The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Big issue with very soft water

polishbaker's picture
polishbaker

Big issue with very soft water

Hi Everyone!

I moved into a new home and my tap water is around 30 ppm/l. Gluten production on a 75% hydration bread with 12%protein content bread flour is almost nonexistent. Hard to keep the shape, would require a lot of work.In my old home, I had no issues.

I did a search on the forum, people suggested using vitamin C or adding calcium but I couldn't find any proportions.

I'm thinking about mixing my current water with sprint water, but again - need to understand which water and how much.

Could anyone who struggled with this issue please give me some advice?

 

albacore's picture
albacore

Soft water lacks calcium. Lack of calcium can give a gummy crumb and may give poor gluten development.

I'd probably start with a trial of 100% bottled spring water, something about 50ppm calcium. If successful, you could try adding calcium carbonate to your tap water. Try 130ppm (130mg per litre). Get yourself a decent small weight scale - they are not expensive. Give the mixture a good stir as calcium carbonate doesn't dissolve well in water.

Also check if your flour is fortified with calcium - all flour in the UK is, for instance (by law). The level of calcium added to the flour (as calcium carbonate) is much higher than the figures I have quoted, so I never need to add calcium, even though my water is soft. The only time I add it is if I am using Italian flour to make pizza.

Lance

polishbaker's picture
polishbaker

I'm using bio flour which has nothing added to it. This means it has no additional calcium. I'll try next week with adding calcium. 

 

By the way, I autolyze with levan is there something with soft water which would say I should do it without levan? 

GrainBrain's picture
GrainBrain

Hello polishbaker. Others here may chime in that an autolyse is technically water added to flour, no yeast, levain or salt is added at this phase. Bio flour still has a mineral content, the wheat had to be grown in soil and the mineral content of the soil varies from place to place. Ideally the strain of wheat is optimized for the local soil, but not everyone cares. There is therefore a 'terroir' to wheat, a complete natural environment, just like there is to wine or grapes. Any plant that takes up water via its roots is taking up minerals from the local soil and water. Would rather not get bogged down on soil science, but simply wanted to comment on autolyse.

polishbaker's picture
polishbaker

I never thought about soil input into the wheat. Thank you for that, it's quite interesting, I'll see what others will produce.

 

Tomorrow I'll be doing 3 breads with added calcium and different flours.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

https://thebbqbaker.com/2018/06/16/how-hard-and-soft-water-effects-bread-rise/

Cow milk contains a fair amount of calcium, try skim with water 50/50.  

Egg shells are also calcium.  Mortar & pistle to powder after washing and drying shells.  The powder is also an old wives recipe for dry removal of fat spots on clothes, ties, table clothes, upholstery, etc. You could just wash and boil a couple of eggs and use the boiled water (cooled) in the bread.  

GrainBrain's picture
GrainBrain

Greetings from Milwaukee, home of more than a few breweries. I know that nationwide brewers take in city water, remove all of the minerals and then add a package of minerals back in to a rather distilled water supply. The advantage is first having beer taste the same whatever city it is brewed in (assuming anyone considers that an advantage), but also having the proper mix of minerals for optimizing fermentation.
If you do a search for mineral packets or additives for distilled water, you can create your own fermentation optimized mineral water from your tap water. While calcium is indeed a necessary mineral, so are magnesium, zinc, potassium, etc. 
Again you have a choice to buy or source spring water, but also the option to source and add your own minerals to your existing water. Let us know if you hit on a solution that gives you great results and good luck to you.

GlennM's picture
GlennM

i have been using reverse osmosis water for years and haven’t noticed a problem. I think I will get some bottled water and give it a try to see if anything changes?  I have a good quality espresso machine and have never really been pleased with my result, they say RO water makes a huge difference with that as well? I guess I have some experimenting to do

GrainBrain's picture
GrainBrain

Hi Glenn, while this forum is mostly about bread, I buy my coffee beans fresh roasted, sometimes they are still warm when I bring them home. I grind them fresh every day. I've noticed any change of water affects the taste of coffee, the same is true for tea, orange juice, lemonade and so on. Cleaning your coffee maker also produces a difference. Something to do to ensure you are only evaluating changes in water. I am able to source spring water by a visit to what was regarded in the 1890's as some of the best water in the nation and still highly regarded. Again the mineral balance of the water affects your taste perception, it can be better or worse. The mineral balance also influences fermentation, which is why breweries mineral balance their water. Often RO water is a great improvement over tap water. None of us are likely to agree on what provides the best taste, but I venture that many would agree taste perception is greatly affected by mineral balance. Experimenting should be great fun!

polishbaker's picture
polishbaker

Hi Grain,

As a coffee expert, I would suggest not grinding the coffee for at least 7 days after the roast. Coffee is unstable for the first few days, and results are very different - you would need to adjust grind size two times a day minimum.

Also, your coffee should be in a bag with a way filter to ensure co2 evaporates but oxygen doesn't get in.

GrainBrain's picture
GrainBrain

Thank you for sharing your expertise in coffee. It does come in a foil bag with a valve, but I didn't know about waiting after the roast. I believe good beans are one of life's affordable luxuries. My favorite come from a higher altitude in Brazil.

polishbaker's picture
polishbaker

Thank you everyone for help.

Today I did 3 bread experiments. Same proportions, hydration, just different water and experimented with autolyze. 

1) Bread with calcium added into the water, with autolyze - produced with starter - a result was great, autolyze for around 50 minutes. The Gluten network was visible and stable. Produced great sourdough.

2) Bread without calcium, with autolyze produced without starter  (1hour+) - much smaller gluten network but still acceptable. The bread itself came out flatter than no 1 (30% flatter), but was eatable.  

3) Bread without calcium with autolyze - produced with starter  - no gluten network at all. Soft water did its job here, if you tried to strech it after autolyze it would fall apart at the beginning. I didn't even waste time on trying to go with it.

Conclusion - when you have soft water add calcium. If you don't have calcium, try to autolyze without a starter. Not sure what process happens with soft water and autolyze with starter, but it was interesting result for me.