Water - Bread Science

Water is not all equal when it comes to baking bread.  Filtered or bottled water is best to use, as these options avoid the chlorine, flourides and other urban-inserted mandates that municipalities sometimes put into culinary water.  We like our water as pure as possible.  Clean water helps improve the taste, the rise and the mixing of the dough.  The following issues are important when working with water and bread.

 

  • Purity:   Clean water not only affects the taste of the bread but also helps bread rise better.  This is more apparent when using a sourdough or natural yeast starter, but it's a subtle difference that you'll want to pay attention to.

  • Temperature:   The temperature of your water will have a direct impact on how fast or slow your bread will rise.  Good bread, and more importantly great bread, takes the right amount of time.  The time your bread takes to rise, ferment, consume sugars/starches and mature can be affected by the temperature of the water, especially if your are baking bread in a bread machine.  If baking in a conventional oven, the water temperature is less important but it will still affect your bread throughout the development cycle. 

    • Oven - Water temperature should be around 100 - 110 degrees (warm).

    • Bread machine - Water temperature should be 80 degrees when using the Basic setting on your bread machine.

  • Other Liquids:   Many recipes call for other liquids such as milk, buttermilk, orange juice, coffee, beer and other interesting selections that come from a bottle, cup or carton.  These liquids are used to affect the bread in specific ways.  I've listed below how some of these options can affect bread, but just remember to match the temperature of your "other liquid" to the temperature of your water.  Otherwise, your overall liquid temperature will be higher or lower than planned.

  • Milk - used to soften the texture of the bread.

  • Buttermilk - used to enance the flavor of bread or used to react with other ingredients such as vinegar or baking soda.

  • Orange Juice - used to tame down or reduce the stronger flavor of red whole wheat (flour) bread.

  • Coffee - used as a flavor enhancer.

  • Beer - always a flavor enhancer and for some reason, half the can is always left over - or the recipe calls for 2 cans - one for the bread and one for you.  Some folks swear the beer helps the bread to rise.  After all, beer is also made from yeast, but scientifically speaking, the beer flavor adds more to the bread than does the yeast.

When adding other liquids to your bread recipe, you may need to adjust the amount of water called for in the recipe.  If the recipe calls for 1 1/4 cup of water AND 1/2 cup of milk, follow the recipe as outlined.  However, if you decide to add 1/2 cup of milk in place of water, in this example you would use 3/4 cup water and 1/2 cup milk for a total of 1 1/4 cups of liquid.  

 

Always be aware of how much liquid you add to the recipe, since this will also affect how much flour you'll add as well.

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