A couple of years ago (or longer) my sister and I shared with each other our mutual desire to be able to make really good bread. I had just checked out "Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day" from my local library.
Since then I've made quite a bit of bread off and on, some of it good, but little of it great. My tried and true simple basic whole-wheat bread recipe suddenly didn't work with the same proportions of water to flour. Then my loaves would crack on the sides. Sometimes the loaves were too dense.
Then I moved to Virginia, which changed my humidity dramatically and my altitude by almost 5000 ft. Everything in baking changed again.
I finally decided I need to get more educated if I wanted to bake more consistently. I stumbled across the book "The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast", and was almost instantly won over by the health benefits of baking with a natural yeast (or sour dough) start. Of course this started my baking journey all over again before I'd even mastered it with active dry yeast. From this book, I also learned about "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book", full of even more information on whole grain baking.
Meanwhile, I saw my sister at Thanksgiving, and she baked the most delicious loaf of artisan bread. Really wonderful stuff. Way to go Sis!
A couple of months ago, I got some wheat from a friend who was moving out of state. About 15 buckets of white wheat. I started using the wheat to make flour, and my new natural yeast to make bread at about the same time. I've made at least 5 batches of bread that really flopped. At the same time, I was reading much more about bread making, and had a bunch more possibilities to consider that could make my bread not rise well. What the natural yeast start not healthy? Was the dough too dry? Did I use chlorinated water? Did I over-knead the dough in my mixer?
It took me forever to realize the obvious; my "new" wheat was old, and although it was supposed to be hard white wheat, and should have had plenty of gluten to make good bread, it didn't. It made delicious muffins and pancakes and waffles, but very poor bread.
I finally got out some of my "old" red wheat, and Yippee! I finally made some bread that rose!
It still has lots of recognizable problems (it's over-baked, cracked on the side, and a little bit of white-cap. But it was delicious!
After all this, I'm hoping to talk one of my kids into doing a science fair project on the gluten content of different flours. One guy on the internet even makes a balloon out of gluten!