The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The Perfect Water

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TheGoyWonder's picture
TheGoyWonder

The Perfect Water

I’ve yet to find a good treatise on water in breadmaking.  I would be willing to take distilled water and add salts to get the perfect sodium, calcium, potassium, bicarbonate, sulfate, phosphate, ect levels.  As an alternate to chemicals I would consider small amounts of dry milk, bean and flax flours, honey and molasses for mineral content.

My breads are always dense and bagel-like despite going through many techniques and recipes.  I need to do something different, and it needs to be taken down to the molecular level because I’ve already run through the big things.  I reached a new low when I spent 20 minutes grinding dry beans into a tablespoon of fine powder based on some folksy tip in a book, to no effect.  After that I tired of folksy tips and I seek sound answers on the best water for gluten formation and yeast activity.

Laurentius's picture
Laurentius

Hi TGW,

I'm confused! You stated that your bread making has been plagued with density problems despite changes in technique and recipies. So, how did you conclude that (water) was the culprit?

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

water is not your problem, assuming you are using bottled spring or filtered water.  Thus the inevitable conclusion is its your technique.  Suggest searching many of the recipes posted, find one that looks interesting and practice making till you nail it.  read, learn, experiment.  Knead a bit longer, use a bit more liquids, common mistakes for many.  And use a scale...

TheGoyWonder's picture
TheGoyWonder

Forget the content of the post if you don't like it, the question is what's the best water.  I spared you the details at first  but I've used scales, cups, 80 and 90 % hydrations, KA flours, long kneads, no kneads, hand kneads, stand kneads, food processor kneads, long rises, fast rises, refrigerator rises, lots of yeast, minimal yeast, SAF red, preferments, autolyse, pans, sheets, baking stones, steam, ovens from 350-500 degrees, and so on.  The question about water stands.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

For yourself: what is the chemical analysis of the water source that you presently use?  If you share that, perhaps someone knowledgeable will be able to point out something that would have a material effect on your breads.

For those of us who aren't in your kitchen to see your process: please give us all of the information that you can about a recent failed bake.  And I do mean all of it.  For instance, formula, ingredients, process, temperatures (ambient and baking), oven setup, proofing conditions, mixing/kneading/shaping techniques, times, you name it.  Again, there may be something in there that a TFL-er will recognize as a contributing factor.

I'm willing to entertain the notion that your water is one part of the problem.  The symptoms that you have provided so far can also have a number of other, much more common causes.  I've baked bread in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, Montana, and South Africa while using local water sources.  Any failures that I experienced in those locations were always traceable to something other than water, so I think it is a good idea to share what you have been using and doing.  That gives others the opportunity to spot something that may not be so obvious while you are in the middle of things.

Best wishes for better breads.

Paul

AZBlueVeg's picture
AZBlueVeg

You seem more than a little defensive, there is no need. I am pretty sloppy with my baking skills and quantities, yet I have no trouble at all in making the most delicious bread from homemade starter. I use water from my reverse osmosis filter. No issues whatsoever. There is no need to go to the "molecular level", I suspect the problem is far higher on the molecular ladder.

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

With all due respect, have you used bottled (which can be either filtered or spring) water or tap?  If tap, thats the problem.  If bottled, then...

Research home brewing sites, lots of info on how to treat water to emulate different regions of the world using a variety of brewing salts...

Laurentius's picture
Laurentius

What are you trying to achieve with "The Perfect Water"? Wouldn't the chemical make up of trace minerals be as diverse as the water source or reservoir. If its municipal water, wouldn't the type of treatment have any effect? I think a brewer has a more concrete idea of what they desire in water, than a baker. I may be wrong.

geno4952's picture
geno4952

I have 2 different water types I use and they both seem to work well for me. One is just plain old bottled water you can buy at any store. The other is water I save after boiling potatos. The potato water seems to give me a smooth silky dough and the crumb is usually really good. Give it a whirl... maybe it will work for you too.

PeterS's picture
PeterS

I sense analytical paralysis. 

How are you so sure it's your water? Most of the artisan bakers/bakeries across the US, EU and elsewhere do not have water specifications; tap it is. Why not just go to a local bakery that has good breads and ask them for a gallon of whatever they're using?

You make me think of the old joke about the $2 Zen hot dog vendor: he gave me my hot dog and I gave him $5; after waiting 5 mins, I asked for my change and he replied

"Don't you know? Change comes from within."

You are right that you need to do something different, but I doubt it's your etch-too-oh.

Without details results are, well, just results.

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

TGW - I think I know this feeling.  Reminds me of desperation I felt in my early days of baking (not terribly long ago), laying awake wondering Why can so many people do this simple thing so well, but not me?  Yep, I started buying bottled water for baking, along with grasping at other now-amusing hypotheses about my frustating, occasionally edible, rarely all that enjoyable much less picturesque, efforts at baking simple honest bread.  It wasn't the water.  Or the flour.  Or the starter.  It was mentor-deficit.

My cure for this affliction, and that which I now enthusiastically advocate to anyone in what I assume to be your funk, is to drop whatever book or other source from which you've been baking and throw yourself at the feet of another with a proven track record of setting novice bakers on a direct route to wonderful flavor, open crumb and perfect crust.  I'm very much still en route, but for me, that was Jeff Hamelman's BREAD.  I've more recently come to appreciate Ken Forkish's Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast as having the same ability to gently guide us away from bad habits, misconceptions or just plain inexperience, and develop confidence in the look, smell and feel of properly developing doughs.  Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice has also served many here nicely in this regard.  I'm sure there are others that readers can recommend.  But any of these three can do the trick, as long as you don't let yourself assume "that can't make much of a difference" by ignoring seemingly obscure details (e.g., dough hydration, dough temperatures, poke tests) of the formulas and processes they describe.   Trust them until you feel confident enough to tweak with impunity.  If it were rocket science, it would be easy.   But it's mostly art.  Easy to be good at, much harder to be great at.

In no time you'll be doing weekly Happy baking.

Tom

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

out overnight to let the chlorine dissipate and that solves the water problem. No RO, or bottled water required.  Another more important route to explore along with Toade Tom's excellent route is to explore videos of people making bread.  Many times it is the same folks writing the book who are doing the video.  Reinhart, Hamelman and Forkish all have videos online.  It sounds like you have done a lot of exploration without much success.

In you case, maybe you just need to hang out with another TFl'er as they make bread and see what they do that you can pick up on.  It has to be something simple since bread making is pretty simple.    Is there another TFL person in your area willing to let you hang out with them?

An the best water for bread making has at least 50% bourbon in it.  It's not great for the bread itself but the baker sure appreciates it. :-)

Happy baking

Conjuay's picture
Conjuay

I have used boiled water- whatever is left in the tea kettle after making coffee - with great success. Boiling removes the chlorithane, the more stubborn form of chlorine used in many municipal water systems. While chlorine dissipates over night, chlorithane requires a full week to dissipate. The hot water is placed in a mason jar, lidded, and allowed to cool to a safe yeast friendly temperature.

  I've also used RO/DI water, water that has had all trace minerals removed; similar to distilled water also with good results. RODI is de-ionized, there are no trace minerals left. I have never felt any need to add minerals and salts at that point.

I believe that chlorine (in any form) kills a good amount of the cultivated yeast you've added to a recipe and lowers the amount of yeast in sourdough.

Of course the chlorine is simply overwhelmed by the quantity of yeast added, but because some of it has been killed initially, it takes longer for the population to recover; hence longer fermenting times.

 

 

PeterS's picture
PeterS


"Boiling removes the chlorithane, the more stubborn form of chlorine used in many municipal water systems. While chlorine dissipates over night, chlorithane requires a full week to dissipate."

This does not sound right. If you are thinking about chloroethane, that could be a trace byproduct of chlorination, but, if present, its source would more likely be water pollution from a user of the chemical or degradation of other polluting chloro-organics. It would never be intentionally added to drinking water. Water authorities filter to remove some of these chemicals; a home water filter can also deal with most of them, too. There are other trace organics found in municipal drinking waters, but typically in very small quantities. I would not expect them to be present in large concentrations in 1st world municipal water supplies or, if so, not being dealt with at the purification plant.

The chlorine that is added to water is very reactive and I'm guessing that any present in drinking water will be reacted (consumed) rather quickly by added flour. I have been using tap water that I let sit for 12-24 hours before adding it to my starters without incident for 4+ years. My starters easily double in 12 hours (65F) and more if the temperature is warmer. I have also used good old City of Chicago water to maintain a starter without incident.

Conjuay's picture
Conjuay

I hate chemistry!

Chloramine

Pjacobs's picture
Pjacobs

40 oz high gluten four

24 oz water

1 and. one -half  table spoons of instant yeast

2 teaspoons salt

Mix until window pane 

place in sealed-shrink wraped bowl and place in the fridge oovernight.Next day, take out of fride and let it warmup for what may take 3-4 hours. Form the loaves, let them rise 45 min to 1 hour and bake at 425 for 30 to 35 minutes and let me know how it goes. This is a 60 percent ratio of water to flour but it has worked for me for years. Hope it helps. Phil

Conjuay's picture
Conjuay

I went to Sourdough home and reread several of Mikes pages. My boiled water still has as much chloramine as the tap- it would take two days to boil out the chloramine.

My RODI water is also NOT recommended.

Live and learn...

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

http://abrfaq.info/treatise/190

If you suspect you have a serious water problem consult with the chemist of your local water supply or county. 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

...on the best water for gluten formation and yeast activity:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/professional/documents/water.pdf

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

My tap water doesn't have the slightest bit of chlorine smell or taste, but i can't use it when feeding my starter, because it kills the yeast. I usually use the cheap distilled water that comes in the gallon jugs at the grocery store. I also use the distilled water when baking. I've read lots of times now that distilled water ain't no good for bread baking. It may very well be causing me some problems, but I get good activity in my starter, and a soft, well-risen, loaf of bread usually comes from the oven. I used to have dense crumb problems, until I switched to KA bread flour. I had been using AP and thought a little difference in gluten content surely couldn't be too bad. I even tried using AP, and adding some Vital Wheat Gluten, which didn't help at all, and only made my bread gummy, as well as being dense.

Another problem I had, which I discovered and corrected about the same time, was adding too much flour while kneading. Ideally, you shouldn't be adding Anything to your dough while kneading. But, I didn't like the dough sticking to my hands so much (I've heard overly soft water can cause this), and thought a little more flour wouldn't hurt, then a little more, then... Anyway, which of those changes helped, I may never know, probably both. But I'm using the same water I've used the whole time.

Just about any water, as long as it doesn't kill your yeast, should be okay for baking. Differences in water will make differences in the loaf, or at least in the process of getting a loaf, but I don't think there is much chance it will single-handedly cause you to produce bricks. As others have said, there is probably another culprit. As for the perfect water, natural spring water, not filtered or chlorinated, just bottled as it comes from the ground, is probably the closest to perfect you can get. And according to KA, if it is a little on the acidic side, it will be a little better. But, from everything I've experienced, and everything I've read, water is not going to make or break your bread.

timko's picture
timko

hi,

Slightly off topic put picking up on something David raised - dough sticking and flour.

I keep hands and tools wet to avoid adding any flour during the bench rise and final shaping time.

I do use a bit of rice flour on tea-towels in bowls for final (retarded) rise.  This would, I suspect,  be a nightmare commercially.