I never have to consider factors such as elevation above sea level when I make pizza or share my results and thoughts, seeing how I'm only several hundred feet above sea level. But since Tim has been so active in this thread, and since I'm guessing he's at least a mile above sea level, elevation has been on my mind lately. One thing about Tim's recent Tommy's style attempts that stood out to me is that his folded skins grew quite a bit during his overnight refrigeration. Since I wouldn't expect that kind of result if I did it the same way, one of my first thoughts was that this might have resulted from his elevation above sea level. But I also had to consider that maybe it was because he rolled the dough right after mixing (rather than after a bulk ferment, as I've been doing). Regardless, his folded skins fermented a lot more than I would expect.
Reading through a recent-but-buried thread in the Chitchat section several minutes ago, which asks where people live, Chau's response got me thinking:
Having not read anything else about high-elevation baking, and having never had a reason to think about it before, all of this information suggests to me that high elevation equates to faster fermentation (perhaps due to lower pressure?). Anyway, this stuff is on my mind now, and I'm interested in how high elevation affects pizzamaking, compared to making pizza at lower elevations (like in Ohio).
So Tim, would you mind sharing a little about how you think high elevation affects your pizzamaking? (Also, I want you to know that thanks to you I've had John Denver stuck in my head for a while, but with slightly altered lyrics. Punk.)
Now you've really opened a can of worms.
Pizza making at high altitudes does present some additional challenges but is no excuse for bad pizza. I used to frequent a bakery located at 7200 feet above sea level and they made wonderful bread and pastries for decades. The key is to, like all bakers must, make adjustments as needed to produce the best end results.
I agree with the quotation above from Chau and might add a little on the topic. At sea level, the atmosphere presses on a square inch of surface with a weight of 14.7 pounds but at 5,000 feet, there is only 12.3 pounds of pressure. This decreased pressure (aka "thin air") is responsible for the differences seen in baking and food preparation.
In high altitude baking, dough rises more rapidly and so the fermentation times are effectively shortened. However, the development of flavor still depends on the length of the rising period so I still try to maintain that time period, usually by punching down the dough more often than you would at sea level and/or by using less yeast. I don't think you would get the kind of rise that I did in my folded dough regardless of your technique, simply because the effect is mainly a result of my altitude. Another example of this effect occurred when I decided to use TomN's excellent recipe to make some beer pizzas: http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php?topic=17415.msg245184#msg245184
The recipe calls for the use of about 4.5 grams of IDY to make 3 dough balls, each about 349 grams. I knew that in my kitchen this would be way
too much yeast, but I decided to follow the recipe verbatim and see what would happen. (pic 1) That little 349 gram dough ball blew the (loosely placed) top off the container during its room temperature warm-up! I made the pizza anyway and it actually came out all right. (pics 2-4)
The other adjustment that often needs to be made is a reduction in the amount of flour needed to create a dough of the proper consistency. Flour at high altitudes tends to be drier and is thus able to absorb more liquid, therefore less flour is needed. If my flour is already "in the bowl" I will instead add more water. In the Tommy's clone dough I tried, you (correctly) pointed out that I probably added too much water, but trust me, if I wouldn't have added any additional water, I would have ended up with a huge pile of flour at the bottom of the bowl that would never have incorporated. That first picture I posted in my mixing bowl was after I had already added some extra water. Perhaps a better way to add moisture to these low hydration doughs without adding too much would be the "spray bottle" technique as mentioned by Peter here: http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,5762.msg53471.html#msg53471
and used successfully by nick57 in his thin pizzas: http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,18731.msg187171.html#msg187171
Unfortunately, there's no uniform or cookbook method to make these adjustments because changes in humidity can also affect the dryness of the flour. My flour is often very powdery and dry. When I buy flour, the first thing I do is move it to an airtight container like this: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/lock-top-container-flour
But the question of course, is "How long has the flour been sitting on a store shelf before I bought it?" In my area, the relative humidity during the summer months is below 32%, 3 out of every 4 days. To give an example of how dry this is I can take a shower at 11:30 pm and when I wake up in the morning, the towel that I used to dry off is bone dry (provided I hang it up).
In the winter, however, the humidity can average around 75% so it definitely fluctuates by season.
Finally, at higher altitudes water boils at a lower temperature (about 200F to 202F). This means that I need to cook things like pasta and rice longer than recipes state. I'm sure this can also effect bake times and the level of moisture in my pizza crusts, but as usual, trial and error brings improved results.
"Life ain’t nothin’ but a funny funny riddle."