The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

I think I lost the ability to turn out great bread.

Unofornaio's picture

I think I lost the ability to turn out great bread.

Hey all this is my first post here and I am hoping to get some guidance. I apologize in advance for the length but I wanted to get as much detail in as possible. Years ago I had a tiny wood fired bread operation that was doing great till a very messy divorce and all the joy that comes with it. It ultimately had to be closed down and I move away from food for several years. 

Fast forward to now and I am still nursing back (Covid hit us very hard) what was a rather successful mobile catering business where I do exclusively Neapolitan pizza in a mobile wood fired oven. My pizza dough is as good as It can be no issues whatsoever, my issue I bring to you all here lies in my recent quest to get back into bread baking using my old formulas and methods. 

At the time they were working as good as they could have and I was very pleased with outcomes across the board after many, many refinments based on copious amounts of entries in my ratty old bread journal. Lol


I exclusively used the Biga method for my preferments and the base formula for many breads was similar to a basic no frills Pane Plugese. Higher hydration dough with typically a 12 hr long RT Biga and about a 3-4 hour RT bulk and final prove.


I did my final prove in couch lined make shift bannetons (from dollar tree plastic baskets) and on board lined couche for some. 

My issues currently are I seem to have completely lost the ability to judge when my bulk is done AND when my final prove is done for the bread, which is ironic since I’m completely dialed in on my pizza dough, but it’s a whole different flour blend and process. The result is a fairly decent crumb that will work for some variations but I just can’t seem to get good spring or the beautiful open crumb I was so happy with. 

I realize “open crumb” is relative but at this point I think with some input on what and why I am getting now I should be able to get that back to what my version of it is. 

My Biga is the same as before but with a different brand flour. And based on my notes performing about the same. 

-1g SAF

-133 h20

-165g unbleached AP flour


The main dough is

-2.5g Yeast

-100g Biga (about 12hr) at 68-70°F

-500g UB AP

-360 h20

-10g salt 

All those numbers should work but they are not and I’m sure it lies in the bulk and prove but I’m at a loss. I have been taking control notes but I think I went into this with more confidence that I have memory. It has been a good 20 years since my previous successes. Lol 


Anyway thank you for reading and I look forward to your guidance. I can add whatever additional details if needed. The pic is of my most recent attempt. I believe it is a bit over proved and slightly under baked. I’m baking in our home oven with brick lined pans under and over in a Kitchen Aid doubled oven on non convection but there is no way to stop (that I know of) the fan so it has been a chore to keep steam. 


tpassin's picture

The hydration levels you wrote down are so high that I'm at a loss to know how you could have gotten the loaf in the photo.  The hydration is way above even glass bread.  Could the water and flour weights perhaps be switched?


Unofornaio's picture

I can’t see. Great catch Tom


Unofornaio's picture


tpassin's picture

It does seem to me that what you say you used to get might be the result of a shorter bulk ferment or proof, or both.  Not that I think the picture shows any overproofing. The corrected formula seems reasonable, for sure, and it must be since you got good results with it before.

Recently some TFLers have solved mysterious problems by changing or filtering their water.  But if your pizza dough is doing well that probably isn't the issue.

Shortening the proofing time could lead to more explosive (or at least vigorous) rise in the oven, and shortening the bulk fermentation time could help make sure there is enough yeast activity and food to support that.  A shorter proof time would be the most effective if it were coupled with a more extensible dough, so maybe skip the preform stage or work the dough less during shaping would be worth trying.


Unofornaio's picture

Thank you Tom I will give that a try. I’m going to do some control bakes in hopes to better understand what I am misinterpreting here.

I regularly make Puccia for sandwiches out of my Pizza dough and they are pretty much a near perfect example of what I’m trying to achieve again with this formula. I bake those off in the WF oven prior to service and use a mix of Caputo pizzeria and Sacarossa for them which unfortunately does not work well in my gas deck ovens or home oven. 

thank you 

therearenotenoughnoodlesintheworld's picture

So you don't go down unnecessary rabbit holes, there are lots of assumptions in your text that might be worthwhile checking are not the cause or contributing. 

As you had a successful process perviously, the first question is - what has changed to interrupt the output. Your pizza working may not be an indicator some think it is.  Pizza dough -hard to perfect but has a good amount of leeway. In addition, Caputo as a global specialist probably designs their flour to work globally  - i.e work for lowest common denominator.  I am amazed at the 

Firstly 20 years - so much has changed in that time. That the flour, water quality, and most annoyingly even within the same brand/product name. Those who have continued doing it every day modify to small changes along the way and won't notice the totality of change, but you are coming in cold after a long break. 

Start with the simplest and most logical components first, only change one at a time and check the result.

Secondly, what have you changed in that time, new city/locality, different equipment (fridge/oven/mixer/storage/freshess), different environment.  It won't be about going back with these factors, but potentially mitigating (if possible) them for a test bake. P.S. Interruptions in supply chains over the last few years has resulted in some weird outcomes in food ingredients.