The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Changed home troubleshooting - where to start?

Jamjam1729's picture

Changed home troubleshooting - where to start?

Hi all,

I live in the UK and have recently moved homes. Before, I was baking a 70% bread that I was very happy with, with a good over spring and crumb. Now I am finding my bread has a decent crumb, but the scores open little and oven spring is poor (photo attached). I feel like I am missing a trick in the new place and don't know how to start troubleshooting variables, so I was hoping I could ask for advice here!

I'm trying to figure out what on earth may have caused this change. Some thoughts I have had:

I'm using slightly different wholemeal flour now (I may try to acquire some of the old stuff I was using previously! I know it sounds silly as I only use 25g, but it feels like the previous stuff absorbed a lot more water and led to a stronger dough.)
The kitchen in the new place seems much warmer. I've tried to adjust for this by using water at around 26-28C instead of 30-32C in the recipe. This seems to give me the correct Final Dough Temperature of 25-26C.
New oven: I'm working on getting an oven thermometer but haven't yet had the time! It seems a much steamier oven but I anything that would be a good thing!
Different water: my understanding is that if it's potable, it's fine for bread, so I've discounted this for now.
Different baking vessel: I'm still using a dutch oven that I've had success with before, so I've also discounted this for now.
Different scales: I don't know that the scales I have in the new place are as good as those I had before.
Shaping and scoring: Maybe it's that I've picked up some bad habits?

How can I start testing these ideas? Is there something else I've been missing? Any thoughts would be massively welcome!

For reference, the recipe I've been using:

Feed starter twice day before, at around 12 noon and 11pm: 10g old starter, 50g water at 30C, 50g rye flour

Leaven: mix 20g starter, 100g water at 32C, 100g wheat flour. Leave for 8-12 hours

Autolyse 400g white, 25g wholemeal, 275g water at 30C for 45 mins.
Add 150g leaven, 10g salt, mix for about 10-15min by hand until it windowpanes (I mix using Rubaud method)

Bulk ferment for 3-4h, stretch and fold 4-5 times 30 minutes apart for the first 2-2.5h.
Pre-shape once (or twice if I've done the first one badly!) and bench rest for 20 minutes, then shape.
1h on kitchen unit in a banneton, retard overnight in the fridge.

Bake next day in a dutch oven at 250C for 15 mins, 230C for 25 minutes. Lid off after 25 minutes.



Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

When you say “moved homes”, do you mean you found a new place three blocks west, or did you move to a new city?  Different municipalities source their water from different places, and treat it with different chemicals, so the water may be the culprit.  Just because it’s drinkable doesn’t mean that it has the same mineral content, or chlorine level.


The new oven could also be an issue, as it may not be calibrated the same as your old one.  Oven temperatures can vary wildly, and should be checked and calibrated with a reliable oven thermometer.


Your issue could be any number of things, but since the change happened after the move, I think your best bet would be to focus on things that involve the new environment.

Jamjam1729's picture

We moved from one area in London to another area at most a couple of miles away. If I can't find a simpler explanation elsewhere I may turn towards bottled water or getting a decent filter! I have an oven thermometer in the post so will be checking the temperature when it arrives! Thank you for your thoughts :)

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

with your ideas for what might be going on, given that you feel something is amiss.   That is a pretty nice loaf, if a bit tight in the crumb, but a creditable bake nonetheless. I think the top items you should start with are:

- the oven temperature.  Prioritize that oven thermometer and verify your oven temp. Based on the time and temp of your bake I'm thinking your current oven might be running a few degrees cooler than in your previous kitchen.  Since you don't have an oven thermometer you don't really know if that previous oven was running high or low.  If the thermometer says this oven is accurate, raise your initial baking temp by about 3-5 degrees for a bake.

- bulk fermentation time.  You mention that your new kitchen is warmer than the prior one, and you have adjusted for that in final dough temperature.  You don't mention any adjustment in bulk time.  If it is warmer enough to require the water temperature adjustment, you should also watch your bulk fermentation for earlier completion.

- final proof time:  a warmer kitchen means everything will speed up, and until you get familiar with the new place you have to watch the dough even more closely.  If you don't already use it, look up the "Poke Test" here on TFL and start using it.  Begin by testing 30-45 minutes into final proofing, and then adjust your timing from there.  I'd even start preheating the oven earlier, to be ready for the bread early, on the next couple of bakes.

All of your "possibles" are indeed possible, and you have chosen a good set for initial testing.  If you don't find your joy among those, however, you might think about water a bit more.  You are correct that potable water will make edible bread, but I have found from personal experience that not all potable waters are the same.  My own experience has come more from mineral content differences, when we moved from our well water in the country to a municipal system of chlorinated, "processed" water.  I had to resort to bottled water, and eventually a home filter, to get water that would make "good" bread rather than just edible bread. 

Just another baker's opinion!  Always worth what you pay for it. :)

Best of luck with your research

Jamjam1729's picture

Thank you so much OldWoodenSpoon!!

It's really reassuring to hear that the list is a sensible starting point. I mentioned it in my other reply, but a thermometer is in the post and I'll be testing exactly what's happening tomorrow! I suppose if this oven runs a little cool, the best solution is to bump up cook times and warming up of the Dutch oven?

I know it sounds silly but it hadn't occurred to me to allow for faster development in the bulk and proof! I feel quite foolish now, but will definitely experiment a bit on both. I use the poke test, but only just before dough goes into the oven, at which point it is rather too late. I'll try out early testing on that front until I get a good 'feel' for it.

And as for water, I'll keep it in the back of my mind for now but will remember what you say! I've definitely moved into more of a 'new build' spot, so it's very possible there's some modern processing that affects this. If I do go down this route, would you recommend a particular filter?

Thank you again for all your help :)

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

Glad to help, and very glad to hear that you have an oven thermometer coming in.  I think you will find at least part of your solution there.  The rest seems that it must be in timing of bulk and final ferment, except that I missed the part about the overnight retarding in the fridge.  This makes the poke test not very useful, or reliable, and gives you still more temperature variables to check.  

With the new kitchen so much warmer, you might need to shorten the bench time allowed after final shaping, and put it to retard earlier.  Try to put it on the coldest shelf, or at least always the exact same shelf of the refrigerator, at least while troubleshooting.  The dough is warming up on the bench, and then it takes time to cool in retard.  If it is going in warmer, or the refrigerator is not as cold, it is allowing the yeast to continue to work longer in the refrigerator.  This can cause some over-proofing, which can result in the “symptoms” you describe.  

If you have a basic kitchen thermometer, try to check your refrigerator temperature so you have a reference point.  Just put a glass of water on a high and a low shelf overnight, then check the temperatures in the morning with that basic kitchen thermometer.  This is not worth buying a thermometer for, but if you have it you can learn some more useful information about your new kitchen.

Yes, there are a lot of variables here!  Just be methodical about not changing too many things at once.  Make a plan, keep some notes, eat (or gift!) the evidence at each step, and try again.  It’s part of the fun of baking.


OldWoodenSpoon's picture

if your oven is running cooler, you should try to recalibrate it.  If you don’t have the oven manual you should be able to look it up on the manufacturer web site.

If recalibration isn’t possible then yes, you can bake longer at the same temperature setting, or raise the temperature as needed according to your thermometer to bring the oven to the proper temperature for your current process.  Both ways work, and each will give slightly different results in loaf finish.  If you get that far try both ways and see what you like best.

Ah, baking...  such fun.


Jamjam1729's picture

It's in the oven and it looks to be going well! I rate my bread as a 'pass' if I can see any part of it above the rim of the Dutch oven while it's baking. This just about squeaks by! Annoyingly, I foolishly forgot to flour the banneton at all and my dough rather flopped out. My scoring was also not brilliant. But I'm inclined to blame those things on myself rather than my other problems!

Taking all your comments in mind:

The oven does run a little cool! It takes longer to get to 250C and tends to run at 240C much more happily. I've adjusted by keeping the oven at max temperature for a little longer (20min) before dropping the temperature down less than I used to.

I dropped down the bulk time a little (half an hour) and it was an absolute game changer! The dough felt far easier to pre-shape and shape.

I'm still working on proofing, but I feel like the fridge I now have runs warmer. I think next time I'm going to experiment with that by putting one loaf in the fridge immediately and the other some time later eg after half an hour outside.

Thank you so much for all your advice :)