Any cooking process which requires three ingredients or less has always attracted me. I have always liked the idea of doing more with less allowing each ingredient to become naked in the spotlight unveiling its true quality.
Going back to traditional baking methods has proven to be a perfect example of heightening the potential of each of the ingredients needed for a loaf of sourdough bread. Great bakeries are recognising this and exploring every element of the flour making process from using heritage grains to stone milling, uplevening the results to another level.
In Ireland, my family has their own bakery, cafe and florist. Every time I pay a visit, I automatically become a full time employee turning my hand to any position in which I can help. During the pandemic our store closed leaving time for the dust to settle and the ability to have a birds eye view on how we can make improvements. My interest was in what interconnects everything: The water.
Growing up we always had our own well. I never really understood what this meant, romantically I always thought of this stone cladded hole in the ground with a bucket on a string. So during this time of restoration I took it upon myself to go straight to the source, our local well digger that bore the hole.
The process is fascinating. Percussion drilling rigs are set up and if extracted correctly, the water can be of a drinking quality which does not require any further filtration. Our cafe is surrounded by the Mourne mountains, a beautiful thing although when it comes to this water being used commercially you begin to notice that the lime content poses a problem.
This is where you can really see the difference in water which is extracted from either a spring or from a well. Spring water is something very special, it springs out of the mountain when it is ripe. From Viktor Schauberger, an Austrian inventor also known as the water wizard, I learnt that spring water travels in a vortex throughout its journey allowing it to become more organised, which in turn creates less surface tension. The water as a result is cleaner and fresher, not simply to purify it but also to revitalize it. This activity is well documented in his works if you want to find out more.
Previously our well water was treated by our local coffee supplier under the watchful eye of my father, using a very large water softener machine that looked like something from a space age movie, using salts to dissolve the lime as a solution.
When trying to introduce anything new back home, the suggestion often is looked at with resistance. Understandably so when my alternative to solve the problem could look like a pseudo science experiment. Essentially, it looks like a massive metal box, water enters one end and comes out the other, with no need to change filters or upgrade anything over time. The truth is, it's not actually a filter at all. It's a “revitalising” machine. This is where I lost my fathers interest. He is very much in the realm of seeing and believing, but my best way to explain how it worked is the following - Remember Iron filings at school? You scatter them across a table, they are completely unorganized, then you add a north pole and a south pole magnet and the filings miraculously reorder themselves into a beautiful pattern.
This is the same as what happens with the water. It likes to be structured, organised and normally this happens to be into a beautiful pattern when the molecules are looked at under a microscope. Have a look at the work of Dr Masaru Emoto and this is visually proven. This is also exactly what happens in a spring, the water moves into an intelligent universal pattern in order to create less surface tension, or become softer.
My father was sold, as an expensive initial investment, the big magnet box had a long term benefit. So I was off to practice what I preached and ordered it from Germany. I was very excited about how it would work, I was hoping that it would give the water that bouncy taste that you get from spring water. My other intrigue in the investigation was how it would affect our sourdough bread. The magnet system is a big hit with German and Austrian bakeries. The main enemy of sourdough fermentation is chlorine, which thankfully is not an issue present with our source.
The apparent improvements sounded very promising. It lowers the surface tension of the water making it a better solvent. This means that 2% more water can be added to the dough making the dough easier to form. It also stimulates the sourdough bacteria and standard yeast if used to perform a more vigorous dough fermentation that breaks down the gluten more effectively.
About a fortnight after our plumber fit the big box, I asked our head baker to see if he noticed anything. I didn't go into too many details about the specifics of what had been changed as I wanted to allow an unbiased opinion as much as possible.
It was important to allow time for the water to fully make its way through every element of the baking process, so giving it two weeks gave it a moment to start affecting our huge supply of starter. The findings were certainly anecdotely apparent, I've been told that the starter has a more ‘vigorous charge’ to it. Many people, mainly my parents who are the main connoisseurs, have noted the bread tasting moister with a more “lovely’ taste and smell. Apparently another bonus that has is currently being researched is that due to the fermentation mentioned the bread itself becomes more digestible, something we can all wish for when it becomes a staple of the diet as it is in our household.
In London, the water I drink is from a ceramic water filter, a project called - Endless Rhythm -that I have been working on as a way to improve the quality of city tap water. Using a ceramic vessel not only keeps water cool, but naturally embodies the resonance of water that is extracted from the earth. Filters are also included to remove any bacteria present, as well as elements to restructure the water using subtle energies. Apparently, in natural springs mineral stones and other chrystals encourage the reordering of the water too, so with this as inspiration, I have added Quartz and copper coils as well as the special magnets to replicate this effect. I find, the water has taken on a special quality and I have appreciated its improvements with my own bread making.
Over time, I would like to take these experiments further. It is truly a never ending story of the many ways we can go about this reorder. My next experiment I would love to try, would be to work with the phases of the moon. Water is well known to be affected by the moon, we have only to look at the gravitational pull affecting the tides so I can't see how this wouldn't affect our bread making too!
I urge bakers to take notes on their water they use, let it sit overnight and allow a full moon's energetic potential to work wonders on its relationship it has to the microorganisms working on creating the perfect loaf. A month ago, I made another trip home to see my family, out of the blue, my mother said to me, “ Cecilia, you know what, that water thing you have added to the back shed is great, tastes lovely” Perhaps we don't need to know all in ins and outs on how something works, but after this conversation I knew that the big metal box was doing something magic.