The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Can locality affect bread?????

ngolovin's picture

Can locality affect bread?????

Hi TFL'ers,

I just recently moved from Indiana to upstate New York.  I have not had a successful bread since moving (~4 months since moving).  I have been baking satisfying breads for almost 10 years, and have not had any truly successful breads since relocating.  The doughs do not rise as nicely, and are, obviously, denser and less flavorful.  I have not changed brand of yeast (SAF red label) and I don't think I have change anything technique-wise.  The only real difference is that the water here in New York is much softer.  I have noticed the flours I use (mostly King Arthur brand bread, whole wheat, and rye flours) do hydrate differently.  But I would not think this would effect the rise.  Any suggestions of things to look at in terms of how I am making things and whether the water aspect is real?  HELP!!!




PastryPaul's picture

With water being such a large proportion of dough weight, I would certainly assume that a change in water would result in a change in bread quality. Since the rise is governed by the gluten net capturing yeast gases, I further assume that your gluten net has not developed as well as it did back in Inidana.

You say that it hydrated "differently." How so? Your solution may be as simple as extra mixing time, a couple of extra folds, or a hydration adjustment.


OldWoodenSpoon's picture

That and the sum total of everything else too, including ambient temperatures, humidity and all the other factors possible too.  But the major one you have already identified yourself.  You have not changed technique, and overall that should not be necessary, but you will have to make adjustments to compensate for observed differences.  Softer water means lower content of salts and minerals in your water now compared to your previous location and long-practiced experience.  The difference in your bread results are what I would expect based on that difference in your water.  Trace minerals and salts (in the harder water) that may have acted as additional enhancements to your fermentation process (and schedule) are not there now.  As a result you will need to do something along the lines of increasing the amount of yeast slightly to compensate for the slower activity you are getting (lower rise/less flavor) in your current location, and/or increasing the fermentation time over your previous experience, or some combination of both.    You really need to do some experimenting with the combinations to see what gives you results you are happy with.

Best of luck

Yerffej's picture

Water, flour, any other ingredients, ambient conditions and, this is a big one..... the oven can all make a difference.


jcking's picture

This is from the Bread Bakers Guild of America Yahoo Group discussions;


"Old Fashion Advice - About Bread Making: "Soft, pure water is best suited for bread making purposes. Hard water generally neutralizes to a certain extent the fermentation produced by the yeast". While overnight aeriating of tap water will permit dissolved chlorine gas to come out of solution and dissipate in the air, it will have no affect upon dissolved mineral salts in the hard water.

Water can affect baking in many ways due to the presence of specific ions in the water. High Calcium and Magnesium (water hardness) can slow down fermentation, resulting in longer proofing times. Copper ions also inhibit fermentation. Waters randomly tested around the USA, can vary significantly in the following areas:

*Amount of nitrates
*Amount of dissolved solids

Surprisingly enough, they do not vary much in pH. Almost all waters tested had an actual pH of around 8.0. By keeping water slighly alkaline, it helps preserve the life of plumbing.



DoubleMerlin's picture

You're right that calcium & magnesium slow yeast activity, but they also aid the development of gluten. If Ngolovin was making bread with hard water, he or she would be used to the stronger gluten that hard water supplies, and so as a result ought to change technique to work to develop gluten better. An ingredient change could be warranted, using less-refined sea salt to regain those ions.

Soft water is typically higher in monovalent cations - sodium and potassium. This is opposed to divalent cations - magnesium & calcium. Those divalent cations can make crosslinks within the gluten, promoting gluten structure.

Ruralidle's picture

I don't know about the water in NYC but it MAY have more chlorine than the water in Indiana and that would inhibit the yeast.

Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

I have found that elevation affects my loaves. It seems as if the drier air at 4000' also makes the flour drier. I can feel the difference in the flour. Measuring by weight rather than volume should mitigate this, are you measuring by weight or volume?

Also, you can't always trust the oven thermostat to give you the right temp. At a different location I have to tweak the temperature control to get the same results.