Dough gets thin and runny, bread won't rise
I've been reading this site for over a year, since I started baking bread, but I am a novice and most of the time feel like I’m reading Greek. I don’t understand most of what people are talking about here, but I hope someone understands what I’m saying and can help me. Please bear with me! After a lot of trial and error, I hit on a great recipe using Carl's 1847 starter and a bulk mix I concocted from various sources. Anyway, none of that is the problem. For almost a year, I’ve enjoyed great bread with a nice chewy crust and it rose so high I was afraid it would fall under its own weight. Not as sour as I would like, but still very good. The problem started about a month or so ago when the bread dough got runny-looking during the first rise, like it melted. It still rose beautifully, so I put it in the loaf pan, covered it with a towel (just like I always do) and put it in a warm oven for its second rise (1 hour), and nothing. It rose maybe an inch or so, then fell. The second loaf just plopped into the loaf pan like a stone and never rose at all. The next week, I took the starter out of the refrigerator and fed it as usual, but it seemed really thin. I fattened it up with flour then did my usual and the same thing happened as the prior week—2 dense loaves that weighed a ton and had almost the texture of pound cake. They had recently flushed our hydrants and our water smelled funny, so I threw out my starter (thinking I got some bad bacteria). Made new starter with bottled water and Carl’s starter and started over. First 2 loaves were OK, didn’t rise very much, but I thought as my starter aged, it would improve. It didn’t. It’s doing the same thing as the old starter bread did. I also got new, fresh yeast.
Here is my bread-baking routine:
1. After my refrigerated starter reaches room temperature, I feed it about every 12 hours (flour, water, potato flakes), it bubbles beautifully and smells good.
2. I pour it into my bread maker (my hands don’t work right and I can’t knead much) to right over the paddle in the middle, add 1 1/2 T virgin olive oil, 1/2 T honey, 2 1/4—2 1/2 cups mixture (flour, powdered buttermilk, salt, sugar), 2 t yeast.
3. Set it on dough setting, it runs 1 1/2 hours.
4. Pour that into my loaf pan, cover with a tea towel and put into a warm oven for 1 hour to rise again.
5. After the hour, remove the towel, bake at 400 for 15 minutes, spritz water into the oven 3 times, turn oven down to 350 for 20 minutes.
Perfect bread! Until now. I must have baked 100 loaves this identical way with no problems. Right now, I have a loaf trying to rise that I kneaded yeast water into, so far nothing. What happened and how can I fix it? Sorry for length of this, but I am completely baffled and am about to give up.