade bread?

If you ask Dave Biber, owner of Shepherd Breads in Carbondale, bread enthusiasts can successfully bake their own bread with just a few adjustments.

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“I think hydration is more of a factor than elevation,” Biber said. “Don’t be afraid to tweak the hydration amounts. If you use an online bread recipe, you’re probably going to need to add more water than it says.”

Biber is no novice when it comes to baking in different climate zones. He attended culinary school in the Bay Area — famous for its sourdough breads — baked at 8000’ in Mammoth Lakes, and then moved to Maui to hone his craft. Throughout his baking travels, Biber noticed very similar results — that is, until he moved here.

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“There is a significant difference between Maui and the valley,” Biber said. “It can range up to a 10 percent difference in the water to flour ratio.”

Fiona McCullough of Granetta Panini agrees that hydration plays a major role in breadmaking.

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“Fully hydrated grains somehow taste different,” McCullough said. “It’s not just the environment that affects the grains, it’s the amount of water. It’s better to add more water than the recipe says.”

McCullough also notes that temperature control is very important. Bread makers ought to consider the air, water, and flour temperatures as they affect the fermentation process. Ideally, bread makers want their dough to ferment at about 75°F.

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In addition to hydration and temperature, Linda Romero Criswell, a longtime bread maker in the valley, said that time is the secret ingredient.

“Breadmaking is really very simple” Criswell said. “People are daunted because it takes time. I do really long rises, but have learned how to simplify the process since I make all the bread in my family. When starting, you really have to honor the process and learn how the dough is supposed to feel.”

For beginners, Criswell suggests starting with plain breads. As you gain more experience, you can add ingredients such as eggs, applesauce, or raisins — but keeping your recipe simple helps you get a true understanding of the process considering anything you add changes the rise.

When asked about the rise, Criswell said that longer rises allow for more elasticity, and when your dough is ready to be baked it will snap back into place like a rubber band. McCullough elaborates that time allows for a longer fermentation process which builds the bread’s flavor.

Perhaps the single most important aspect to remember with bread is that it is a living organism. Using a starter brings this to light as it requires feeding throughout the fermentation process.

Biber, whose bread and butter is sourdough, keeps 13 pounds of active and healthy starter on hand. Rather than one feed, Biber has found that two feeds has made a big difference in his baking.

“It is not that much extra work,” Biber said. “I feed my bread once in the morning and once the night before baking. I have my starter calculated to my production needs, but I’m always happy to share starter with anyone who is interested.”

Since dough is alive, your bread might not always turn out the way you expect. However, the experts agree that it if you start with an open mind and continue to be curious, breadmaking can become a lifelong craft.

“I have made many mistakes over the years,” Criswell said. “I remember being really proud when my grandmother [an expert baker] liked it. Nothing is set in stone — it is not what you do, it is what the dough does.”

“There’s always something to learn,” McCullough said. “Even though I’ve done it thousands of times I still don’t have it dialed; I’m always trying to make it better.”

Shepherd Breads is currently available at Mana Foods, Carbondale Creamery, and on the menu at Landmark Cafe. Interested parties can also place orders online at by 9am on Thursdays.

Interested in baking your own bread? Join Criswell at the Community Oven this summer and check out for more information. Can’t wait? Then attend the Carbondale Recreation Center’s upcoming Milling Grain and Making Bread class on Feb. 24. Register online at today!

No knead bread recipe for beginners


2 cups warm water*

2 tsp salt

1 tsp yeast

3 ¾ cups whole wheat flour


Mix all ingredients with a wooden spoon in a wooden bowl. Cover the bowl with a wet towel and let the dough sit in a draft-free space for 12-24 hours (depending upon elasticity).

The next day, do the elasticity test on the dough. If ready, preheat oven to 450°F and place a lidded dutch oven inside.
Let it get hot!

Meanwhile, add a small handful of flour to dough and mix with a wooden spoon.

Place dough onto parchment paper and let it rest until oven is hot.

Bake covered for 30 minutes and then uncovered for 15 minutes.

After 45 minutes, knock the bottom of your bread and listen for a hollow sound. If you hear it let your bread cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!

*experiment with hydration

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