I finally achieved a proper, (if off-center) ear on one of the loaves, so I'm overjoyed. I thought I made deep enough cuts into the round loaf, but apparently not. I really enjoyed incorporating a soaker, and this dough was quite easy to work with. The crumb seems good to me, but I welcome any criticisms. It felt like cheating using both levain and commercial yeast, but I love the recipe. Changes made from previous Hamelman Vermont SD bake:
1. Use of Brod & Taylor proofing box. It performed as expected. I really like that the water pan allows you not to cover the dough; the dough surface did not form a skin and was not wet either.
2. Longer final proof. It occurred to me that that as I learn to shape, I'm probably going to degas more than do experienced bakers during the pre- and final shaping, so it's a fair assumption that I'll need longer final proofing times. I realize, of course, the need to monitor and poke the dough.
3. Deeper score on oval loaf, and I thought on round loaf. Better use of tip of razor to get cleaner cuts. Question: any idea what I did wrong on the round loaf?
4. Lava rocks separated into two iron griddles. One was used for pre- and the other post-load steaming. I poured more water into the first pan after the second steaming, but that timing seems to provide minimal steam. Again, I have a Blue Star gas oven, and the steam vents out quickly, so I don't know if I'm getting proper steam. Question: The bread has good crust and color, and expansion on the oval loaf, but is there any sign of poor oven spring on that loaf?