Almost 9 months since I began my sourdough starter, and I finally feel like I'm getting a teeny bit of a handle on this, which I say joyfully but cautiously.
My bread is still more or less the Norwich Sourdough that so many have found success with, with some occasional flour tweaks. I went through a long "wilderness" period of upping the hydration to 76% or so, but it gave me so many problems that I was eventually forced to confront the fact that I was playing with such a wet dough purely because I felt I had something to prove. I scaled back down to Susan's original quantities and am still getting a nice open crumb, but with a dough that I can actually work with, and that doesn't stick to bannetons like cement.
I keep my starter at about 25% rye, which (rightly or wrongly) I feel gives it more vitality in the fridge, and also gives my breads a nice extra bit of flavor dimension.
These days I'll make 2 kilos of dough, shape them into 2 equal-sized boules, bake 1 straight away, and give the other one a good long retard in the fridge. That way I end up with 1 good but fairly neutral loaf, and one with really rich flavor. I enjoy using each kind for different things.
Some observations on scoring, which was my bugbear for several months. Many people on this forum continually told me to score more shallow, more at an angle. Nothing helped. Then I came across this blog post, which recommends
"once you've shown restraint in hydration [which I did when I reverted to Susan's original Norwich proportions]...score DEEPLY. and score TWICE. that's my secret. yes, twice. you score the pattern that you want, then you go back in and cut through the dough again, deeply."
This seemed to go against everything I had been repeatedly told, but I wasn't getting anywhere with my shallow curved-lame slashes, so I thought, what the hell.
The result was my first-ever ears!
Now I have so much fun playing with new patterns.
No great crumb shots, unfortunately, but you can get a bit of a sense from this pic of my garlic bread stash. This is the blander of the two boules that I make; I prefer to save the sour, richer one for plain eating:
Final note/plea for wisdom: lately I've been enjoying baking my boules in an enameled cocotte, which is so much easier than those crazy lengths we all go to in order to "create steam," but I am finding that the bottom of the bread gets a bit too black. Not to the point of burning, but it's problematic if I want to make toast. Does anyone have a way of getting around this? Here is a shot of a blackened bottom (I'm holding the bread upside down):