The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Soft Water, Dough Feel and Flavor

ehanner's picture

Soft Water, Dough Feel and Flavor

In the advanced area, there is a thread going on where Mike is trying to fix his water quality in central Texas. It got me thinking that I might be shooting myself in the foot and unknowingly creating a problem with my own water supply. For a long time I used strictly the cold well water from our own well when mixing dough. There is an artesian well near us that people go to and collect bottles of "special mineral water". I didn't find it was much different that our well water so I stopped getting it.

Our home water system is set up so that the cold water in the kitchen is run through an Iron filter but not the water softener. All of the other water in the house is softened. When I first started baking I made an effort to use only the cold un-softened water in the kitchen. Now that I am more experienced and casual in my baking I have recently been blending the warm (softened) water to arrive at the temperature I need for my doughs. My storage starter is kept in the cooler so I do need to bump up the water temp. to arrive at a satisfactory temperature. My other way to raise the temperature is to nuke the cold water for a few seconds but it's an extra step and I was being lazy.

I raise this because I'm interested in knowing if anyone has noticed that it makes a difference using a home water softener to blend the water temperature? From Mikes comments it sounds like the dough would be softer and gluten might not develop as well.


Trishinomaha's picture

We also have soft water (softened by a water softner that we add salt to regularly). I had never thought this might make a difference. I hope some one else will have some thoughts on this.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Softness has a wide range, and the question that comes up is how soft is the water coming out of your softener.


Your installer should be able to tell you.  If water gets too soft it will start to pick up lead from any solder joints in your plumbing.  Water has a capacity to dissolve things, and it's not at all fussy about what it will dissolve.


As to bread making, from what I've been reading at AIB medium soft water (50 to 100 ppm)  is considered ideal.  Above that, dough loses its elasticity.  And below that, soft water (0 to 15 ppm) is undesirable because it tends to soften the gluten and produce slack, sticky doughs and a finished product with a more open grain.


So, the question is, how soft is it?  While an open grain/crumb is generally desired by people here, the problem with the inability to shape the dough more than offsets that gain.




Sylviambt's picture

I'm working in a new kitchen (it's a rental while our house is under construction) and it includes soften water (chemical treatment). I'm wondering if this is hindering the rise of my breads. Anyone know?

MichaelH's picture

You need to know how soft your soft water is or how hard your hard water is and make a choice. My well water is about 30 ppm, which is ok but not ideal. Can't fix that. As to temperature, I keep 1 gallon of hard water in a plastic jug at room temperature for my breadmaking. If I need a higher temp for the water because I keep some of my ingredients in the freezer, I just measure the water out and briefly microwave it to the desired temp.

However, my water from the well is very alkaline (ph about 8.5, 7 is neutral). I read in either Hamleman or Suas that ideal ph is slightly acid, from 6-7. So I bought a cheap ph test strip from an aquarium supply store and I add a slight pinch of ascorbic acid powder (vitamin c) to the bread water to get the ph to just under 7.

It sounds like alot of trouble, but the supplies were cheap (about $15 for a multi year supply) and I only have to mix a jug of water every few weeks.