I did it: finally found a way of resolving a couple of oven problems and made a nice loaf of whole wheat bread from Leader's book.
I have been so frustrated with the unpredictability of the gas oven that I'm stuck with: it burns everything, while leaving bottoms of cakes and other dishes uncooked and there is no way to steam because that fan is just supercharged and vents everything immediately. I've not been successful in getting any sort of oven spring and although my breads turn out OK, it is disappointing that after hours of preparation the final result is brought down by these technical difficulties.
I've decided to forgo hearth baking and stick to loaf tins. I've also devised a way of solving both the burning and steaming issues: I now construct a loose cover, domed quite high over the bread tin out of aluminium foil. I scrunch the foil over three of the four sides of the tin (leaving one long side open - a bit like those shell stages they use for summer concerts in the park). When I'm ready to put the bread in the oven, I spray liberal amounts of water into my shell, and the top of the bread. I then place the bread in the oven (with the open side facing the oven door) and do some more spraying aimed at the top of the oven before closing the oven door. (I did also have a pan of water under the shelf, but I don't think it would have contributed much in the way of steam, as it never has before).
I've tried this twice now, and it's worked really well.
I made DanD's version of the Erick Kayser Pain aux Cereales last week and this week tried Daniel Leader's Whole Wheat Sourdough Miche from Local Breads for the first time. I used freshly milled biodynamic whole wheat and a little plain flour. The recipe uses only levain - no yeast. I'm very happy with the result - both the taste and the look. The crumb is moist and chewy, not at all dry.
Attached are pics of the WW Sourdough - I actually followed the recipe very closely, for once. Except for the fermentation time: he suggests 1 hour final fermentation while I fermented 1 hour on the bench and then overnight. The final result is very tasty (though I think it could have done with just a touch more salt). The seeds on top of the bread were left-overs from last week's Pain aux Cereales, but there are no seeds inside the bread.
For comparison, have a look at the Hazelnut & Prune Bread (fromHamelman) I made a few weeks ago - no oven spring and I managed to burn the top in the last 10 minutes of baking. The bread was still nice.
I love Prunes. From memory, I did stick to the recipe but doubled the amount of fruit and nuts as there wasn't enough in it for my taste. I also thought that the hazelnuts didn't work as well as I thought they might. As hazelnuts aren't widely grown in Australia, they're not always as fresh as they would be if I bought them in Germany, for example - that may have affected the taste. I thought this is one bread I would try with walnuts and prunes next time.